Since the publication of his comics-history-derived, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon has shed his persona as an author of small, literary tales, and become an occasional spokesman for science fiction and superheroes. (Chabon's rejected proposal for the first X-Men movie became a hot topic among comic-book fans, as has the recent news that he's writing the Spider-Man sequel.) Chabon makes his first official foray into fantasy with Summerland, a young-adult novel that combines his love of baseball and his love of mythological arcana. Summerland follows 10-year-old Ethan Feld, the son of an aviation-engineer father and a recently deceased veterinarian mother. Ethan is a lousy Little Leaguer, but he plays ball anyway, at the tip of an island off the coast of Washington, on a spot where it literally never rains in the summertime. Ethan learns the secret of "summerland" when a band of elf-like creatures known as ferishers recruit him as their champion in a battle with the trickster Coyote, who plans to bring about an apocalypse known as "Ragged Rock" (or Ragnarok, for those fluent in Norse mythology). The nervous, uncertain boy drafts his best friends Jennifer T. (a baseball-loving tomboy) and Thor (a number-crunching nerd convinced that he's an android named TW03), and sets off in one of his father's personal dirigibles on a quest that involves all manner of strange beasts. Summerland's postmodern streak is perhaps inevitable, given the author's affection for children's literature. Consciously or unconsciously, and more than a little laboriously, Chabon mimics A Wrinkle In Time, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Lord Of The Rings, and The Chronicles Of Narnia. Summerland's early chapters are long and packed with detail, loaded with a thicket of funky names and folklore that's hard to negotiate, as well as sudden bursts of action often too frenzied to follow. By the time Chabon settles into a more controlled, episodic pace, almost 300 pages of the 500-page novel have passed. Most damaging, Chabon never finds the right tone: The first-person narrator interrupts too infrequently, and the knotty, multi-allegorical plotting lacks a necessary whimsy. Following Chabon through his intricately designed anthill provides ample opportunity to admire his almost Pynchon-esque imagination, but the author fails to deliver a book of the caliber, or even the comfortable style, of the classics that inspired him.