~posted by David H.
Much like its sister genre science fiction, funny isn’t the first word that springs to mind when people think of the fantasy genre. The straight-faced seriousness of early fantasy authors like J.R.R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings) and Robert E. Howard (Conan), and contemporary ones like Robert Jordan (The Eye of the World) and George R.R. Martin (A Game of Thrones), could lead you to believe that fantasy worlds are pretty dark places. But the truth is that the fantasy genre (prompted perhaps by the overly serious nature of many authors) features more than its share of funny business.
One of the earliest creators of comic fantasy is Thorne Smith, a jazz age writer who filled his books with ghosts, Roman Gods, shape-changers, and beautiful witches who continuously get into comic escapades, all while roaring drunk. His most famous novel is Topper, a novel about respectable banker Cosmo Topper who becomes the target of two ghosts, George & Marion Kerby. Deciding that Topper needs to live a little, the two proceed to make a shambles of Topper’s quiet life. In the sequel, Topper Takes A Trip, Marion decides that the best way for Topper to be truly happy would be to make him a ghost, setting in motion a plot to murder their hapless friend. Smith’s novels read rather like P.G. Wodehouse with a fantasy bent, giving them a unique quality unmatched by any other author.
If you’re looking for someone who gives the traditional “gifted-apprentice-and-irascible-mentor” fantasy trope a good kick in the pants, try Robert Asprin’s Myth Adventures series. Beginning with Another Fine Myth, the books follow the adventures of magician in training Skeeve and his teacher, the demon Aahz. Despite Skeeve’s lack of magical training and Aahz’s lack of magical powers, the two manage to succeed repeatedly against overwhelming odds, all while delivering groan-inducing puns. Consisting of 20 books, the series is a fun, light adventure fantasy that is perfect for older children and young adults.
Known for his popular Discworld novels, British author Terry Pratchett is the elephant (or turtle, if you prefer) in the field of comic fantasy. But Pratchett has written several young adult fantasy novels that aren’t as well known. Pratchett’s Johnny Maxwell trilogy is a great place to start for readers looking for something other than Discworld. Set in the “real” world, the books follow the often difficult life of young Johnny, who might just be imagining his adventures. The first book, Only You Can Save Mankind, begins when the alien race in a video game surrenders to Johnny in a desperate attempt to return home and escape the other gamers attempting to destroy them. Followed by Johnny & the Dead, and Johnny & the Bomb, the books are just as fun as the Discworld series and feature the same sharp wit and generous heart. Pratchett fans would also be well-advised to seek out the work of his fellow British satirist Tom Holt, whose many novels are just as entertaining.