The Land of Laughs Critical Essays

Jonathan Carroll


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Since the beginning of his career, Carroll has baffled readers and literary critics, who are unsure whether to classify his work as fantasy or mainstream. The term “Magical Realism,” which became more prevalent after Carroll began publishing, seems to suit his work best, as his novels all have in common a seemingly normal world in which the main character begins discovering magical and often dark secrets. Using the techniques of Magical Realism, Carroll, along with other writers such as John Crowley, has been successful in blurring the distinction between mainstream and fantasy to create a unique niche in fantastic literature.

Following The Land of Laughs, Carroll published several novels, as well as a collection of short stories, in a similar vein. He has earned a small but dedicated following of readers.

In many ways, The Land of Laughs is a typical example of Carroll’s writing. He employs devices and themes that are developed further in his later novels, such as talking animals (especially dogs), characters trying to deal with the burden of having famous parents or of being famous themselves, and complicated love triangles.

It is obvious that The Land of Laughs is one of Carroll’s early efforts. Although the people of Galen hide a secret that is revealed to be somewhat sinister, Carroll’s later books address even darker issues, such as abortion, death, and disfigurement, as well as such larger concerns as religion and humanity’s place in the world. It is also typical of Carroll’s work that, unlike in popular fiction, the reader cannot assume that the main characters will survive unharmed. Carroll is quite willing to kill a major character if it suits his purpose.

The Land of Laughs provides a bit of insight into Carroll’s personal life. Galen is based on a small Missouri town called Times Beach, where Carroll lived for a year before moving overseas to Vienna, Austria, the setting of several of his later novels. This tendency to use reality as a basis for his fiction, along with his ability to invoke a sense of whimsy, has helped Carroll create effective works of Magical Realism.