THE ULTIMATE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FANTASY
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
David Pringle's The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy: The Definitive Illustrated Guide is a companion volume to his earlier book The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1996). The title is rather misleading, for there is nothing ultimate about this book, at least one would hope it isn't the last encyclopedia of fantasy. Perhaps a better title would be A General Overview of Fantasy.
This reference work is divided into 10 sections. The bulk of which describe fantasy in the movies, fantasy on television and fantasy in literature. The order of these sections gives an indication of the books strong focus on the film and tv aspects of fantasy and its lesser look at literary works.
Pringle, and his contributers, seem to have done a good job of cataloguing every television series and film with major fantasy elements. These range from the Swedish silent film "Korkarlen" (1920) to the BBC adaptation of Terry Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters (1997). The authors aren't afraid to give their own opinions of films as well as summaries, and these opinions are not always positive. The major drawback to these two sections is the fact that the films are listed in chronological order. To quickly look up a movie or show, the reader needs to have some idea of when the work was released. This problem is ameliorated by the inclusion of all the entries in the alphabetically arranged index at the back of the book.
The next major section is a look at some major fantasy authors. This is the part of the book which gives the lie to the title as The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy. In the introduction to the section, Pringle notes that "An attempt has been made to include a number of very new people. . . and as a result some of the 'less new' authors of the past two or three decades are omitted." What this means in practice is that while such new authors as Rebecca Bradley (2 novels) and Adam Nichols (3 novels) are included, more established authors, such as Randall Garrett, Diana Paxson, Joel Rosenberg, and Robert Silverberg have been ignored. This section also shows a very strong British bias, which in some ways is a good thing, publicizing their names outside of Britain. However it also has a negative side since many of the books mentioned are not currently available in the US.
Perhaps the best use for The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy is as an introduction to the genre. Certainly the Introduction and descriptions of types of fantasy point in that direction, while the chapters on characters, games, fantasy worlds, and magazines provide a general overview at best. However, priced at $35, this book is rather expensive for someone who does not already have a strong interest in the literature of the fantastic. For those people, this should rank a distant second to the much more complete Encyclopedia of Fantasy, edited by John Clute and John Grant and available in a reasonably priced trade paperback edition..
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