The Dictionary of Imaginary Places

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places
Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi Harcourt

In the foreword to this intriguing Michelin of the Mind, the authors claim that "the imaginary universe is a place of astonishing richness and diversity." They make the case in more than 1,200 entries, commencing with Abaton, a mythical settlement in the Scottish Highlands, said to be glimpsed occasionally on the horizon, "especially at dusk." The quirky tour concludes in Zuy, a "prosperous Elfin kingdom" and leading exporter of music boxes. This updated edition includes such locales as Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and J. K. Rowling’s Hogwarts, where Harry Potter hones his wizardry.

It’s easy to forget these are not places one can actually visit. Travelers to Anastasia, for example, are encouraged to "taste the flesh of the golden pheasant, cooked over fires of seasoned cherry wood and sprinkled with a lot of sweet marjoram." When visitors to Present Land find their watches stopped, they would do well to accept the fact that "this is normal; complaints should not be made to the manufacturers."

Clearly, the authors are having fun. In the entry for Oz, Dorothy Gale is characterized as "famous for her envy of flying bluebirds and her nonmeteorological interest in rainbows." Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, we learn, later was copied by "King Ludwig II of Bavaria, and by Mr. Walt Disney of Chicago in the United States."

Many of the places and writers are familiar: Camelot, Atlantis, El Dorado, Brigadoon; Homer, Shakespeare, Tolkien and Twain. But not all the realms will send the reader running for a passport. On the Weeping Isle, natives daily sacrifice a young girl to a killer whale; on another mythical island, cannibals consign their victims to dishes that are "cooked and served with heavy sauces."

Still, I intend to keep The Dictionary of Imaginary Places handy, to be consulted whenever I feel the need for a draught of whimsy laced with magic.

Reviewer Emily d’Aulaire’s favorite fantasy title is Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories.

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