Every Thursday, Nathan over at Fantasy Review Barn hosts a weekly party where blogs set out with Diana Wynne Jones’ hilarious book The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: The Essential Guide to Fantasy Travel in hand to explore all the tropes from their favorite stories. So sit back and enjoy the fun.
17th of September, 2015 – PORTALS TO ANOTHER LAND
Fantasyland often has some unique entry points; not every traveler is born within its boundaries. It is a regular event for someone from a non-magical place to suddenly find themselves in this world of dragons, magic, and danger.
One of my favorite fantasy tropes. Let’s get down to business!
The classic fantasy series which initially sees the Pevensie children wander into a wardrobe and out into the land of Narnia where anthropomorphic animals are the norm. Quickly, these siblings become caught up in the struggle between opposing forces of light and darkness represented by Aslan and the White Witch. Sure, it has lots of religious symbolism to it that might be hard for some to overlook, but it is also a wonderful fantasy series that can be enjoyed without going into that deeper meaning. And it is definitely a portal fantasy series — though the portal changes throughout!
THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT
The first “portal” fantasy that I ever read was this one way back in the early 1980s. Sure, Thomas Covenant was an absolute whiny bastard most of the time, and yeah, there are lots of Tolkien-esque tropes that Mr. Donaldson reuses, but when the portal whisks Covenant away to the Land I was really mesmerized by the place. It was such an awe-inspiring world, in fact, that I read the First and Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant over and over again during my teen years just to visit my favorite locales (Revelstone) and favorite characters (Lord Mhoram). And while I haven’t gotten the nerve up to finish out the Third Chronicles, inevitably, I will, because this portal series is one of my all-time favorites.
Another teenage favorite of mine (and all-time favorite, I must add) is this portal fantasy. While it is showing its age with its very seventies main protagonists Californians Gil and Rudy, the story of a world under attack by the mysterious Dark, who have been only legends for uncounted generations, is fascinating, thrilling, and thought provoking. The fact that two normal Americans are witnessing and living the destruction of a whole civilization at ground level really makes it an even more effective story.
THE FIONAVAR TAPESTRY
Guy Gavriel Kay has written many fantasy novels, but this epic trilogy in the vein of The Lord of the Rings was a portal series that most closely captured the mythical feeling of Tolkien’s masterpiece. Here five unsuspecting students are drawn into the mythical world of Fionavar, where they discover new lives and new destinies to fulfill while they aid the people of the land in a legendary struggle against Rakoth Maugrim, the Unraveller: a vile god, who is the enemy of the Weaver and of all this creator of the universe has crafted.
GUARDIANS OF THE FLAME
Early 1980s D & D-like portal fantasy about a group of gamers who are magically transported to their RPG world and assume the identities of their role playing characters. Thereafter, the group begins to have adventures, as they try to find a way to return to their home world at a place known as the Gate Between Worlds.
And, yeah, it does sound a lot like the Dungeon & Dragons cartoon from the same time period.
THE VIDESSOS CYCLE
Yes, Turtledove is most well-known for his alternate history novels, but decades ago he burst onto the scene with this portal fantasy series. Here the clash of two magical swords has opened a portal to another land, displacing a cohort of Roman legionaries, and casting them into a land full of magic. Yes, these novels by the master of alternate history reads like a fantasy retelling of Byzantine history, but they are still fairly entertaining sword-and-sorcery stories that are fast-paced and light-hearted fun.
A “portal” fantasy about Wally Smith: an ordinary guy, who is dying on Earth but wakes up in a strange, oriental-flavored world. Not only is Wally in a new body that carries the tattoo of a master swordsman, but he discovers that gods are real here and he is their Chosen One, which includes his own prophecy, a legendary sword and the ability to wield it. However, there is always bad with the good, and Wally soon discovers that to fit into this world of honor, duty and obedience he must rethink his modern Earth sensibilities, and, even worse, he begins to see that the goddess might have brought him here to destroy the world, not save it!
Another wonderful portal fantasy by the author of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. This one is about Terisa Morgan who lives alone in a New York City apartment surrounded by her mirrors. The daughter of rich but uncaring parents, she wonders at times if she even truly exists. Then something amazing shatters her lonely world: a strange man crashes through one of her mirrors and explains that he is on a desperate quest to find a champion to save his kingdom of Mordant from a pervasive evil. Even though Terisa has no magical powers, she decides to travel back with Geraden to his magical world and aid him in saving it.
MAGIC KINGDOM OF LANDOVER
Ben Holiday is a lawyer who finds little satisfaction in his work. On a lark, he answers an ad in a Christmas catalogue thinking it’s a joke, but instead of getting a laugh, Ben finds himself transported to the magical kingdom of Landover … and as it’s king no less! However, our erstwhile lawyer soon finds his new kingdom has its own share of problems. The Barons refuse to recognize him as king; the land has impoverished peasants; and he must fight to the death in a duel with the Iron Mask, the terrible lord of the demons–a duel which no human could hope to win. And Ben thought being a hated lawyer was bad. A light, entertaining portal fantasy.
This old-school fantasy begins with two friends (Pug and Tomas) trying to find their way in the world before getting sucked into a huge war between two different worlds! One world — that of our two friends — being a medieval but fairly non-magical world, and the other being a land where the mightiest of magics are mere childs play. This war is possible due to a huge portal that eventually takes one of our friends to a land where he discovers his destiny!
For those who haven’t read the series, The Drawing of the Three revolves around Roland finding and using three “portals” to modern day earth. Sure, they look like and are called “doors”, which isn’t exactly a classic fantasy portal, but I can’t think of another story out there that revolves so much around the use of portals in its narrative.
This story focuses around a mild mannered computer programmer being sucked through an interdimensional portal and having to help a half-mad wizard try to save his world. Naturally, there is much more going on than meets the eye, but you get the general idea of this one.
This series begins on a post-apocalyptic earth, but soon if makes its way to a land full of magic, where the dreams — and nightmares — of a sleeping god come to life around the inhabitants. Naturally, portals are used by the “normal” humans to get access to this fantastical world of magic.
Those are the portal fantasies that I can remember, what did I miss?