Monday, September 03, 2012

The Disneyland Encyclopedia by Chris Strodder

I recognize that most people are not like me; most people don't read encyclopedias -- even encyclopedias about theme parks -- for enjoyment, and don't embark on reading a dozen books for a family vacation. But I am me, and I do do those things.

And I can tell you that The Disneyland Encyclopedia is a really swell way to waste a dozen hours or so, if you have any interest at all in Disneyland, theme-park history, or just the ways that American icons morph and adapt over the course of a couple of generations of continuous operation. Chris Strodder's book contains over 500 entries, covering every element of the Disneyland park -- people, attractions, stores, lands, restaurants, events, TV shows, promotions, and less definable stuff -- with details of what it was (or still is), how it's changed, and what's interesting about it. Upfront, there are maps of the park as a whole and the various lands, with buildings and areas keyed to a list of the various things that have been there over the years -- this is sometimes a bit vague, due to major renovations, but generally is usefully precise. And the back of the book has an extensive index, a solid bibliography, and an appendix listing the entries by land and type (attraction, person, restaurant, store, etc.). Strodder also has included his own black-and-white photos of every element that's still in existence, though those those photos tend to be small in the book -- there are a few photos in color on Strodder's website, but it would have been nice to have had them all accessible there.

So this is absolutely the book for anyone interested in the history of Disneyland; I've never seen or heard of anything half as comprehensive or detailed. (I also note that I read the 2008 first edition, which has a blue cover; a second edition came out this summer and has an orange cover -- I assume, but do not know for sure, that the updates are primarily about changes since 2008 and not new archival information.)

The only major negative is that Strodder deliberately did not ask any questions of Disney officials; he hasn't interviewed anyone or done any original research, just read the primary documents and the already-existing books about Disneyland. (Readers will note that he relies very heavily on souvenir books as primary sources: he seems to be someone who started off as a souvenir-book collector and only afterward decided he wanted an encyclopedia of Disneyland, so wrote it himself when no one else did.) It would have been nice if he'd done some journalistic digging -- but, then again, the scope of Disneyland Encyclopedia is so large that he could be researching just Adventureland attractions for a decade or more. So that's something of a missed opportunity; I have to assume that Strodder has a list of questions he'd like to have answered, and there are certainly people still alive who could answer some of those questions, if he wanted to track them down and ask.

But that is a quibble: Disneyland Encyclopedia is now and is likely to remain the most comprehensive book on the park -- unless the Disney company follows Strodder's lead, opens their vaults, and does a similar book based on official archival materials -- and so is of strong interest to serious Disney fans, anyone interested in 20th century pop and cultural history, and Californiana.

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