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Land of Unreason Analysis

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

As Alexei and Cory Panshin observe in The World Beyond the Hill: Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence (1989), Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp complemented each other well in their collaborations for Unknown. Pratt had an extensive knowledge of myth and legend, and de Camp was better at writing comedy and superior at creating plots. Their collaborations produced some of the most important fantasies of the 1940’s.

In his 1972 essay “Pratt and His Parallel Worlds,” de Camp observes that “I thought the combination of Pratt and de Camp produced a result visibly different from the work of either of us alone.” Their collaborations are far closer to de Camp’s solo work than to Pratt’s. Both Harold Shea, hero of Pratt and de Camp’s Incomplete Enchanter series (1941-1960), and Fred Barber are feckless, foppish heroes similar to those of such later de Camp fantasies as The Incorporated Knight (1987). Like many de Camp heroes, they react to events rather than taking independent action, and they triumph over adversity using their brains, not brute force.

Land of Unreason also resembles de Camp’s solo novels of this period in that it recalls earlier works of fantasy. If de Camp’s most important science-fiction novel of this period, Lest Darkness Fall (1941), adapts the plot of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) for a modern audience, Land of Unreason performs the same task for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). In the sections taking place in the land of Hirudia, which poke fun at the dictators of the era, Pratt and de Camp also pay tribute to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726). Like Carroll’s work, Land of Unreason contains a world with rules that appear at first glance to be irrational but that functions according to a peculiar, but...

(The entire section is 460 words.)