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.

2 thoughts on “World-Hopping: Inter-Dimensional Fun and Games

  1. From the sublime to the ridiculous, with a stop half way in between:

    One of the greatest of these stories is Stephen R. Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. Covenant is transported to a fantasy world which he firmly believes is an illusion–but he has to deal with the realities there anyway. Fascinating epistemological implications.

    In the middle is Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian Chronicles. John Carter of Virginia is transported to the planet Barsoom (the native name of Mars) and has all kinds of adventures in which various Swashes are Buckled. One must not take these too seriously–they sail close to the wind of a number of cliches–but if you yield yourself up to them they are loads of fun, and the virtues of loyalty, courage, and nobility are portrayed in a fashion that, compared to today’s fare, is refreshingly non-ironic.

    Coming to the ridiculous we find L. Sprague DeCamp and Fletcher Pratt’s collaboration, the adventures of Harold Shea, the Incomplete Enchanter. Harold is a lab assistant in the psychology department of a midwestern university. His boss has come up with a fascinating theory: all the worlds of fantasy actually exist in parallel dimensions, and they can be accessed by tuning your mind to the logic of that world. Authors are people whose minds are unbalanced so that they partially perceive another reality than our own. They think they are making it up, but actually they are just seeing and reporting. Our hero only half understands the theory, but he starts putting it into practice anyway, with the results that he visits and has various misadventures in worlds like that of Norse Mythology, the Fairie Queene, etc. Oh, by the way, he marries a character from The Fairie Queene (Belphoebe) and brings her back with him to Ohio, which has various interesting complications arising from the fact that she, for example, has no social security number. Nothing serious about this series at all–but if you like to be ROTFL, you need to get it.

    Great category, well analyzed, Melissa!

  2. Andre Norton’s The Witchworld series introduced me to this category of writing when I was in high school. Thomas Covenant came later. Its been a long, fun read for most of my life.

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