So how does one enter the world of faërie?
This site catalogs the various ways that some famous fantasy authors have imagined the transition. I’ve added to it a bit in what follows, but the list doesn’t pretend to be exhaustive even of famous fantasy worlds. But it’s a good place to start.
You can see that I’ve distinguished two basic ways for a story to take us into faërie: by spiriting us away to another world entirely, or by taking us into a hidden dimension of our own world, whether that dimension be an obscure geographical facet of our world, or a world that exists in some way parallel to our own.
So fantasy stories either
Spirit Us Away To A Completely Other World By…
- dreaming (H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands; Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland)
- entering into a child’s imagination (J.M. Barrie’s Neverland)
- stepping through a wardrobe (C.S. Lewis’s Narnia)
- the author simply positing a world of faërie without explaining its relation to our own (J.R.R. Tolkien, Middle Earth–though Tolkien was of more than one mind on this throughout his life. Sometimes he spoke of Middle Earth as a prehistoric version of our own world.)
Take Us Into A Hidden Dimension Of Our Own World By…
- burrowing into the depths of the Earth (Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Pellucidar)
- stumbling onto a hidden valley (James Hilton’s Shangri-La; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World)
- venturing into a whimsical or even magical forest (Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden; the forest of A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
- coming upon strange islands (Gulliver’s World of Jonathan Swift; St. Thomas More’s Utopia)
- traveling through time (Lucy M. Boston’s Green Knowe)
- traveling through space (C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy–taking other planets to be part of our own world or cosmos)
- running through a wall in a train platform–among other methods (the magical world in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books)
In this light, I see my own Kingdom of Patria stories belonging in the second category, in that they take the reader into a hidden dimension of our world by introducing us to a tiny, secret kingdom nestled in the woods of northern Indiana.
Another cut at the various ways of getting into faërie is this set of distinctions by Nikki Gamble.
- A setting in which the primary world does not exist (e.g., Tolkien)
- A setting in which the secondary world is entered through a portal in the primary world (e.g. Lewis’s Narnia tales)
- A setting that is a distinct world-within-a-world as part of the primary world (e.g. the Harry Potter books).
Given this new set of distinctions I would say my Kingdom of Patria belongs to number 3, being a world-within-a-world as part of the primary world.
But is this right?
Because all three ways of getting into faërie distinguished by Nikki Gamble pertain to high fantasy, where a plausible, self-consistent “secondary world” is imagined. My original distinction also has to do with authors who present us with fully-realized secondary worlds.
But there’s also low fantasy, in which the setting is very decidedly our world, reimagined with some fantastical or even magical elements. Many popular middle grade children’s books are low fantasies: e.g., The Adventures of Pinocchio, The Borrowers, The Indian in the Cupboard. I would also add the two comedies of Shakespeare mentioned earlier to the genre of low fantasy.
And low fantasy, in the end, is the genre of fantasy literature to which my Patria stories belong. Patria is very decidedly in our world–there’s no portal to another world, no parallel dimension, no magic. It’s present-day Indiana through and through, but with some rather fantastical elements thrown in.
Like a kingdom founded 3,000 years ago by refugees from the Trojan War…
What’s your favorite work of fantasy?
Is it high or low?
If high, where does it fit within the categories of high fantasy discussed here?
Is there a better way of capturing the distinctions I’ve been working with?