Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is free choice. I decided to share my Top Ten Favorite SF/Fantasy Worlds.
The wizarding world of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. OK, I could do without Voldemort and the Death Eaters, but everything else really appeals to me! Wands and magic and that quirky, slightly off-kilter way of looking at the Muggle world — so much fun! I want to go to Hogwarts (yes, okay, I’m middle-aged and even my daughter would have graduated by now, but I can dream.) I want a wand and a broomstick. I want to visit the Leaky Cauldron, Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade, and the Burrow. (But I don’t want to go to the Orlando theme park because… well, because it isn’t real, so I’m bound to be disappointed.)
Narnia. When I was young, I wanted so badly to get into Narnia, and truthfully? I still do. Talking beasts, magic and adventure and high ideals… Narnia was, by and large, my first introduction to fantasy outside of fairy tales, and it’s still one of my very favorite worlds. And someday, I hope to meet Aslan face to face.
Middle-earth. Middle-earth isn’t always a comfortable place. Even after the fall of Sauron, I’m sure there are still trolls and orcs and goblins to deal with, not to mention the evils human beings can perpetrate on each other. But my heart longs like Sam’s to visit the Elves in Lothlorien and Rivendell, to see the white towers of Gondor and the golden hall of Meduseld, and last but not least to visit the Shire. I’m so grateful to the movies for getting so much of the look and feel of Middle-earth right.
Pern. I discovered these books in high school, and I’ve loved them, and the world of Pern, ever since. Essentially a feudal/guild culture, what makes Pern unique and irresistible are its dragons and the weyr society that has grown up around them. I’ve never been able to decide whether I’d rather be a dragonrider or a Harper, though. I want the best of both possible worlds: to be both! (I’d almost settle for a fire lizard, though.)
Valdemar (Velgarth). Mercedes Lackey is probably best known for her long series of related books set in Valdemar and its surrounding countries, and I’ve read every one — most of them multiple times. Lackey doesn’t minimize the dangers and risks of Velgarth (the world), from bandits to war to evil mages bent on conquest. But I love the world for its variety of peoples (Tayledras Hawkbrothers, Shin’a’in horse-nomads, Renaissance/edge-of-industrial-revolution ordinary Valdemarans), creatures (Companions, gryphons, kyree, hertasi), lands, and beliefs. I particularly love melting-pot Valdemar, for its idealism and for the Heralds and Companions who defend it.
Tortall. Tamora Pierce blends medieval/renaissance feudalism, magic, immortals (magical creatures) and gods in her popular related series set in and around the country of Tortall. Again, it’s not always a comfortable world; there are thieves, murderers, and traitors as well as knights, corrupt mages as well as those of good intent, and peace is far from universal. But like Valdemar, Tortall is a place where the leaders try to do what’s right and best within the limits of their power. And it’s never boring with people like Alanna, Daine, Numair, and Kel around!
The 500 Kingdoms. In the 500 kingdoms, another of Mercedes Lackey’s worlds, fairy tales really do come true. Or at least, they do if the Tradition, an impersonal magical force bent on forcing people into, ahem, Traditional paths, has its way. Fortunately, there are Godmothers to try to facilitate the happy endings and avoid the darker tales. It’s a very original piece of world-building with a lot of scope for variety; Lackey draws on German, French, English, Norse, Russian, Scandinavian, and even Greek and Arab cultures and traditional tales for inspiration, and serves them all up with a healthy dollop of humor and a dash of romance.
The Eleven Kingdoms of Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni novels. The Deryni novels are more fantasy and less science fiction than Bradley’s Darkover series, but there are similarities. Both are essentially feudal cultures. Both include a genetically-inherited psychic power whose appearance (particularly in any strength) is limited to a few families, though unsuspecting individuals outside those families may carry the potential or the power without being aware of their inheritance. But there the similarities end. The Eleven Kingdoms are far more like medieval Britain, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, complete with a powerful and Deryni-persecuting Church. Their neighboring (and competing) kingdoms owe much to the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires and the Eastern Orthodox countries. It’s a rich and complex world, both politically and culturally, and it still fascinates me… even though at least half of the books are set in relatively dark times for Deryni, and rarely have happy (let alone uncomplicated) endings.
I had a tough time choosing between my final picks, so here are the contenders:
- Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain, an analog of early medieval Wales, but with magic.
- the Star Trek universe, especially before the wars with Cardassia and the Dominion. (Yes, I sometimes read the novels set in this universe.)
- the unnamed world of David Eddings’ Belgariad and Mallorean series.
- The magical, alt-history world of Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Magic series.
There are other stories and series I love, and there are books whose worldbuilding I admire without loving the worlds themselves (Dune and Amber come to mind), but the series I have listed here are the worlds which have most captured my imagination over the years, and which I return to most often, either between the pages or in my heart.
What are your favorite worlds?
NOTE: I revised this post in 2020, mainly because many of the image and cover links were broken. I ended up replacing those images and hosting most of the new pictures on this blog. In the process, I tweaked a few of the descriptions slightly. I also removed the world of Darkover from the post altogether, due to revelations about the author’s personal behavior that I was unaware of when I originally wrote this post.