Literary Wonderlands: A Journey Through the Greatest Fictional Worlds Ever Created

The brief essays collected in Literary Wonderlands survey nearly 4,000 years of inventive storytelling. Under the editorial direction of Laura Miller (The Magician's Book), the work of more than 40 contributors is organized into a timeline tracing from ancient myth and legend to modern fantasy and speculative fiction.

Literary Wonderlands skews toward the relatively recent and toward Western works, although there was clearly an effort made to diversify the selections. And with a few exceptions--Richard Wagner's Ring operas, Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics, Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide radio play--the modern fictional worlds considered here spring from conventionally bookish origins. (The "greatest fictional worlds ever created" for movie and television science fiction don't seem to fall under the scope of the subtitle.)

While some essays consider their subjects in terms of themes or influences, the critique is approachable rather than academic, and all include a detailed synopsis of the story under consideration. The literary forms represented range from medieval poetry and drama (The Divine Comedy, The Tempest) to fiction that defined genres (The Time Machine) and broke them open (Slaughterhouse-Five). Contributors explore the worlds of characters associated with children's literature--Alice, Peter Pan, Harry Potter--alongside the adults-only settings of Brave New World and A Clockwork Orange. Middle Earth, Oz and Narnia also get their due. The book includes more than 100 illustrations, mixing drawings, maps, paintings and photographs.

An engaging read on its own merits, Literary Wonderlands is equally valuable as a resource for further reading and as fodder for arguments over the works it includes (and leaves out). --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's: Reading. 'Riting, and Randomness

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