Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Not the Britannica for Disneyland, But A Nice Reference

The Disneyland Encyclopedia: The Unofficial, Unauthorized, and Unprecedented History of Every Land, Attraction, Restaurant, Shop, and Event in the Original Magic Kingdom, by Chris Strodder. Santa Monica, CA; Santa Monica Press, 2008, 467 pp.

One of the questions I get about this blog (besides "Why don't you post more often?") is "Do you actually read all the books you review?" I do indeed, cover to cover, even if I've read them before - which can sometimes be a neat trick with all the demands for my time. I can now say, however, that I actually found time to read an encyclopedia! But is it worth your time to read and refer to it? Well, hopefully you'll have your answer after this review.

The Disneyland Encyclopedia
attempts to provide all the information that a Disneyland fan might need to settle an argument or refresh his or her memory. The book provides entries for the lands, major and minor attractions, shops, restaurants, events, key people involved, and important elements of Walt Disney's original theme park, and covers everything from the Park's groundbreaking to recent times. Obviously, the book doesn't cover everything about Disneyland - a book that did so thoroughly would be a lot larger than almost 500 pages - but it attempts to cover as much as possible given the constraints of a reasonably priced one-volume set. The book gives readers several ways to access information - by alphabetical listing, by index, by citations of other entries, and (most interestingly) by a set of maps of the Park with each location noted with a letter and number code. The book also contains numerous lists about things found (or previously found) in the Park, a decent bibliography, and listing of relevant websites where readers can find additional information.

This book was a labor of love for its author, Chris Strodder, and it shows. Chris writes the book's entries in an entertaining and very accessible style; for the most part, he avoids being overwhelmingly positive or overwhelmingly cynical when writing about various elements of Disneyland, but he also manages to avoid being overly dry and refrains from being so obsessed with the minutiae of the Park that he runs the risk of boring or alienating his readers. The book is nicely illustrated with photographs from Disneyland (all in black and white, unfortunately); I particularly liked his use of photographs of windows on Main Street to illustrate his entries about Disney Legends involved in the creation of the Park and its attractions.

While overall I enjoyed The Disneyland Encyclopedia, I do have a few quibbles with the book. As you might expect with any project of this depth and breadth, there are a few errors - most of them about places and things outside of Disneyland, but I noticed that there seemed to be more mistakes about the Park near the end of the book than at the beginning (Chris was starting to run out of steam, perhaps?). Chris did a pretty good job with his research, considering he didn't use a lot of primary sources (it seems like his most of his primary source materials were old soft-cover souvenir guidebooks), but I wish that he'd taken the extra time to resolve some questions that his reference materials either didn't have answers for or had contradictory answers for. And, of course, The Disneyland Encyclopedia isn't a complete encyclopedia, by any means; there are a lot of things about the Park that aren't covered in the book or that I found myself wishing had been covered more thoroughly. That said, the book should provide the answers for most general queries fans have about the Park - and should even provide some new information for the Disneyland fan who thinks he or she knows everything.

The Disneyland Encyclopedia
is an interesting and fact filled reference book about Disney's first Magic Kingdom. While it does contain a few errors and isn't an all-encompassing guide to the Park, it should be a handy reference for Disney theme park fans looking for quick answers to questions they may have while pursuing their interests. The book is sure to be a welcome addition to any Disney fan's bookshelf. The book is readily available through numerous sources online and in many brick and mortar bookstores that carry a selection of books about Disney.