The Dictionary of Imaginary Places

by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi

Published by Knopf

755 pages, 1999

Buy it online





Magic Carpet for the Soul

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


It's almost impossible to imagine the amount of research that had to go in to the creation of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places. Though it might be more accurate to say, the amount of work that continues to go in to this book, as it appears to be a lifetime project.

In 1977 Alberto Manguel (A History of Reading) and Gianni Guadalupi (The Discovery of the Nile) jointly undertook what very quickly must have seemed like an impossible task. Together the two writers and passionate booklovers would prepare a traveler's guide to imaginary places in literature. As Manguel noted in the original book's foreword:

But as the project developed, our list of entries kept growing, threatening to become endless. Given the vast scope of the imaginary universe, we had, for practical purposes, to establish certain limits.

In the interest of producing a book that would be manageable for a single human without mechanical aid, they restricted themselves to, "places that a traveler could expect to visit, leaving out heavens and hells and places of the future, and including only those on our own planet." Even with these restrictions, there was still a lot of ground to cover. Ground that increases every year as more books are published and -- with them -- more imaginary places are created. In the Author's Note to the recently released revised edition, Manguel says:

There are still, of course, many gaps; the imaginary world keeps growing, and countless continents of the mind are born between book covers every year. "We carry within us the wonders we seek without us," said the wise Sir Thomas Browne. "There is all Africa and her prodigies in us."

The newly revised and updated 1999 version is an even more handsome and substantial volume than the original 1981 edition. The new version includes some very current entries, including one for Jurassic Park, Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and Hogwarts, the school of witchcraft and wizardry described in J.K. Rowling's astonishingly successful series of books about the young wizard, Harry Potter. How delightful to find such current entries treated with the same weight and respect as, say, Cyclopes Island from The Odyssey by Homer (9th century, BC) or Jonathan Swift's island of Luggnagg, from Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the World (1726). Still more delightful: the possibility of keeping this book on a shelf nearby, ready to take us on amazing journeys whenever the mood presents itself.

Manguel and Guadalupi have outdone themselves. The Dictionary of Imaginary Places is a book to use and treasure. An invaluable resource for writers and the fodder for pleasant dreams and remembrances for just about anyone else. | December 1999


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of the Madeline Carter novels: Mad Money, The Next Ex and Calculated Loss.