I can show you the world/Shining, shimmering, splendid…

Good fantasy, for me, must have a world that I can immerse myself in and not see the patches where it was stitched together – a world that clearly has a lot of thought put into it and clearly exists somewhere, if only in the author’s imagination. A world is a place that I can escape to in my head in order for my current situation to make sense. I have several ones depending on what’s happening and all of them are usually in some fantastical land that I found in a book that no one else knew about. For a large part of my life, I was secretly happy that no one knew where these worlds were so that if I cursed in elvish or made arcane references, it’d be completely lost on them. Recently, I’ve been sharing them with people I like, just to see what they make of them. Some of my favourite ones are as follows:

1) Krynn. Krynn is the one I most often return to because it has this man. Raistlin Majere has, for the longest time, embodied everything I believed to be true of myself – he is a red-robed magician, which makes him side with neither light or dark. He worships Lunitari who is known for being morally ambiguous and valuing curiosity and intelligence over the moral high ground. I often understand my need to study harder and learn more the way Raistlin did with his magic which took its toll on his body but allowed him to nearly become a god. Along the way, he gives up the pretense of being neutral and chooses Nuitari and the Order of the Black Robes in order to practice the most powerful of dark arts – very similar to how I see the Ph.D process. (not kidding)

2) The Moscow of the Night Watch. The Night Watch trilogy by Sergei Lukyanenko is a close second to the Dragonlance Chronicles on my list of favourite fantasy series. In it, the world is divided into Light and Dark others as well as the neutral Inquisition , but all the characters are far more ambiguous than you would expect and it’s hard to tell the difference between Good and Evil. It also has this deliciously evil man, Zabulon, who is the head of the Day Watch (the Dark Others) and is wonderfully scheming, completely devoid of any humanity at all and views everyone as a pawn in his metaphysical chess game (all of which I aspire to on a daily basis). Gesar, the head of the Light Others is equally scheming though, so there’s not much to choose between them.

3) The multiverse from His Dark Materials. I’ve only read this series as a kid but I remember being so disturbed by it that I often dreamt of the witch and idolized Lord Asriel. It was one of the first books I’d read that was actually set in a parallel universe to ours (Yes, this was before Harry Potter) and so I often hoped that I’d find a way to cut through time. Since then, I’ve found enough urban fantasy to allow for that, the most recent one I read being American Gods by Neil Gaiman and his earlier work, Neverwhere (both of which were good but seemed to be heavily drawing from Douglas Adams’ Long, Dark Tea-time of the Soul), but His Dark Materials will always be the first and possibly the best. It was also the first that opened up the idea of multiple worlds at the same time – an idea that I’m still obsessed with.

4)Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Besides being an amazing satirist, Pratchett is a shockingly good philosopher and his world makes far more sense than ours ever could. I think I’d identify most with Granny Weatherwax because she’s the most ambiguous but all his characters and situations somehow manage to resonate with different aspects of both myself and the people around me – which is his charm, I suppose.

Honourable mentions:

– Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series.
– Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy. Stroud’s London is a FASCINATING place that I would far prefer to most cities (except perhaps Silvanost, in Krynn). However, the euro-centric story makes me a little uncomfortable now.
Harry Potter (Duh) She does a good job of world-building though you can clearly see her building it as she progresses through the books rather than going in to the writing of the first book with the entire world ready.

Finally, it’s interesting to me that I keep returning to fantasy in order to escape my present self, only to find myself in the other characters of these books and through them actually make sense of my life. My current problems have always seamlessly weaved into one of these in order to make my existence an aesthetic activity which is an interesting way to read Benjamin’s statement that we experience our own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.

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