Atlases of Impossible Places

Middle Earth. Flatland. Narnia. Lilliput. Oz. Earthsea. These are places that don't exist except in our imaginations thanks to great writers through the ages. And yet, here's a book that not only describes those places as if they were real, but also shows maps for a number of them: The Dictionary of Imaginary Places by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi.

Manguel (History of Reading, The Library at Night) is to my mind the foremost expert on the reading experience currently living, so his compilation of places from utopian literature is a real gem. If these places can inhabit the reader's mind, are they not as real as all the places you've never visited but only read about? Isn't Hong Kong or Paris as mysterious to me as Wonderland or Treasure Island? Maybe more so, because I've read everything there is about the latter two.
As with Barlowe's Guides, there are rules to be observed here, or else the project would truly be endless. There are no heavens or hells, no places you couldn't walk to, no alien planets and nowhere in the future. And still, there are more places here than any Gulliver could ever hope to visit in a 10 lifetimes, from Borges' Library in Babel Library to Lovecraft's Arkham, going through Gondor, Merlin's Tomb and Wilde's Happy Prince City to get there. Beautiful illustrations and maps will make you believe these places have existed.
In a similar vein, Brian Stableford compiled the Dictionary of Science Fiction Places. Mostly interested in other planets from SF literature (you won't find Tatouine here), though other dimensions, advanced lab facilities and interesting space objects also get some copy. Where the book excels is in its indices (by author, work and entry) and cross-referencing (if you want to find alien artifacts like Clarke's Rama, check out Asgard, Orbitsville and the Thisledown). Where it doesn't is in the artwork. Very few maps, even for things that could be mapped, and while there are many illustrations, they're what you would expect from role-playing game rush jobs (think most of the early GURPS books).
Further, Stableford's criteria are indistinct. It's obvious it would be impossible to catalogue every place and planet in more than 100 years of science fiction, but only one entry (Ringworld) to represent Larry Niven's Known Space? (And no Dream Park, a personal favorite.) Yet there are at least three entries on Alan Dean Foster's Humanx series. More of a fun read than a complete reference work then, in which you'll find many SF gems that you'll want to read or read again. Some of the entries that strike me include Bradbury's Fire Station, Ballard's Vermillion Sands, Farmer's Riverworld, Well's Garden of the Eloi, Wolfe's Urth, Aldous Huxley's Hatchery, Harlan Ellison's Medea, and Herbert's Arrakis.

And yet, why choose Harry Harrison's Helior (from Bill the Galactic Hero), but not the alternate Earth from West of Eden? Why Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, but nothing by Olaf Stapledon? Why so many entries based on Poul Anderson's work, but so few on Isaac Asimov's? Not saying those choices are wrong, just that there's no clear process at work here.

And perhaps these kinds of books will always leave out one of your favorites. Perhaps you'll even be inspired to try to complete the project as these fine people have with the Dictionary of Imaginary Places.


De said...

Thanks for the link. I loved the Rocky & Bullwinkle entries on that site.

Thanks to your entries on encyclopedias, I'll be adding more stuff to the "to-buy" list. I had no idea some of these existed.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, an expanded edition of the Dictionary of Imaginary Places? I have an older one. Just spent a few hours this weekend poring through it, as a matter of fact.

In what way is it expanded? More entries, or more illustrations, or both, or what?

Siskoid said...

Jon, actually, mine's not even up to date. There's a 2000 edition that's sold on Amazon among other places. I don't know about the 2000 edition, but mine has an appendix with all the new entries, so it doesn't disturb the layout of the original.

When I get home, I can check what new entries are included and report back here.

Siskoid said...

Here's the info I promised, Jon: My 1987 expanded edition includes new entries, among them:
-The Abbey from The Name of the Rose
-Dumas' Kingdom of Dolls
-Brecht's Mahagonny
-Findley's Noah's Realm
-Rimbaud's Promontory Palace
And a fair number of places from German works.

Anonymous said...

Cool, thanks!

You know, I'm not sure Middle Earth really qualifies for the supposed 'rules' they give.

Siskoid said...

The Atlas doesn't give a timeframe, and Middle Earth (and its many included components) is meant to be in Earth's part (mythological Europe, as it were). I guess it passes muster as much as, say, Atlantis.


Blog Archive


5 Things to Like Activities Advice Alien Nation Aliens Say the Darndest Things Alpha Flight Amalgam Ambush Bug Animal Man anime Aquaman Archetypes Archie Heroes Arrowed Asterix Atom Avengers Awards Babylon 5 Batman Battle Shovel Battlestar Galactica Black Canary BnB 2-in1 Books Booster Gold Buffy Canada Captain America Captain Marvel Cat CCGs Charlton Circles of Hell Class Comics Comics Code Approved Conan Contest Cooking Crisis Daredevil Dating Kara Zor-El Dating Lois Lane Dating Lucy Lane Dating Princess Diana DCAU Deadman Dial H Dice Dinosaur Island Dinosaurs Director Profiles Doctor Who Doom Patrol Down the Rabbit Hole Dr. Strange Encyclopedia Fantastic Four Fashion Nightmares Fiasco Films Within Films Flash Flushpoint Foldees French Friday Night Fights Fun with Covers FW Team-Up Galleries Game design Gaming Geekly roundup Geeks Anonymous Geekwear Gimme That Star Trek Godzilla Golden Age Grant Morrison Great Match-Ups of Science Fiction Green Arrow Green Lantern Hawkman Hero Points Podcast Holidays House of Mystery Hulk Human Target Improv Inspiration Intersect Invasion Invasion Podcast Iron Man Jack Kirby Jimmy Olsen JLA JSA Judge Dredd K9 the Series Kirby Motivationals Krypto Kung Fu Learning to Fly Legion Letters pages Liveblog Lonely Hearts Podcast Lord of the Rings Machine Man Motivationals Man-Thing Marquee Masters of the Universe Memes Memorable Moments Metal Men Metamorpho Micronauts Millennium Mini-Comics Monday Morning Macking Movies Mr. Terrific Music Nelvana of the Northern Lights Nightmare Fuel Number Ones Obituaries oHOTmu OR NOT? Old52 One Panel Orville Outsiders Panels from Sheena Paper Dolls Play Podcast Polls Questionable Fridays Radio Rants Reaganocomics Recollected Red Bee Red Tornado Reign Retro-Comics Reviews Rom RPGs Sandman Sapphire & Steel Sarah Jane Adventures Saturday Morning Cartoons SBG for Girls Seasons of DWAITAS Secret Origins Podcast Secret Wars SF Shut Up Star Boy Silver Age Siskoid as Editor Siskoid's Mailbox Space 1999 Spectre Spider-Man Spring Cleaning ST non-fiction ST novels: DS9 ST novels: S.C.E. ST novels: The Shat ST novels: TNG ST novels: TOS Star Trek Streaky Suicide Squad Supergirl Superman Supershill Swamp Thing Tales from Earth-Prime Team Horrible Teen Titans That Franchise I Never Talk About The Prisoner The Thing Then and Now Theory Thor Thursdays of Two Worlds Time Capsule Timeslip Tintin Torchwood Tourist Traps of the Forgotten Realms Toys Turnarounds TV V Waking Life Warehouse 13 Websites What If? Who's This? Whoniverse-B Wikileaked Wonder Woman X-Files X-Men Zero Hour Strikes Zine