Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Imaginary Lands

The Lands and worlds used as fantasy settings, and their various connections with Earth, imply a super-Multiverse which it would not be useful to Map. Even the following rough classification is probably overfinicky in its sorting of lands invented by authors for whom the precise choice of planet or continent, or difference between a forward or backward Time Abyss, is of far less concern than the development of their Story.

Lands of the deep past. Earth's ancient history and prehistory offer a wide-open Playground: very many authors have made use of legendary Atlantis. Other popular past venues include Lemuria – the setting of Lin Carter's Thongor tales – Mu and Lyonesse (> Jack Vance). The resonant name Hyperborea was borrowed by Clark Ashton Smith for his prehistoric continental setting, and echoed in the "Hyborian Age" (post-Atlantis but pre-history) through which Robert E Howard's Conan hacks his way; John Jakes's Brak the Barbarian offers a closely similar land of Tyros. The gaudy ancient world of Michael Moorcock's Elric, containing Melniboné and the Young Kingdoms, fades with its Last Battle to become our own Earth; that of Larry Niven's Magic Goes Away sequence converges on Earth by a slower process of Thinning. In Christian Fantasy, the past also contains Eden; otherwise, Arcadia. (> Prehistoric Fantasy.)

Lands of the far future. William Hope Hodgson's Last-Redoubt novel The Night Land (1912) invests its eponymous land with potent strangeness. Clark Ashton Smith set many exotic stories on the invented far-future supercontinent Zothique. A E van Vogt's The Book of Ptath (1947) includes among its rearranged continents "Gonwonlane", looking back to ancient Gondwanaland. Jack Vance's Dying Earth sequence offers a roster of gorgeous placenames. Michael Moorcock's Hawkmoon/ Count Brass series has a future European setting, with placenames like Granbretan and the Kamarg (Camargue), but lacks a sense of intervening time abyss – whereas the gulf between Earth and the Urth of Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun (1980-1983) is indicated effectively and powerfully. (>>> Decadence; Dying Earth.)

Lands overlooked by history. These are supposedly accessible on Earth here and now, or at least in recent historical times. Jonathan Swift invoked obscure Islands for his Lilliput, Brobdingnag, etc. Continental interiors once housed lost lands and Lost Races, regularly stumbled on by explorers like H Rider Haggard's Allan Quatermain, Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger and Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan. Shangri-La, in James Hilton's Lost Horizon (1933), is another such region. Burroughs's Pellucidar series explores Underground lands in a Hollow Earth; we still dream of undiscovered lands at the ends of the Earth. Even in or near Europe, Ruritania and Graustark have been overlooked by cartographers, as has the Triune Monarchy of Scythia-Pannonia-Transbalkania in Avram Davidson's Doctor Eszterhazy stories. James Branch Cabell asserted that his Poictesme was omitted from a map of medieval France to make room for the map's title; in H P Lovecraft's New England, Miskatonic County and Arkham town have a similar shadowy existence; the village of Asterix the Gaul can be discovered on the map only by use of a magnifying glass.

Lands of secondary worlds. J R R Tolkien's Middle-Earth is the classic Secondary-World example, despite a perfunctory auctorial attempt to place it in the deep past. Other notable secondary-world lands are: the skewed other England housing Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast; Dalarna in Fletcher Pratt's The Well of the Unicorn (1948); Fritz Leiber's world Nehwon, whose best-known feature is the City of Lankhmar; C S Lewis's Narnia; Lloyd Alexander's Prydain; Alan Garner's eponymous Elidor (1965); Ursula K Le Guin's Earthsea; Roger Zelazny's Amber (though in this cosmology Amber is primary and Earth its mere Shadow); the Beklan Empire of Richard Adams's Shardik (1974); Diana Wynne Jones's Dalemark; Terry Brooks's "Four Lands" in the Shannara sequence; Piers Anthony's Florida-shaped Xanth; Stephen R Donaldson's Land in Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever; the hellish refraction of Scotland in Alasdair Gray's Lanark (1981); the flawed Sidhe Realm in Greg Bear's Songs of Earth and Power; Fionavar in Guy Gavriel Kay's The Fionavar Tapestry; the fantasticated Cambodia of Geoff Ryman's The Unconquered Country (1986); Osten Ard in Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn; the world of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time; and many more, including generic Fantasylands too numerous to list.

Otherworld lands. As a rule, Secondary Worlds tacitly look to Earth as a base-point of reference; Otherworlds tend to be both closer and farther away. Faerie and Tir-Nan-Og are deeply unearthly but come close enough to Crosshatch with base Reality; Oz is remarkably alien but can be reached from Kansas should a convenient cyclone blow you across the Deadly Desert. The semi-existent Lost Land adjoining Wales in Susan Cooper's Silver on the Tree (1977) is another example. Some writers treat Heaven, Hell, Limbo and Purgatory as otherworlds.

Lands on other planets. The eponymous Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom tales offers the best-known Planetary-Romance setting; and Burroughs does keep his planetary location in mind. That David Lindsay's Tormance in A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) is a planet circling Arcturus, or that E R Eddison's Demonland and Witchland in The Worm Ouroboros (1922) are supposedly located on Mercury, are soon-forgotten Frame-Story incidentals. Conversely, retaining a planetary sense of place may tilt the balance towards sf, as in the Science-Fantasy worlds of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover, Anne McCaffrey's Pern and Robert Silverberg's Majipoor. Other fantastic planetary lands include the finely imagined Venus in C S Lewis's Perelandra (1943), Andre Norton's eponymous Witch World, John Norman's slave world Gor, Skaith in Leigh Brackett's The Ginger Star (1974) and sequels, and Kaleva in Ian Watson's The Books of Mana (> Kalevala).

Lands of allegory. The countries of John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) and C S Lewis's more personal The Pilgrim's Regress (1933) are shaped so that physical journeying maps out spiritual movement towards (or away from) grace. Transitions in the Looking-glass Land of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass (1871) correspond to moves in an eccentric Chess game. The protagonist's journey through the Commonwealth in John Myers Myers's Silverlock (1949), a land crowded with legendary and fictional characters (>>> Recursive Fantasy), is a progress from worldly indifference to poetic insight; the Kingdom of Wisdom in Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth (1961) amusingly allegorizes secular understanding of language and mathematics. (>>> Allegory.)

Lands of the mind. Many memorable lands have an arbitrary or shifting Dream-quality, as in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), George MacDonald's Phantastes (1858), Rudyard Kipling's "The Brushwood Boy" (1895) – offering what is specifically a dream geography – and J M Barrie's Peter Pan (performed 1904; rev 1908). Rondua in Jonathan Carroll's Bones of the Moon (1987) is an effective modern example. The land of Fantastica in Michael Ende's The Neverending Story (1979) needs a dreamer to recreate it according to his own desire; at the heart of the dream country, or "Dreaming", in Neil Gaiman's Sandman Reality is whatever the eponymous Lord of Dreams wishes it to be. Some lands are partly states of mind, like the Logres lying within the UK in C S Lewis's That Hideous Strength (1945): this can be true of Faerie, as Lewis Carroll proposes in Sylvie & Bruno (1889) and as John Crowley suggests in Little, Big (1981) when a process of apparent distancing and forgetfulness is all the time bringing the chosen ones closer to Faerie. Some lands are dreams which now seem unattainable almost by definition: Avalon, Cockayne/Cocaigne, Eldorado, Fiddler's Green, the Hesperides, Hy Brasil and Xanadu. [DRL]

further reading: Lands Beyond (1952) by L Sprague de Camp and Willy Ley (1906-1969); An Atlas of Fantasy (graph 1973; exp rev 1979) by J B Post (1937-    ), with maps of many lands cited above; Realms of Fantasy (1983) by Malcolm Edwards (1949-    ) and Robert P Holdstock.

see also: Alternate Worlds; Gameworlds; Never-Never Land; Shared Worlds.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.