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Posted by Kate, March 25, 2013

Best Imaginary Worlds in Children’s Books

All fictional worlds are imaginary, but some are more imaginary than others.

Publishers Weekly published this list of the ten best imaginary countries in literature.

This prompted us to talk about the best imaginary worlds in children’s books. We recognise that any world in which, say, Stanley can be flattened by a bulletin board and survive to be posted to a friend; a gruffalo lives in a deep, dark wood; you bump into a radiant vampire on your first day at a new secondary school; or a rabbit called Pip fights over a scooter with a mouse called Posy is an imaginary world, but, for the purposes of this blog post, we limited ourselves to full-monty fantasy worlds in novels – worlds with different rules from our own.

A writer who can create a fully-realised original world, that is properly different from our own, can engender a particular thrill – the one I feel when I read the beginning of Northern Lights:

“Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen. The three great tables that ran the length of the hall were laid already, the silver and the glass catching what little light there was, and the long benches were pulled out ready for the guests. Portraits of former Masters hung high up in the gloom along the walls. Lyra reached the dais and looked back at the open kitchen door, and, seeing no one, stepped up beside the high table. The places here were laid with gold, not silver, and the fourteen seats were not oak benches but mahogany chairs with velvet cushions.

Lyra stopped beside the Master’s chair and flicked the biggest glass gently with a fingernail. The sound rang clearly through the hall.

‘You’re not taking this seriously,’ whispered her daemon. ‘Behave yourself.’

Her daemon’s name was Pantalaimon, and he was currently in the form of a moth, a dark brown one so as not to show up in the darkness of the hall.”

That quote has given my own favourite away. My favourite imaginary world is not a world, but multiple worlds: the infinite worlds of daemons and spectres in the first two of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books, and I am particularly captivated by Cittagazze, where Will and Lyra meet, and where Will wins the subtle knife.

If I’m looking at more recently realised worlds, I think that, for topical originality, New World, the planet of audible thought in Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy would be my choice.

Ola has nominated Euralia from Once On A Time (despite the fact that I think that it sounds like something that you could clear up with a course of antibiotics).

Tom chose Ingary from Howl’s Moving Castle: “it’s so brilliantly just off our world – it’s uncanny”. And he likes Earthsea.

Adrian chose Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Kristina chose Neverland.

Mary nominated Terabithia, and I’d thought of that but had disqualified it on the grounds that it is an imaginary world that only exists in the heads of real world fictional characters.

Not all of us are in the office today, but I am pretty sure that Kirsty would choose Philip Reeves’ Mortal Engines world and think that Camilla, whose children love the book, might choose the world of the Magic Faraway Tree.

None of us chose Alice’s Wonderland.

I think that my younger child would choose the world of the Hunger Games or the world of Noughts and Crosses, though actually I am not sure that these dystopian worlds actually qualify: yes, the political regimes are different, but the characters are human, and their powers are human any extraordinary things are the results of technology.

My older child would choose Discworld, but I think they’re mainly for adults, so she’d probably say The Dark is Rising.

What’s your favourite fantasy world in children’s books?

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