THE DICTIONARY OF IMAGINARY PLACES

by Alberto Manguel & Gianni Guadalupi

Harcourt Brace

0-15-600872-6

755pp/$22.50/2000

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places
Cover by Paul Bril

Reviewed by Steven H Silver


The desire to tell stories about distant and invented places seems to be part of the fabric of human intelligence.  This fact is eloquently attested to in Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi’s revised edition of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, a gazetteer of more than 1200 places which exist only in the minds of men on their artistic works.

Manguel and Guadalupi searched throughout the centuries to provide places ranging from Plato’s Atlantis to Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar.  Not content to limit the human imagination to literary works, places such as Freedonia, ruled by Rufus T. Firefly in the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup” also appear in the book.  The authors describe these lands based on the writings of the authors who initially introduced the location, supplemented with materials written by subsequent authors who have used previously created settings for their stories.

Rather than limiting their selections to works in English or major literary works, Manguel and Guadalupi have combed through the literature of several European languages to provide descriptions of such diverse places as Vian’s Exopotamia (French, 1956), Gloupov (Russian, 1869), and Villings (Portuguese, 1941).  More famous authors are not utterly neglected, with several entries covering the modern fantasy works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin and Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Nevertheless, these well-known lands are in the vast minority in The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, which is guaranteed to introduce the reader to new and exotic locales.

Perhaps the best use for The Dictionary of Imaginary Places is as a jumping off point to discover previously unknown works which might be of interest to the reader.  If a description appeals, the bibliographic information which immediately follows it will allow the reader to find the initial source in the library, bookstore or use bookstore.  With luck, readers will then discover a new world of ideas as well as a new fantastic land.

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places is lavishly illustrated with line drawings of interesting locations or maps of the lands which are described.  In some cases, these will give the reader a better feeling for where a land is located, while at other times the drawings “merely” serve to break up the text on the page.  All of these illustrations are well rendered and add to the sense that the authors are describing actual places.

In his introduction, Manguel spends some time explaining the criteria used to decide which legendary lands would be included in the book.  Unfortunately, any reader will be able to come up with dozens of lands which could have been included but weren’t.  Manguel fails to give any indication why some places from modern fantasy, for instance Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, are included while others, such as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld failed to make the cut.

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places is an entertaining book which will spur many thoughts of strange lands and may introduce readers to works of literature which would otherwise not have registered on their radar.  It is more complete and more even than Brian Stableford’s similar Dictionary of Science Fiction Places which was published in 1998, although of course the overlap between the two books is minimal due to their focus.


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