World-Hopping: Inter-Dimensional Fun and Games

If someone says "We're not in Kansas anymore" one more time... she gets fed to the flying monkeys.

Some of my favorite fantasy novels are the ones that take a character from this world and send him or her on a wild and crazy adventure into another world.  We’re all familiar with these types of fantasy novels.  We’ve all seen or read Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz. While our beloved CS Lewis did not invent the concept, he certainly popularized it with his Narnia series in which Digory and Polly, the Pevensies, Eustace, and Jill all have their adventures in Narnia, a world apart from their own.  Before CS Lewis, there was George MacDonald and his Phantastes.  Before George MacDonald, there was the Arthurian Avalon.  Before the Arthurian legends, there were the Celtic myths of Tir nA nog.  And those are just a few of the stories that use this idea. We love the concept of another world that we can reach through our own.

The world-hopping story is very different from pure fantasy.  In many stories, the heroine of a world-hopping adventure is from our world and travels to the fantasy realm.  Her habits and beliefs brought with her from Texas or New York City are completely unconventional and odd when transplanted to the new, probably medieval fantasy realm, but somehow she is able to use those same skills and cultural habits to survive.  The worlds have a brief period of interaction and are both changed as a result before the heroine must return to her own world.

Lesson One: Cairns are not just piles of rock. So don't walk around them at twilight unless you want to be chased by a group of naked warriors with spears.

Other stories might involve characters from the fantasy realm making their way to ours.  This is always very exciting because, you know, our world is so much less understanding of magical beings traipsing about.  It will be up to our plucky hero to somehow cover up the unconventional behavior of the fantasy characters and resolve the issue before they are whisked away by scientists and studied.  That is, after all, what our world does.

Another type of world-hopping tale is the open dimension idea in which travel to and from the two worlds takes place and there is an undercurrent of knowledge about the different worlds and their connection.  These are lots of fun, especially delving into the subculture of people from each world that know about the connection and are working for it, against it, or around it.  This is the type of world I’m using for my novel Danni in which a faerie world exists with channels connecting it to our own.  Danni and her family are a part of a relatively small group of humans (though there are quite a few) who know about the faeries and are working on controlling the situation.

Lesson Two: You probably don't want your make believe stories to come true. Because then all that dramatic, angsty bad stuff that sounded so cool when you made it up... will be true. Yep, your mother died in childbirth and you have a giant scar on your face from a hunting accident. Way to go.

Many authors (including myself) have stayed primarily in the pure fantasy genre in which any inter-dimensional travel has nothing to do with our world.  It is easy, in a lot of ways, because while you may have to create your own worlds from scratch, at least you don’t have to abide by the laws of this one, as well. However, the world-hopping stories have always been extremely popular and fascinating to fantasy readers.  The idea of escaping to another world is one that we all cherish and the reason that many of us read these books in the first place.  So it’s an idea definitely worth looking into.

A few books that come to mind when I think of world-hopping novels include Stephen Lawhead’s Song of Albion trilogy, about a man named Lewis (yes, a tribute to C.S. though not the man himself) who stumbles into a Celtic parallel realm, and Pamela Dean’s Secret Country trilogy, featuring a group of children who make up a world in which they are the royal children and then stumble into that same world.  The authors of both series are keenly aware that two worlds can rarely be entirely separated and that the actions of the characters in one will necessarily affect the other. Lawhead’s Albion books in particular delve deeply into the concept of intertwining worlds using the metaphor of the Celtic knot.

Another series that takes the idea and turns it inside out is Diana Wynne Jones’ Dark Lord of Derkholm books.  Interestingly enough, these books portray the fantasy world as the main world with the “outsiders” coming from our world.  The connection between them is there, but somehow, we as readers find ourselves relating more to Derk and his gryphon children than we do to the humans who find their way into the “fantasy” world. Pesky tourists…

Lesson Three: If it comes with a brochure, you probably shouldn't be there. Because spontaneous fantasy adventures don't generally come with brochures. Seriously, they don't.

What I have found in my personal adventure with writing Danni is that world-hopping novels require quite a bit of extra work.  They require one world to be created from an already formed structure (our world with its laws and history) and another to be made from scratch.  And that’s if you only stick with two.  The interactions between these two worlds must be significant to the story’s plot or else it becomes rather pointless.  The more I write of Danni’s story, the more I realize that the consequences for my characters’ actions are becoming increasingly greater and I, the author, am being forced to juggle universes.

Did I mention that universes are heavy?

So, what world-hopping stories have you read that you have enjoyed or not enjoyed and why?  Have you ever written one?  (I happen to know that a few of you have written them so don’t deny it)  Feel free to name movies if you must.