Once upon a time, there was a king. His name was Macaulay Culkin, and he ruled the land of the box office. Everything the light touched was his, until the new millennium arrived, bringing with it a veritable buffet of questionable choices. Historians to this day are recovering the relics of Macaulay’s reign, and in a recent dig through the bargain bin, I happened upon a treasure: The Pagemaster. The plot is as follows: Lonely, risk-averse child Richard Tyler (Culkin) is sent on an errand to the hardware store. A mighty storm rolls in, and, spooked, Richard ends up in the imposing, apparently unused town library. Behold, a kooky librarian (Christopher Lloyd)! While searching for a mythical payphone, Richard slips on water, falls, and ends up inside an animated mural featuring classic books in the library’s rotunda.
To get back to the real world, Richard has to find the exit. To do so, he will traverse the stories and navigate the worlds of some of fiction’s best, including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Moby Dick, Treasure Island, Gulliver’s Travels, and a few other nods to your 9th-grade English syllabus.
Richard may be living the dream, but there are a few other literary tableaus in which I’d rather end up. (Panem and Westeros need not apply.)
To be clear, I would prefer to emerge in the Croup-and-Vandemar-less alt-London created by Neil Gaiman in Neverwhere. Spooky villain factor aside, London Below is surreal, urban, and livable. When people discuss a desire to exist in fairy tales or go full-on Renaissance faire, they’re fooling themselves. They want the knights and princesses, not the scurvy and chamber pots. In London Below, you get the best of both worlds: the joy of attending the Earl’s court, the convenience of making good time on the tube. And the deals to be had at the floating market simply can’t be beat!
What I lament more than any other tragedy in fantasy lit is that J.R.R. Tolkien’s real hero never has his praises sung. Elrond, Lord of Rivendell, spends his time offering hospitality to whatever scraggly band of misfits happens to darken his door. In his spare hours—when he’s not fostering the second-most important character in The Lord of the Rings trilogy—he frowns and is eventually disappointed by everyone. You shouldn’t have to worry about hobbits eating you out of Homely House when you’re 6,000 years old and living in a 3-D Thomas Kinkade painting.
Wouldn’t it be nice to just sit for a while next to a waterfall and ask Elrond how he feels for once? It’s not like there’s anywhere in Middle Earth you’d rather be sucked into anyway. The Shire? Gandalf has a pesky habit of showing up with adventures. Rohan? Stinks of horse. Gondor? Oh yes, prime piece of real estate there—take a right at Your Imminent Death, and if you reach Impending Doom, you’ve gone too far.
Le Cirque Des Rêves
Are there more seductively described scenes than those within the enchanted tents in Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus? By turns sumptuous and enigmatic, the circus appears without warning, but I’d don the red scarf of a circus celebrant (rêveur, in the book’s parlance) and follow it to the ends of the Earth. Whether it’s feathers fluttering from above the Labyrinth, the brief flicker of a bowler hat in the Hall of Mirrors, or the glow of the ever-lit bonfire, the circus is a full-scale sensory assault, and I volunteer to be the first on the front line.
Kurt Vonnegut created many a space landscape in his prolific career, but one has never appealed to me as much as the largely uninhabited moon of Saturn in The Sirens of Titan. The fate of protagonist Malachi Constant isn’t exactly desirable—shipped off here and there around the universe as a pawn in a rich man’s elaborate scheme. There are, however, advantages to being plopped on Titan, a somewhat gentrified moon that manages to retain that authentic beach bungalow feel.The most idyllic aspect of Titan is its freedom from noisy neighbors, nosy neighbors, and neighbors who might need sugar. It’s Christmas in Heaven.
Someday, when I am an eccentric elderperson, I hope people are as indulgent of me as Sancho Panza and various and sundry characters in Don Quixote, Miguel Cervantes’ mandatory tome. I think we’d all like to settle down with a group of good goatherds, affable fellows every one. Chivalry and literacy aren’t dead in La Mancha, and I can think of few greater pleasures than jumping off the deep end in this fashion: “Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely insane.”
Which book world would you like to fall into?