The Dictionary of Imaginary Places (1987)

All these books, and the Enchanted World and stuff like the Glass Harmonica or Daniel Cohen’s books or the piles of other dictionaries, cyclopedia and handbooks on shelves from the 60s through the 90s served a very important function in the world before the internet: the filled the brains of people like me with monsters, heroes and other fantastical stuff. Truly, now you can look all this nonsense up on Wikipedia, learn about it, forget it. Before the internet, the larger body of human mythology and folklore was remote. I turned to books like this to get glimpses of that larger world and because they were really my only way to get that glimpse, the books themselves became as precious as the stories they held. So when you wonder why there aren’t many books like this anymore, that’s your answer and also an explanation as to why that lack bums me out so much.

Anyway, this is The Dictionary of Imaginary Places (originally 1980, this edition 1987), by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi, with fantastic illustrations by Graham Greenfield and cartography by James Cook. It concerns itself with strange places of or adjacent to our own world, so Earthsea and Dracula’s castle are both represented, as are many, many more, each defined in a way not dissimilar from a Baedeker’s travel guide, often complete with maps and floor plans. It is a delightful catalog and a welcome addition to the shelves of any GM who subscribes to the notion that everything is a sourcebook (because everything IS a sourcebook).

Greenfield’s art is particularly beguiling. It is often architectural, usually mysterious and always having a sense of silence about them. They remind me of Zork and Myst and the Rider-Waite tarot in many ways. Also, since I don’t know when else I’ll have the chance to crow about them: Alberto Manguel has two fascinating non-fiction books worth your time, A History of Reading and The Library at Night. I particularly love the latter, a book length meditation on libraries, books and collections.

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