Caliburn24 here to guide you through the top ten fantasy worlds.
Fantasy and sci fi are seemingly divided into different camps. Of course, we get Clarke’s Three Laws from Arthur C. Clarke, number three says, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” So which one is superior is pretty much moot to me. Fantasy worlds are basically places to let your imagination roam free. We know them almost better than the works themselves; Oz, Narnia, and Middle Earth. Sometimes, our imagination dips into dark corners, but it is always bright and pure escapism.
10 Neverland – the world of Neverland was first realized as a play by J.M. Barrie in 1904. He later turned it into a novel, Peter Pan, in 1911. The first onscreen appearance of Neverland was in Peter Pan (1924). The Disney animated cartoon, Peter Pan (1953) had a fun version of Neverland. Peter Pan went into anime form in The Adventures of Peter Pan (1989). One of the most stunning visuals was the approach to Neverland with the sea below complete with a submerged coral compass in Hook (1991). The Spielberg film had a grown up Robin Williams as Peter returning to Neverland to save his kids. Disney spun off Neverland into a series of direct-to-video animated specials one starting with Peter Pan: Return to Neverland (2002). Later Peter Pan (2003). Recently there was the tv mini series Neverland (2011) which has Peter as an Oliver Twist-like street urchin and Captain Hook starting out as an Artful Dodger-type.
9 Wonderland – Lewis Carroll has constructed the most literate and complex fantasy novels in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). One of the earliest appearances of Wonderland was in an eight minute b&w short, Alice in Wonderland (1903). The first Disney version was animated, but also a short, Alice’s Wonderland (1923) which had their first star, Virginia Davis, moving through some animated scenes. Alice comes to full animated form in Alice in Wonderland (1951) voiced by Kathryn Beaumont. The best visuals of Wonderland can be found in a small movie Dreamchild (1985). It has a twisted mirror of the original Tenniel drawings put to life by the Henson company. One of the most oddest, but most fun comic books was the crossover Captain Carrot Oz Wonderland War (1986). The artist, Carol Lay, not only brought in the cartoony captain, but also masterfully combined the art of Tenniel and Oz artist, W.W. Denslow. Kate Beckinsale wandered into a different Underworld in Alice Through the Looking Glass (1998). One of the most recent comic book adaptations was Rod Espinosa’s Alice in Wonderland (2006). The latest film was in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010) which falls short of the vision in Dreamchild of an elderly Alice looking back at her childhood.
8 Oz – Dorothy Gale first entered Oz in L. Frank Baum’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz published in 1900. One of the first onscreen visions of Oz was directed by its creator, L. Frank Baum, in the silent films, Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913) and the Magic Cloak of Oz (1913) and then went on to film Wizard of Oz (1914) and Scarecrow of Oz (1914). One of the most well known and beloved stays in Oz is of course the musical, The Wizard of Oz (1939). Judy Garland’s Dorothy was very grown up, but Oz itself was rendered in some striking visual effects and set designs. The most interesting vision of Oz was in The Wiz, first as a stage musical in 1974 and later the entertaining movie in 1978.
It wasn’t until 1985 when we made our Return to Oz. This had a young Fairuza Balk wandering an Oz that closely followed the W.W. Denslow drawings. The most recent Broadway sensation, Wicked made its Broadway debut in 2003. The musical was based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the Wset (1995). A Sy Fy mini-series, Tin Man (2007) with Zooey Deschanel as Dorothy traveling to a darker version of Oz. The two Hobbits, Sean Astin and Billy Boyd, starred in a tv movie, The Witches of Oz (2011), which has an adult Dorothy returning to Oz. In comic books, Eric Shanower has been adapting the Oz books with Scottie Young including the just released Road to Oz #1. Next year will be the prequel movie, Oz: The Great and Powerful.
7 Underground Realm – Guillermo del Toro’s fairy tale, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), takes place on Earth, but another world exists next to it. Princess Moanna has escaped the Underground Realm to see the sunlight in the world above. The king of the underground opened up portals around the world for the return of his daughter, but she has lost her memory in her earthly form. Now she is known as Ofelia and her mother disapproves of her reading fairy tales. The real world is harsh and dark set in the period after the Spanish Civil War. Ofelia is led by a fairy to the maze and into the labyrinth. She encounters the faun played by Doug Jones as a decrepit creature that seems to be carved from an old oak. This is of course, known as Pan in English versions, but he is never identified by that name, and Pan is the name of the Roman god of shepherds.
The faun gives Ofelia a mandrake root which is similar to the one in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, but it is like a child. Ofelia places it under her mother’s bed and this helps to cure her illness. In a Wonderland dress, Ofelia is directed through the forest to a fig tree shaped like the faun. She crawls through a muddy tunnel swarming with insects. Ofelia encounters a Giant Frog which she baits with the large bugs. It vomits up its insides and Ofelia takes a key from it. Later, Ofelia is tasked with entering the lair of the Pale Man wonderfully played by Doug Jones. She breaks the rules by eating at the table of the Pale Man, but she manages to escape. Her quest is ended by the disappointed faun, but he returns later to tell her she has one more chance. She has to take her infant brother to the labyrinth. Ofelia does so and makes a sacrifice that returns her to the Underground Realm. It is revealed as a world of gold with tall thrones and fairies. Her presence on Earth is still seen in a white flower that grows next to the fig tree.
6 Wizarding World – J.K. Rowling’s world is set in a magical realm that is adjacent to our world. Access is possible through Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station, the Leaky Cauldron pub which leads to Diagon Alley, through portkeys, or having a Pure-blood Wizard able to take you there. It is recently discovered at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida. The first glimpse of the Wizarding World was in the first Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) with basically Diagon Alley, Gringotts bank (seen again in the last movie), and Hogwarts. There is yet another level below Hogwarts in the sequel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). This is returned to in the last film. Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) opens the world a bit with the nearby village of Hogsmeade.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) has Harry finding adventures far from Hogwarts at the Quidditch World Cup, exploring the depths of the Black Lake next to Hogwarts, and traveling to the Riddle graveyard. Harry is taken to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. He and his fellow students in Dumbledore’s army train in the Room of Requirement in Hogwarts and enter the Department of Mysteries in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007). Harry goes with Dumbledore to a black lake to find a horcrux in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009). Harry, Ron, and Hermione go on a road trip to find the horcruxes including Godric’s Hollow and the Forest of Dean where Sword of Gryffindor is found. This is in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010). The final battle is at Hogwarts and the next generation of Wizards is seen at King’s Cross Station in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011).
5 Hyboria – the sword and sorcery, blood drenched world of Robert E. Howard, Hyboria, is found in his Conan and Kull works. Conan first appeared in the story, “The Phoenix on the Sword” (1932) published in Weird Tales magazine. Conan’s former country is found to the north called Cimmeria this is seen in the first movie and also the 2011 film. He has traveled the length and breadth of Hyboria. Conan was first on screen played by Arnie in Conan the Barbarian (1982). He travels to Zamora to find Thulsa Doom at the Tower of Serpents. He returns to Zamora to escort Princess Jehenna in the sequel Conan the Destroyer (1984). Conan appeared in cartoon form in the Conan the Adventurer (1992-1993) animated series.
He was then played by Ralf Moeller in the Conan the Adventurer tv series (1997). Recently, Jason Momoa fresh from Game of Thrones played Conan in the Conan the Barbarian film in 2011. Kevin Sorbo, Hercules himself, played Howard’s other barbarian hero in Kull the Conqueror (1997). This covered Kull taking the throne of Valusia. Another Hyborian was actually transplanted from a Howard short story by Roy Thomas into comic books. Her first appearance was in Conan the Barbarian #23 (1973). She was Red Sonja (1998) portrayed by Brigitte Nielsen. Her homeland of Hyrkania is seen in the film and she travels to Castle Berkubane. The only other actress who played Sonja was in the Conan the Adventurer tv series in an episode, “Red Sonja” (1998) played by the beautiful Angelica Bridges. Brian Wood is adapting Howard’s stories in the Conan the Barbarian title published by Dark Horse Comics.
4 Westros – the world of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series was recently envisioned in the Game of Thrones program. Westros was unveiled to readers in Martin’s first book Game of Thrones (1996). The series is the fantasy equivalent of Herbert’s Dune with a noble house, the Starks, threatened by the rich, powerful house, the Lannisters, and a deadly, almost primitive people, the Dothraki. Still, Martin has unfolded a rich narrative that has become complex, political and one of the most mature tales to this day. It had its appearance on screen with the tv series in 2011 and continues today. Most of the lands of Westeros and some of Eastos was shown in the first season of Game of Thrones. The major feature of Westros is the Wall (dropping Shield), a 300 mile ice wall that protects the lands to the south.
Beyond the Wall is the mysterious Others called the White Walkers and the savage Wildings. It is just being explored by the Rangers this season. Below the Wall is the ancestral lands of House Stark which protects the Seven Kingdoms. Their seat is the castle of Winterfell. The Eyrie is the castle for House Arryn aligned to the Starks. The Pyke is a castle for House Greyjoy, the Iron Islands are now a threat to the Starks in season two. House Lannister is based in Casterly Rock which has yet to appear on the show. At the very southern end of Westeros is King’s Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms. In the throne room is the Iron Throne made up of swords taken from defeated opponents. On the other side of the world is Daenerys Targareyn. She has traveled to Pentos in the first season to the Dothraki Sea and is taken to the city of Vaes Dothrak. In the second season and book, Daenerys reaches the city of Qarth. She has wandered with the Dothraki across the desert called the Red Waste. Dynamite Entertainment is publishing the Game of Thrones comic book written by author Daniel Abraham and has art by Tommy Patterson.
3 Narnia – Narnia is a fairy tale world that embodies much of the Christian belief of author, C.S. Lewis in his Chronicles of Narnia series. It is ruled by Aslan, a lion who watches over Narnia and provides guidance to everyone. Narnia is accessible by only a chosen few and the first travelers from our world is Frank and Helen who become the first king and queen of Narnia. The world was first seen in an animated film, The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (1979). The BBC live action series started with The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (1988). Two books were combined into one series entitled Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1989). Warwick Davis played the brave mouse Reepicheep in the series. Later, the last series was in The Silver Chair (1990). Former Doctor Who, Tom Baker, played Puddleglum and Warwick Davis played Glimfeather in this program.
It was only until 2005 that a film series, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, directed by Andrew Adamson, returned to the world. The Pevensie children were able to enter Narnia through the wardrobe (since sealed off). The wardrobe is actually made from an apple tree planted by Digory Kirke when he was a kid (he is seen much older in the film played by Jim Broadbent). This was in the prequel book, The Magician’s Nephew (1955). They are recalled by a horn left by Susan, in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008). The Pevensies discover that the world has changed Edmund and Lucy are taken into a painting that sent the to a sea next to the Dawn Treader ship in the film directed by Michael Apted, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010).
2 Middle Earth – J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece found in his Lord of the Rings trilogy and also his Hobbit novel. Middle Earth was first discovered in Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit (1937). The beginning of the Lord of the Rings trilogy started with Fellowship of the Rings published in 1954. The first on screen vision of Middle Earth was in Rankin and Bass’ animated special, The Hobbit (1977). For years it was the only fantasy world out there and had me singing it’s songs, hopefully Peter Jackson’s version has more than one song. Then, there was the dark, but wildly animated film version of Lord of the Rings (1978) by Ralph Bakshi. This movie with script in part by author Peter S. Beagle compressed the first two books into one movie which was the initial plan for Jackson’s films. Rankin and Bass actually followed up with The Return of the King (1980) finishing all of the Middle Earth entries.
Of course, it took some twenty-three years until Peter Jackson put Tolkien’s work into The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001) which introduced Hobbiton, Rivendell (which will show up again in The Hobbit films), the Mines of Moria, and Lothlorien. The sequel, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), not only brought in Gollum, but also the armies of Rohan from Edoras to the battle at Helm’s Deep, Fanghorn Forest, and the fortress Osgilath. The final film, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), brought us deep into Mordor, where Frodo and Sam are able to escape Shelob’s cave, cross the plains, and into Mount Doom. The others are fighting in Minas Tirith, it comes full circle with a return to the Shire, and surprisingly Jackson ends the film with the Grey Havens where the Elves and some of the others depart to Valinor, an Elvish heaven on Middle Earth. Jackson is coming full circle himself, returning to Middle Earth at the beginning with a trilogy of Hobbit films.
1 Earth – Wait, did you read the Top Sci Fi Worlds article? Go back and read it, I’ll wait. Believe it, our world contains some of the most fantastic and exotic settings in all of literature and media. It serves as a starting point that leads to portal worlds such as Narnia, Oz, Wonderland, and many other fairylands. The Earth is reflected in many fantasy worlds like Middle-Earth and Hyboria. Roger Zelazny’s series beginning with Nine Princes in Amber (1970) even has our world as a mundane reflection of the true world, Amber. The greatest Earth bound setting is Camelot. One of the earliest appearances was in the tv series The Adventures of Galahad (1949). The Lerner and Lowe musical, Camelot, was based on T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. It was later turned into a movie musical in 1967. Dumbledore sings!
Of course, most well known is John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981) with Nicol Williamson as a perfect Merlin. Both co-stars Nigel Terry and his Guinevere, Cherie Lunghi, were in the 1992 Covington Cross tv series. The brilliant swordplay of Bob Anderson was on display in First Knight (1995) which is actually based on Chretien de Troyes’ “Knight of the Cart.” Camelot has appeared in modern films with countless tv films including the Hallmark Merlin (1998) and Merlin’s Apprentice (2006). Still running and popular as ever is the BBC Merlin series with the excellent Colin Morgan as the young sorcerer, Bradley James as Arthur just named king, and the beautiful Katie McGrath as the now villainous Morgana. Earth also happens to be the primary setting of Neil Gaiman’s work. Of course, his comic book, Sandman, had strong ties to our world. His novel, Neverwhere, explored an underworld that first appeared in the BBC mini-series, Neverwhere both were released in 1996. American Gods (2001) and Anansi Boys (2005) were both Earth bound. The end of Pan’s Labyrinth gives a hint of where to find magic in our world, “she left behind small traces of her time on earth, visible only to those who know where to look.”