Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Topsy-Turvy

An inversion of the world's order or the world's rules – in particular the upside-down logic which tends to obtain in arbitrary Wonderlands. Such reversals are most effective when contrasted with a rigid social order, which may explain their popularity in Victorian fantasies. Lewis Carroll's Wonderlands present topsy-turviness on several levels; e.g., expected adult/child relations are subverted, with Alice striving towards common sense (>>> Sensible Man) while all Wonderland and Looking-Glass adults exhibit irrationality if not outright insanity; well known moralizing verses turn into amoral Parody; and the games of ambiguity possible in the English language take precedence over the Reality supposedly described. W S Gilbert's Iolanthe (1885) shows English peers displaced from their position at the top of the social order by Fairies, beings so far down the scale that they do not even exist; his ill-fated "magic lozenge" Plot Device disturbingly applies topsy-turviness to the Soul, by turning people into what they have merely pretended to be. Another influential example is F Anstey's inversion of the parent/child relationship via Identity Exchange in Vice Versâ (1882).

G K Chesterton's preferred form of topsy-turviness is a Eucatastrophe-like switch of Perception: in The Man who Was Thursday (1908) his most fanatical-seeming terrorist leaders prove to be the most dedicated policemen, and their devilish leader something close to God. Raymond Briggs's Fungus the Bogeyman (graph 1977) presents an Underground world where accepted views of the desirability of cleanliness vs filth are – comically – a systematic inversion of our own. Such skewed viewpoints lend themselves to Satire, a devastating example being Douglas Hofstadter's presentation in Metamagical Themas (coll 1985) of a topsy-turvy Alternate World where English third-person pronouns indicate not Gender but race – black or white. [DRL]

see also: Carnival; Estates Satire; Revel.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.