I love the hell out of this book. I read it to my sister when we were younger. It’s all about this world, and it’s a fantasy world, and a bad, wicked man called Mr. Chesney is using the entire world to give people from the real world tours. And so the entire world has to do what he says: the elves have to pretend to be wicked, and the wizards have to be Dark Lords and be defeated by the tour groups dozens of times every year; and the cities have to get sacked. And some wizards get tired of this, so they ask an Oracle how to stop it, and the Oracle says to make this one guy, Derk, the Dark Lord for that year. It’s very unfortunate for Derk and his whole family. He’s the kind of wizard who invents animals, like intelligent flying talking horses, and he has two regular children and five griffin children that he made; and they all have to get all crazy with setting up the tours. It’s very trying for everybody.
I like this book. Diana Wynne Jones wrote it after The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which was an amusing send-up of those sort of sword-and-sorcery fantasy novels that are all over the place these days. Tall elves and everything. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland was the first book I read by her. I picked it up on my way out of the library, ages ago, just because it was on a display case, and it made me laugh. Then when I went back and looked up her name on the computer – it was like a dream. I should have appreciated it more. She’s written dozens of books, this woman, and I love her.
I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent there – sorry. It’s just not often that something like that happens, and I’m sad that I was young and innocent then, and didn’t appreciate how amazing it was. Anyway, The Dark Lord of Derkholm sort of came out of the Tough Guide, because Ms. Jones had written it as if the world were being toured, so Dark Lord is about the people whose world is being used. So it’s equal parts funny (because of all the tropes that the tourists (us, in a way) expect to see, and that the people have to work incredibly hard to give the tourists), and distressing, because here they all are, destroying their entire world year after year. Bit of a chilling concept. Neil Gaiman would have ended up with a much creepier book, if he had written it.
I just love Diana Wynne Jones so much. And this isn’t even her best book! It’s not one of my favorites! But I like it a lot. It’s a very Diana Wynne Jonesy book. The first time I read it, I thought it was idiotic and boring and I couldn’t finish it; and the second time, the same thing happened; and the third time, I became addicted and couldn’t stop reading it. A fairly typical experience when I first started reading Diana Wynne Jones. Couldn’t tell you why.