Literary Wonderlands: A Journey Through The Greatest Fictional Worlds Ever Created, edited by Laura Miller
Leftists ruin everything, even an enjoyment of the imaginative locations of speculative fiction. That is not to say that this book is worthless. On the contrary, it is at points quite interesting, even where I seriously and violently disagree with the author about the worth of particular novels and fictional worlds and the fixations of the authors. If the reader is not aware of the connection between fictional writers and their worlds before reading this book, they should certainly be aware of it afterwards, and the book has a thoughtful mixture of fictional worlds I already appreciate for having read the novels in those worlds, fictional worlds I would like to be more familiar with, and fictional worlds I have no desire to visit and would in some cases rather they not exist at all. It is likely that the wide scope of worlds examined by the authors of this book was designed to provoke conversation and to reflect certain politically correct worldviews, but even someone with picky tastes in speculative fiction like I have has a great deal to appreciate here from Narnia and Middle Earth to Flatland and Panem. And if I can find a great deal to appreciate here, then almost any fan of fantasy or science fiction will likely be able to do the same.
This book is a large one at about 300 pages and is divided into five parts by the era in which the particular fictional world was created. The first series of fictional worlds goes from Gilgamesh through Homer’s Odyssey and Beowulf and Dante’s Divine Comedy through Utopia to Shakespeare’s Tempest and the writings of the mid 17th century, a look at what the editor considers to be ancient myth and legend (1). After this comes the worlds of the 18th and 19th centuries, from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels through Carroll and Verne and Wagner to Twain and H.G. Wells and the Wizard of Oz (2). The golden age of fantasy in the first half of the 20th century follows, with contributions including Peter Pan, Doyle’s Lost World, Gilman’s Herland, the Cthulhu mythos, Brave New World, and the Little Prince, among others (3). The New World Order of t he period from World War II to 1980 brings us plenty of compelling worlds like Orwell’s 1984, Narnia, I, Robot, Fahrenheit 451, Pedro Páramo, Middle Earth, Pale Fire, Earthsea, Calvino’s Invisible Cities, the Princess Bride, and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (4). Finally the computer age, since 1980, brings us a set of worlds that includes powerhouses like the Game of Thrones, the Handmaid’s Tale (a tale I loathe), Discworld, Harry Potter, Cloud Atlas, His Dark Materials, and the Hunger Games, as well as more unfamiliar works.
It is obvious that the people who write about these worlds greatly love the worlds they promote. The authors also go into a great deal of detail about certain social aspects of these worlds, being rather quick to judge some writers as politically incorrect or bigoted but generally praising feminist writers, authors of color (even if no one outside of narrow circles has read or heard of them), and the usual sexual minorities. There are also a wide variety of fictional worlds that are well worth remembering that are not included here for one reason or another, as there seems to be at least some bias against literary wonderlands that take place on other planets (Star Wars, Star Trek, C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy, Burroughs’ John Carter on Mars, etc.). To be sure, this is a flawed collection and given its motley nature it could hardly be anything other than flawed, not least with an editor whose writing credits demonstrate a considerable leftist bias that shows all over this book. But a book like this will not be completely worthless even to such a curmudgeon as me, so long as it encourages more reading of potentially worthwhile books.