Welcome to the cover wars, where we judge books by their covers. Usually we consider several different books, offering our opinions on how each book’s cover and blurb appeal (or don’t) to us, and how cover and blurb fit together (or don’t). This week we’re going to look at several different covers of the same book. You’ll get to read our takes on what aspect of the book each cover emphasizes, and how well it represents the actual text. Without further ado, we present several takes on Diana Wynne Jones’s Tough Guide to Fantasyland.
Janet: While this cover doesn’t appeal to me, it pretty well dead on mimics the sort of fantasy novels that the Tough Guide parodies and problematizes, with the added (almost sci-fi) touch of the clerk behind the desk. Which might, hopefully, get the Tough Guide out to the readers who read those novels without thinking very deeply about them.
Nafiza: While I don’t really mind this cover, (I need a better resolution to critique it), it wouldn’t really make me take a second look in a bookstore simply because it’s old fashioned and I tend to like bright shiny things. A fallacy but what can you do.
Yash: Nope. Too old-fashioned for me. It may be quaint and have a review from Terry Pratchett, but I would not want it on my bookshelf. *squints* Is that lady in the front wearing the most useless armour ever?
Janet: Very. Very. British. (I think. I’m not actually British, but it looks British to me.) And for some reason the woman reminds me of Aunt Petunia, only more bewildered-and-not-quite-sure-how-she-got-into-this-situation and less horrible-screechy-aunt-besotted-mother. Not particularly appealing to me, but I would have looked at the back to see why, exactly, these normal-people-at-home (she’s holding a spatula) became hopelessly-lost-tourists, because of their lovely expressions and also because of the title. They do not at all look like the sort of people who would have dealings with that small and mild-looking dragon, or with the various diminutive peoples confronting them. The juxtaposition is marvelous.
Nafiza: If I hadn’t already read and loved the book, I would take several steps away from this incarnation of it. I appreciate the juxtaposition but it doesn’t appeal to me and in my opinion, the cover fails fantastically to convey the sense of mischief so present in this book. I don’t like it. At all.
Yash: Oh. Wow. I am with Nafiza here. This cover is not an improvement on the last one. The Dursleys got lost and not even Terry Pratchett recommends this one to me.
Janet: The grey makes me think that these creatures (wizard, dragon, troll? and a few others) are stone. Which works with the underlying point of the Tough Guide, that these (hackneyed) conventions have calcified and petrified and are destroying the life, the disruptive, eruptive creative force of fantasy. I do not, myself, like the look of these creatures (except for the swirly bits), but, as with the above covers, this is a solid representation of the inside material. You just have to quirk an eyebrow at these guys, blink, and slowly smile as you turn to the first page…
Nafiza: The outstretched hands, though creepy, won me over. I mean, look at the horns on that ogre/troll thing. Yep. I like it.
Yash: Oooh! I like this one. You’d think that the grey shading for the most exciting feature of the cover may be counter-intuitive and unattractive, but this design makes it work. I love the details on those creatures, the official looking red below, and I love the fonts that they used- especially for “The Tough Guide To”, which makes it look like this is part of the “Tough Guide” series. Nice touch.
Janet: So I’m slightly biased in favour of this cover, since this is the copy I have and I’m used to it. The strip across the top declaring that this is the “Revised and Updated Edition” plays along with the central conceit of the book itself (i.e. that it is a factual travel guide, essential for all would-be Tourists). The slightly-out-of-focus palm trees give the impression that one is peeking through the foliage to gaze upon this slightly incongruous castle. The castle itself is and the balmy setting are a tad misleading, as most of the text focuses on the hack-and-slash fantasy novels in the (corrupted) Tolkienian tradition, i.e. the setting is European (i.e. English and German with brief expeditions into Norse territory). However, the text also informs us that if there is a Map, you will visit every single place on it before your Tour is over, which means you will end up in the Fanatical Caliphates. Which will be vaguely Middle Eastern, or Indian, or even somewhat Greek; the point is, you will end up, at some point, somewhere pretty much exactly like what is depicted on this cover. So I think this one works. (Bomus points for the “Dark Lord Approved” brand – which is good as it is, but even funnier when you consider the Tought Guide‘s semi-sequel: Dark Lord of Derkholm.)
Nafiza: This is the one I have and this is the one I appreciate the most. I LOVE the Dark Lord stamp on the cover and I love how innocuous the picture of the castle is. Sure, the guide could have had a more fanciful cover and in fact, does, as the versions pictured above show but I feel like this is the least cluttered and the dark lord stamp manages to achieve what the more fantastic covers did not: the sense of whimsy, the mischief as I previously said that the tone of the book has. I like this. A lot.
Yash: I too have this edition. I was won over by the “Dark Lord Approved” stamp too, but now I look back to the previous cover and I think I like that one better …
This last cover was hand-made by an apprentice bookbinder and DWJ fan.
Janet: Serious applause to the fan who made this for incorporating the Map on the cover (fold-out!), for the gold ink, and the hand-embroidery. This is definitely not for casual use, at least not for me (I’d be too worried about smudging my dirty fingers on it, or tearing the Map), but it is gorgeous and definitely Tolkienian (Tolkienesque?), in the best sense of the word.
Nafiza: This look really amazing but as Janet said, it’s too precious to use to read and risk destroying so while I’d get this to display, I’d be reading a different version.
Yash: Oh my goodness. Is this by a fan?! Wow. *shiny eyes* I must have this for my own. I would use it all the time. It would be so well-worn that people would think that I actually discovered a fantasyland and went adventuring. And when I die, nobody else would get to have it- you’d have to cremate it with my body. It’s … just … so … pretty. The map in front itself is incredible. I wish all fantasy novels that had maps would come with a pull out map so I can refer to it as I read. *sigh* Excuse me while I gaze upon this beauty some more.