The Dictionary of Imaginary Places complicates the idea of a fantasy location

When I was in my early teens, I drew my first and only map. Final Fantasy 9 had just come out and I decided I was going to make a Final Fantasy, so it would be best to come prepared. I estimated at what age I’d be old enough to start working at Square Enix and determined the number of my Final Fantasy that way – and so began my work on Final Fantasy 13. You will note that while I made an accurate estimate about the release schedule of future Final Fantasy games, I did not end up making Final Fantasy 13, but that’s a story for another time. I had a world to make, and worlds had maps. Every game I played had one for its overworld and every book I read then proudly displayed a map on its opening pages. A map set the stage for reader and writer both.

When I drew my world map however, I didn’t think about it in terms of what I wanted, but in terms of what I felt a map should have. Landmasses large and small, island archipelagos, some yellow deserts and grey mountainous areas. Rivers sneaking through a country before reaching the sea. Red dots representing villages and cities. I took great care in ensuring that the map had all these things, but I didn’t think about my creations further than that. Towns were there so you had inns to rest at, mountains acted as gates so my heroes would have to acquire an airship to continue their journey. Real places however, are more than that.

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi is a 755-page book that turns the dots on a map into places with a historian’s care. At first I found it almost odd you would make a dictionary of make-believe. Dictionaries to me always were these big, dry things I lobbed around prior to smartphones to look up the things I needed for work – filmography terms for essays and Japanese vocabulary – and the process of looking up something wasn’t supposed to be fun, it was supposed to be a quick, efficient action allowing me to continue my real work.

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