East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places


I mentioned it in a comment and I promised a post about it, so why not now?
The Dictionary of Imaginary Places is one of those reference books that are an actual pleasure to read. You can look up an entry when in need, sure, but simply going through it from cover to cover is a delight.

Written by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi with tongue firmly in cheek, and first published in 1980, the volume covers imaginary lands from myth and literature, providing a description, an overview and in over 200 cases, a map. The basic model was a tour guide, a massive Baedecker for places that do not exist – and apparently, there is an updated edition that covers Jurassic Park and Hogwarths, but I’ll stick with my 2000 edition.
Opening it at random I find…

page 290 – Hes, or Fire Mountain, a gigantic volcano rising solitary in the plains of KALOON. For many hundred years Hes has been the sanctuary of a cult led by a high priestess. [etc]

page 318 – Ishtakar, a ruined palace at the edge of the land of the Abassises, the capital of which is SAMARAH.The palace is approached through a deep valley; two towering rocks stand at the entrance like a portal. [etc]

page 603 – Sestola, an island-fortress in the -firth of Sestola in the south of MESZRIA. [etc]

You can play a game and see if you can get the reference – I’ll put the answers in this note1.

pellucidmap13This book is huge, entries usually averaging 500/800 words.
There’s references to the works of Frank Baum, George Luis Borges, Ursula K. Le Guin, Italo Calvino, Richard Adams, Edgar Rice Burroughs… but also classics like The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, legend, myth, and folklore, and even the works of French pulp-master Paul Fèval.
Even King Kong’s Skull Island gets an entry.

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places is a wonderful literary game, played with class and an obvious love for the subject.
The entries are fun, the maps are gorgeous.

On a fun note, a few entries are fake – meaning the authors invented them and added them to the brew.
An in-joke that turned out to be critical when, a few years ago, the book was plagiarised, and the plagiarists copied also the fake entries into what they claimed was an original research.

The volume is still available, and while not cheap, it is well worth the cost – and old used copies in good conditions come for cheap.

  1. H. Raider-Haggard’s She, William Beckford’s Vathek and E.R. Eddison’s Mistress of Mistresses 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “The Dictionary of Imaginary Places

  1. Hello Davide!
    Many thanks for this very kind posting. As a keen fan of imaginary places of any and every conceivable source, I had somehow missed a tome teeming with worlds — and within the mere 24 hours that followed my comment. There is nothing that soothes my frigid page-turning fingers better than a recommended classic of this kind, one that includes a literary game and answer key 🙂
    I like that bit about the deliberately faked entries for trapping the unwary word thief.
    So this volume is now on my forthwith list!


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