THE ENCYLOPEDIA OF FANTASY
by John Clute, et al.
St. Martin's Press
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
To begin, John Clute and company's The Encyclopedia of Fantasy is an essential book for anyone who is serious about fantasy. Having said that, much of this review is going to focus on negatives rather than positives.
As can be expected with any book this size, mistakes have crept in. Within the first few days, I found several errors, mostly minor. A book attributed to Lynn Abbey which was written by Robert Asprin, a mistaken title for a book by Charles de Lint, that sort of thing. These mistakes, however are minor.
Perhaps a bigger problem with the Encyclopedia is the strange inclusion and omission of authors. Neither Sterling Lanier or Steven Frankos are included in the book, however Steve Szylagi, who has written a single fantasy novel has received an entry. According to Clute, the book does not claim to be as complete as its predecessor, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and the editors were forced to make some cuts. It would have been nice if he could have given some hint as to the selection criteria in the front matter. One friend suggested that if an author was included in the first book they would be left out of the second book, but too many authors appear in both books for this rule of thumb to be applied (Charles de Lint, Mervyn Peake, Larry Niven, etc.)
A larger percentage of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy is given over to thematic entries than The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Fantasy, however, has more common themes and prototypes than science fiction does, therefore making these types of entries a larger portion of any survey of the field. Still, the reader has to wonder about entries such as "Pornographic Fantasy Movies" which is so vague ("few researchers are willing to sit through the stuff...") as to be titillating rather than informative.
The Encyclopedia of Fantasy also repeats one of the faults of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. The author entries could contain more biographical data to supplement the bibliographical data already included. I'm not looking for gossip, merely some idea of what helped formulate the authors' writing.
Despite these flaws, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy is a major and important reference work. Essential to any library. Clute is still in negotiations to issue the Encyclopedia on CD-Rom. He says that if a deal goes through, he'll be able to replace author entries which were cut from the print version. The electronic format would be a welcome addition to the printed book.
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