My Top Ten Favorite Fictional Settings

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly book blog meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. It's currently on hiatus until August 15, 2017, so this week, I'm revisiting an old topic from the archives! And the topic is favorite fictional settings.

The Wizarding World (Harry Potter)

For my first pick, let's go with what's surely one of the most common. J.K. Rowling's amazing Harry Potter series is a cross-generational gem of nostalgia that's still enjoying ongoing popularity and success with its Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them spin-off, not to mention a still-active (if not quite as rabid as in the past) fandom.

The worldwide love of the series is due to the wonder imbued in every aspect of the story. The characters are relatable, understandable, and fully fleshed out; the plot is logical without being predictable; the magic is enchanting in its wealth of possibilities (and implications!); and the world itself is impressively built, eclectically sourced, and so well-beloved nowadays that to many of us, it feels like a second home.

I and millions of other fans genuinely love the Harry Potter world, and so of course it has to be the first entry on my list.

Planetos (A Song of Ice and Fire)

Slowly coming to rival Harry Potter in popularity is the setting of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. Since 2011, the book series has been adapted into an ongoing HBO series called Game of Thrones, and its popularity has exploded. Like many new fans, I didn't discover the book series, which dates back to the mid-90s, until after the show began to pick up popularity; unlike many new fans, however, my love for the series has just as much to do with the mysteries baked into the world-building as the plot and characters.

The fey-like, dragon-riding Targaryens, after all, are just the tip of the iceberg. There's the Others, who are in the books more like ice elves than the frosty zombies seen on the show, and the story of the Night's King is far more interesting than what's shown of the "Night King" origins shown in season six. There's the Doom of Valyria, the mysterious, potentially volcanic, potentially small-scale Apocalyptic event that chased the Targaryens from Essos to Westeros. There's the mystery of what, if anything, is to the west of Westeros. (Is the world round? Will you eventually hit Essos if you sail west?) Does the Seastone Chair hail from an unknown west-of-Westeros civilization? Are there really dragons that still live beyond Asshai? (And, you know, what's up with Asshai in general? I'd kill for a book set in and/or beyond Asshai.)

I mean, seriously. There's a continent that can't be colonized, there's references to Lovecraft all over the place, the magic's creepy as fuck, the legends feel like real-world legends and myths, there may or may not be mermaids and friggin' fish people, etc.

Honestly, sometimes I feel like the Westerosi game of thrones is the most boring possible story to tell here, with the potential Targaryen reconquest and the War for the Dawn still being less interesting than what lies across the seas.

Seriously, who do I have to bribe to get a story about Sothoryos or the Shadow?

(For the record, "Planetos" is a fan nickname for this setting that's definitely not official and downright reviled by some. I find it amusing, though, so...)

Eldearth (The Keepers)

While the world of Ice and Fire differs in many ways from a more traditional fantasy setting, the setting of Jackie French Koller's The Keepers series is far less nuanced. It's still interesting, though! over the course of this middle-grade trilogy, we see the setting of Eldearth through the eyes of a preteen named Nell, who has magical abilities but who lives in a patriarchal society that insists her magic is less than a man's. Nell's story is one of feminism, privilege, and the plight of the unseen, and Nell herself takes on the roll of the privileged person who advocates to her peers on behalf of those whom the privileged would otherwise refuse to hear.

It's a world that's steeped in the dichotomy of light versus darkness, with light being represented by Nell and the various magical creatures of her homeland. The dark, then, is lead by a mysterious "anti-god" type character that uses demon-esque minions for brute force and human spies for subterfuge. There are strong monotheistic roots to its worldbuilding, with that strict dichotomy calling back to Zoroastrianism and the Abrahamic mythologies, and the patriarchal nature of the human society is both reminiscent of a watered-down Medieval era and utterly integral to the story's plot.

The cast is supported by a range of creatures both traditional and creative, from dragons and goblin-like hidden people to an somewhat ogre-like civilization and more. It's not the most riveting setting in the world of literature, but I am very fond of it nevertheless.

Green Lawn, Connecticut (A to Z Mysteries)

Green Lawn, Connecticut is the setting of Ron Roy's long-running A to Z Mysteries, A to Z Mysteries Super Editions, and Calendar Mysteries series. It's a small, deceptively not-quiet town very reminiscent of America's bygone era. The kids that live in Green Lawn are utter latchkey kids; there are no helicopter parents here. It's a place that's equal parts quaint and exciting; there's a focus on the local bookstore and various mom-and-pop shops, the local parks and the small island in the local river, the local holiday events, and the town one and only not-actually-haunted hotel. But there's also a wealth of intrigue in town, with visitors ranging from bank robbers and poachers to famous authors and even the heir to a fictional island country's throne.

Everything about Green Lawn is just so charming and nostalgic; I love the series, and damn do I love the setting.

Deltora (Deltora Quest)

Imagine the creativity of George R.R. Martin's fantasy world. Now extract it from its deeply entrenched European roots. Remove everything related to the vikings, the Scots, and everything else that just screams Medieval fantasy. Just filter it down to that pure, unbiased creativity, and take that.

Got it? Now take that creative essence, and throw it off in Australia's direction. Mix it up with the shockingly dangerous wildlife, the wildly varying landscape, the massive swaths of land where damn near no one lives.

Honestly, what I'm asking you to do is imagine Australia as an even-more-dangerous fantasy kingdom. That's Deltora.

Deltora is the setting of a Deltora Quest, Deltora Shadowlands, and Dragons of Deltora, all of which are part of one mega-series by Australian author Emily Rodda. The creativity of the series is every bit as awesome as what George R.R. Martin did with his world, though the material is obviously geared toward a very different audience. (There's plenty of fighting in Rodda's work, though less death... and none of the sex and rape one finds in Martin's brutal "war is hell"-style work.)

If you haven't read the Deltora series, you really need to. There's so inventive and fun, even if their target audience renders them a bit more predictable than most adult readers would hope. I really adore the series, and the worldbuilding is a genuine inspiration to my own creativity.

Stoneybrook, Connecticut (The Baby-Sitters Club)

We're back in Connecticut for Stoneybrook, the home of Ann M. Martin's titular Baby-Sitters Club. It's another of those fictional towns from a time its modern readers can't even remember. The BSC girls are not only latchkey kids expected to take care of themselves; they're also preteen entrepreneurs entrusted by the majority of the local populace to care for Stoneybrook's prepubescent kids. Unlike Green Lawn, which entirely ignores the implications of its (very white) monocultural, 50s-inspired existence, Stoneybrook is written with an awareness of its lack of diversity, with some plots going out of its way to address the hardship of being a person of color or an underprivileged person in such a privileged, affluent, and white community.

Stoneybrook, while trapped within the confines of its 80s to 90s origins, its a really interesting setting that gives its children room to explore themselves as blooming young adults and to glimpse the harsh reality of prejudice and discrimination through a moderated fictional lens. It's a great literary playground, one that inspired one of my own most beloved fictional creations from childhood.

No matter its flaws, I really love Stoneybrook.

Welford, Yorkshire (Animal Ark)

Welford is actually a setting I didn't understand as a child. I was young enough when I first picked up the Animal Ark series that I didn't exactly grasp the concept of cultural differences. In my mind, cultures were distinct thanks to era, not region; where you lived made no difference because it all came down to when you lived. Obviously, that's not the case at all, but it's why I didn't understand exactly what was up with Welford.

Animal Ark, as you may or may not know, was, like the aforementioned Harry Potter series, imported to the United States from the United Kingdom. And while the cultural differences inherent to Harry Potter were either altered by its American publishers or easily waved away by the uniformed as part of not the U.K. but the fictional Wizard World, Welford had no such luxury. The culture of Welford, Yorkshire is very English, which is something that confused me during my first years of reading the series. I didn't understand why Welford seemed to operate under rules so alien to the rules of my own life and hometown.

Welford was a small town that offered an existence very quaint in a very English way. Neighbors were a particular kind of close to one another, and their lives seemed to revolve in no small part around small farms and pastures and livestock and whatnot. And I didn't get a bit of it. It wasn't the American farm culture that I recognized, nor the American small town culture that I recognized, and so I just learned to roll with it and live in that confusion.

Upon growing older, I started to realize that while the covers, author's psuedonym, and even some of the titles were altered to assist the young American audience in understanding the books, the atmosphere of what I had always taken for weirdness was actually just Britishness.

So yes, Welford is a town steeped in Britishness. But more importantly (and of much more interest to me as a child!), it's drowning in its own love for animals. It might not seem like it all the time--there are so many Welford residents who either don't care about or actively dislike certain or all animals--but Welford is teeming with furry, feathery, and scaly critters nevertheless. It's a town where everything seems to be animal-friendly or animal-centric, and it's honestly presented as a kind of paradise for its protagonist: the animal-obsessed daughter of a two veterinarians.

For all its cultural unfamiliarity, Welford is a very fun setting.

Fear Street / Shadyside (Fear Street)

Now, don't ever get me wrong. The world of Fear Street is not properly fleshed out. There's barely any coherent worldbuilding at all. If you thought Sunnydale was constantly growing in scale over the course of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you haven't seen anything yet; Shadyside completely changes from book to book, with the only genuinely consistent element being the existence of Fear Street, the graveyard on Fear Street, and possibly Fear Manor (or the wreckage thereof). But the rest of the town and, honestly, even the details of Fear Street itself change wildly from book to book and miniseries to miniseries, and I'll be perfectly blunt: the books themselves are trashy, pulpy trainwrecks. But they're a special kind of trashy pulp that has this inherent fun quality to their nonsense! And more to the point than even that, I really just like the concept of Fear Street.

It's just such an interesting idea, isn't it? A town founded by a cursed family. A street built around the ancestral home of the cursed family. A town and a street in particular doomed to fear and horror because of the cursed family that lived and died upon its grounds. It's such a good idea, and even though the books themselves are a pretty huge disappointment in most ways, I still really love the whole concept of Fear Street and Shadyside.

The Digital World (Digimon Adventure)

Stepping away from books for the first and only time on this particular list, one of my most beloved settings is the Digital World of Digimon Adventure, Digimon Adventure 02, and (presumably) Digimon Adventure tri. Now, I'm disregarding the Digital World as presented in other incarnations of the Digimon franchise, primarily because I'm not particularly familiar with any other incarnations but also because I greatly dislike what details of those incarnations that I do recall. But the Digital World of Digimon Adventure was such an important part of my childhood! I identified so strongly with the kids of Digimon Adventure and 02, and I adored all the characters from the DigiDestined and their Digimon to Myotismon, the Digimon Emperor, and the various other villains.

I just have such a deep love for this series that my adoration extends to its setting, even though there are few particularly standout elements of it. The majority of its interest, honestly, lies in its characters... though it definitely does have some interesting aspects! Among those aspects were the mysterious telephone booths from the initial episodes of the series. Hilarious, bizarre, and rather disturbing in their implication, they went unexplained as far as I recall.

But most interestingly was the Dark Ocean, which technically I don't think was supposed to be part of the Digital World or the Real World, but rather an entirely separate dimension. But its role in the plot amounted to essentially nothing, and its mysteries went unexplained. Whether the arc was merely aborted by the writers, or if it was intended to be a less-than-fulfilling tease of something greater, I can't say.... But it definitely piqued my interest.

Lovecraftian tropes always do.

The House (House of Leaves)

For all I love the rest of this list, I think that perhaps my most adored setting is this. Quite unlike the other canons referenced on this list, House of Leaves is neither a fantasy series nor intended for children; it's a mind-screwy and unflinchingly meta horror novel for adults, and contained within its pages is one of my favorite stories ever told.

The story of the Navidson Record is not the story of House of Leaves. But it is a story within the House of Leaves, and within the confines of its narrative lies the House. The House is terrifying and awe-inspiring, and I love it endlessly. Like many on this list, it is a huge inspiration to my own creativity.

Let me explain. The Navidson Record is a possibly-fictional account discovered by the main character of House of Leaves. It's the story of a family and a House and whole wealth of horror, because the House isn't quite what it seems. Something's wrong with it; the dimensions don't match. One day, the inside of the House is just slightly bigger than the outside perimeter. The next, everything might be back to normal... or maybe there's a hallway that's never been there before. A door to a seemingly endless hallway that you really shouldn't be stupid enough to go inside.

But let's say you do go inside. And you find not just a hallway but a staircase. A staircase that goes down into the earth, pitch black and, again, seemingly endless. You go down and down and down and you never seem to get anywhere... until one day, maybe you do. Maybe you reach the labyrinth at the bottom of the staircase. Maybe the Minotaur finds you. Maybe everyone blind enough to step into the labyrinth with you--everyone blind enough to stay in this godforsaken House--dies for their foolishness.

Or maybe not.

Hell, maybe you decide take the more scientific approach. Maybe you actually try to analyze what the labyrinth is made of. And maybe you realize how little sense even that makes, because your results insist that the labyrinth is somehow older than our solar system itself. But that can't be right.

So what the hell is going on in the House? You tell me.

And definitely, definitely don't turn around.

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