Ahhh, been muckin' 'bout the Green Man library? What were you looking for? Guides to fantastic literature? Go left by the card catalog, turn down the stone stairs to the right, and you should find the cases that have all of 'em.... or at least the ones not elsewhere in use by staffers. What are me favourites, you ask? Now there's a good question... Let's grab some tea and sit in the kitchen to ponder that while we watch Fiona and her staff bake bread and other goodies for tonight's repast. After all, a good reference guide is as much magic as a properly made stew with its melange of flavours, or hearty bread with a nose-tickling aroma that makes your mouth water!
Let's start off with Fantasy Literature: A Reader's Guide. Like many reference guides of this sort, this is clearly intended for purchase by libraries, and I assume, libraries with a serious interest in the subject -- as it'll set you back some thirty quid if you can find a copy! Amazon, both UK and the American version, think it's still in print, but I doubt it. Which is a true pity, as it's bleedin' good. In its own way, it's far better than The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, because it's geared towards helping you decide what to read -- whereas The Encyclopedia of Fantasy is better, much better, at explaining things, i.e., what wainscoting societies are. Fantasy Literature, like its companion volume, Horror Literature, is a survey of the literature, organized chronologically, and also includes a number of historical and critical essays (including an excellent essay by Dennis Kratz on the state of fantastic literature prior to the early 1800s). Each volume also begins with an essay by Michael Bishop, 'Children Who Survive,' an enlightening glimpse into the roots of the current strong interest in fantasy literature and film. The bulk of Fantasy Literature is exhaustive listings of more books of a fantastic nature than one could possibly imagine! Interested in knowing what Roger Zelazny wrote -- up to the 1998 cutoff date for this publication -- and what each book is about? Well, you won't get everything, but you will get a good overview. (See Jane Lindskold's Roger Zelazny for the most current bibliography; it was published in 1995. The best bibliography, Daniel Levack's Amber Dreams, was never updated after its initial printing in 1983, 12 years before Roger passed on.) The survey begins necessarily with the Greek and Roman traditions and touches on the Indian, Asian, Medieval, and Renaissance as well. There's also an excellent section on Arthurian legends! If you read fantasy literature seriously, you should own this guide.
Anatomy of Wonder: A Critical Guide to Science Fiction is the companion volume to Fantasy Literature, but it bears noting as there's some overlap between the volumes in terms of the authors covered, i.e. Roger Zelazny gets covered in both. And I must admit that why one novel by Zelazny, say the Amber Chronicles, is covered in Fantasy Literature, and another, say Isle of The Dead -- which clearly has a fantasy motif -- is covered in Anatomy of Wonder, appears to be just a wee bit arbitrary. Or it may well be that Zelazny defies being neatly filed away in a single genre! Buy this book only if you are a hardcore science fiction fan; otherwise just visit our library when you need to use it.
More tea? Perhaps a slice of just-out-of-the-brick-oven bread with butter from Brezih? Or perhaps some Avalon Apple cider jelly on it?
The Encyclopedia of Fantasy is another volume any serious reader of fantasy should have. The award-winning (1998 Hugo Award, Mythopoeic Award for Scholarship in the field of Myth and Fantasy, Science Fiction Weekly award for Best Related Book, and nominated for a 1998 World Fantasy award) fantasy version of the popular and highly useful The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction delivers an encyclopedia of considerable value to anyone interested in literature of the fantastic. In its thousand-plus pages, the encyclopedia does a reasonably good job covering what one would expect of a resource centered on modern fantasy. Especially welcome is the expanded definition of the genre. What some readers would consider strict 'fantasy,' such as the Earthsea cycle by Ursula Le Guin, is less than half of the material covered. That so much mainstream fantasy literature is covered is in dramatic contrast to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (St. Martin's, 1993), wherein almost everything is very clearly within the 'hard' science fiction genre.
As was the case with the science fiction volume, however, there are some glaring omissions. Where is the citation for the quintessential Dictionary of Imaginary Places? Or the role of fiddlers in the folk fantasy tradition? (Sweet Brigid, an examination of the Devil and music motif in the folklore of the Appalachian Mountains is worth an entry by itself!) Sorry, it's not to be found in this encyclopedia. (In fairness I should note that the authors have said that the CD-ROM versions of both encyclopedias will restore the many citations that space limitations forced them to leave out, but don't hold your breath, as it appears those projects are not to be.) In general, though, the coverage is both wide-reaching and indepth. Everything from fantasy themes in opera, extensive background material on 'wainscot' societies, and books of which only a truly fanatical reader would keep track, are a few of the delights. Sweet Mab, I found books that I haven't even dreamed existed! Just pick a page at random and read whatever entry strikes your fancy: I guarantee you'll learn something about the genre of fantastic literature that you didn't know before!
The bottom line is that this is the comprehensive fantasy reference that the reading public has been waiting for, and I believe it's worth every penny of the seventy-five dollars it costs for the hardcover edition! I look forward to the day when eBook-based versions of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy and The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction are available, because the only problem with all of these tomes is that they are all out of date -- their appeal is limited and their cost is out of most folk's buying range.
Shall we move back to the library? Yes, bring your tea along... I'll get 'nother cuppa for Liath...
David Pringle's Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels is easily the most interesting of these books, as it's so bleedin' fun to read. Why so, you ask? His introduction to the book gives you the answer: 'Of course, the terms 'fantasy' and 'the fantastic' are open to dozens of interpretations, and I shall not try to choose between theoretical definitions here. An academic commentator, Rosemary Jackson, has complained, 'As a critical term 'fantasy' has been applied indiscriminately to any literature which does not give priority to realistic representation: myths, legends, folk and fairy tales, utopian allegories, dream visions, surrealist texts, science fiction, horror stories...' But it seems to me that fantasy is an indiscriminate form, one wholly without good manners and literary decorum. Insofar as it constitutes a genre, fantasy is a capacious holdall of the supernatural and the uncanny, the visionary and the repellant.'
Now, what you'll be getting in Modern Fantasy are concise, intelligent reviews of what Pringle thinks were the best hundred novels over a four decade period, up to the mid-Nineteen-eighties. Pringle's selection of 100 fantasy novels includes a wide variety of styles. He covers just about all the bases from Tolkien to Stephen King. There are even authors who are also well-known science fiction writers, i.e. Roger Zelazny and his sf novel, Jack of Shadows. Chances are good that you will not agree with all of Pringle's choices -- they are so varied as almost to defy logic itself . I found meself in disagreement in few areas regarding whether a work was indeed fantasy, but I must say that he's got good arguments for all of the entries on this list. I also felt that Pringle tends to have a British bias, omitting several American authors and works that he should've included. But it is an excellent source of future reading possibilities. For example, I discovered Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood here, which led to literally months of great reading through the entire Ryhope Wood series; likewise the lovely fantasies of Lan Garner, such as The Owl Service, were discovered here. It would not be an understatement to say that one could build a very nice library of fantasy from the contents of Modern Fantasy!
What about single author reference guides? We've got hundreds... which author did y'ave in mind? Ahhh, Zelazny. Now, there was a bleedin' loss to the readers when he passed over in '95. Well, we've got three different looks at him and his work in the Green Man library...
Amber Dreams: A Roger Zelazny Bibliography was published the same year as Theodore Krulik's Roger Zelazny was, and not surprisingly both suffer from being written nearly a decade before death terminated his prolific writing career. That said, Amber Dreams is actually the best bibliographic source for Zelazny of the two. After a brief introduction, the first section of some fifty pages covers his books. This section alphabetically lists novels, short story collections, and hard-to-find publications such as chapbooks. For each book, a chronological listing is given of each edition, whether hardcover or softcover, and the language. Images of many book covers are also included -- but the quality of the images is often shite. The other important part of Amber Dreams is the fifty-plus page section about his stories, again an alphabetical listing for all short stories, poems, nonfiction, and novels printed as magazine serials or in omnibus volumes (i.e. the Amber series, which ws collected in the Science Fiction Book Club edition.) Chronological listings of various publications are included, along with more images of magazines whose covers featured tie-in artwork. Me only complaint is that Levack should've done a second edition a decade later!
Krulik's Roger Zelazny also makes an excellent guide to the world of Zelazny as, like Jane Lindskold's Roger Zelazny, it's a biography. But it has a relatively well-done bibliography that simply lists the works done by Zelazny. No fluff here, no weird listing of translation into Esperanto -- just a simple indexing of his works! Yes, Amber Dreams is more detailed, but who the frell cares if all one is looking for is a listing of works major and minor? Krulik looks at each of the works in his text, so you can explore the details of each, should you care to. Lindskold's book dates from 1993, and it has a bibliography that is almost complete. It's a terribly splendid biography from a woman who may have been his lover, and certainly got close enough to him to become his executor, but her bibliography is also dated. Personally, I'd say that none of these are worth having unless you're a fanatical Zelazny reader! I'd like to give you a URL for a decent online bibliography for him, but I can say with a certain amount of certainty that a comprehensive one doesn't exist!
Well, that's it for now, as I'm all out of tea. Shall we see what Liath has added to the Library recently? Oh, Liath...