The heart of the fantasy genre is escapism from the humdrum of daily life into a place often full of wish-fulfilling purpose through magic, prophecy, gods and goddesses, and a wide selection of heroic Chosen Ones. Adoring fans of the most beloved fantasy stories can follow the protagonists into their fantastical settings and indulge in the wonders of what it would be like to venture there.
When it comes to fantasy worlds, however, not all are created equal, and not all are idyllic settings one would make an adventure or vacation out of. These worlds may be rough around the edges, but still, draw readers and audiences in time and again.
Narnia – ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’
A world in part built on the ventures of regular humans becoming Kings and Queens of the realm, Narnia’s world extends far beyond the limited scope of the films. CS Lewis explored the depth of Narnia in seven books, the stories surrounding the Pevensie children only the tip of the iceberg.
Narnia is rich with mythical creatures like fauns, minotaurs, centaurs, talking animals, sentient trees, Santa Claus, and the wisest mentor in their world, Aslan. They’re children’s books at heart, and though not devoid of war and conflict, the Narnia world and one of its entrances in the Wardrobe are the definition of escapist fantasy.
Wonderland – ‘Alice in Wonderland’
A drug-induced hallucination or an alternate dimension? Alice in Wonderland has been in many adaptations, most famously in the 1951 Disney animated classic and its 2010 live action reboot. It’s a world made of psychedelics. Potions to grow and shrink, the Mad Hatter’s quagmire of queries, and the kingdoms of the Red and White queens of cards and chess all feature in one of few fantasy worlds less concerned with heroes and prophecies and more concerned with spontaneous adventure.
Fall down the rabbit hole chasing the perpetually anxious white rabbit, trade hypnotic grins with the Cheshire cat, and annoy the snooty, hookah-smoking Absolem, the blue caterpillar. Whether a loyal book fan or a connoisseur of the myriad of adaptations, Wonderland is as mystifying as it is unique.
Arda (Middle Earth) – ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’
JRR Tolkien famously spent decades crafting his epic fantasy, meant to be the rich mythology the English people had lost. Middle Earth began simply with The Hobbit, a children’s book filled with Dwarves, dragons, and a magical adventure. Tolkien’s World Bloomed in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and grew its roots in The Silmarillionthe appendices from which Amazon has drawn inspiration for Rings of Power.
Whether visitors envision themselves as ethereal Elves, common Men, the simple Hobbit folk of the Shire, seeking riches in the mines of the Dwarves, or even a Wizard, one could spend a lifetime exploring Tolkien’s world and still not see everything.
Wakanda – ‘Black Panther’
Comics have many alternate realities, far-off planets, and world-bending dimensions to pick from. The MCU and its miniseries have Asgard, the TVA, and the rest of the Multiverse. still, Black Panthers Wakanda takes the prize for a hidden world of advanced technology that might as well be indistinguishable from magic itself.
With the seemingly limitless uses for the material vibranium, Wakanda balances highly advanced technology with an ageless, unique aesthetic not often seen in Western media. Marvel’s upcoming Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is sure to explore the realm in ways only touched on in past MCU movies.
Atlantis – ‘Atlantis: The Lost Empire’
Atlantis, a mythological ancient city, has been adapted into Greek mythology movies and other works of fiction before and after Disney’s approach in 2001. Right up there with its spin on Treasure Islandblending the 18th Century aesthetic with space colonies and solar-powered galleons, this version of Atlantis is much more an alien world than an ancient city swallowed by the sea.
The writers put much effort into making Atlantis feel lived in, more effort than Disney put into marketing it, developing the skeleton of its language and the culture of Atlanteans previously untouched until Milo’s expedition. Its Princess Kida, portrayed by the legendary Cree Summer, was snubbed for the Princess lineup by the movie’s box office bomb.
The Wizarding World – ‘Harry Potter’
Envisioned as the exact kind of protagonist readers are meant to live vicariously through, the eponymous boy-who-lived brings audiences into the realm of witches and wizardry just beyond our own in Harry Potter. Everyone wants their wand, pet owl, or flying broomstick, and to be sorted into their favorite Hogwarts House. Everyone waited for their letter of admission to come in the mail.
Ride the moving staircases, the train at platform 9 3/4 or buy butterbeer at Hogsmeade, or walk the hallowed halls of Hogwarts castle and beyond. Or, trace Newt Scamader’s steps into America’s own wizarding world. Either way, the world of Harry Potter is a fantastic place to visit (and Universal knows it).
Neverland – ‘Peter Pan’
The appeal of Neverland lies more with its promise of never growing up or, in Peter Pan’s case, never landing. Beyond the scope of Pan’s original animated movie, 1991’s hook with Robin Williamsor the more recently Pan (2015), the universe also includes all the animated Tinker Bell movies.
Neverland features the exploits of the Lost Boys, Captain Hook, and his crew’s ceaseless quest against all of Peter Pan’s mischievous antics, alongside fairies, mermaids, and one determined crocodile. If one only looks up at the night sky, Neverland is the “second star to the right,” only reachable if one believes they can fly.
Oz – ‘The Wizard of Oz’
1939’s The Wizard of Ozo contains some of cinema’s most famous shots of a magical world – live in Technicolor. The movie and first stage adaptations came from The Wonderful World of Ozothe first of a fourteen-book long anthology later continued with an additional twenty-one books by writer L. Frank Baum’s successor, championed by millions of children eager for more.
Oz is a sprawling fantasy realm, and one need only start their journey on the yellow brick road to explore it. The Munchkin village, the Wicked Witch’s castle and flying monkey armada, and the Emerald City and its horse of many colors are all part of what makes Oz a timelessly classic escapist fantasy, one tornado ride away.
A Galaxy Far, Far Away- ‘Star Wars’
Depending on the era, one might not want to brave the famous planets of the Star Wars universe. Star Wars is the dystopia that Star Trek is not, by comparison. However, there remain pockets of some of sci-fi’s most creative landscapes between all of Star Wars’ mediums. Coruscant, Naboo, (perhaps not the monotonous deserts of Tatooine or Jakku), and the hundreds of planets explored in The Clone Wars cartoon and video games are each iconic in their own ways.
One can imagine themselves a Jedi in the height of Old Republic, or the twilight hours of the Clone Wars, a rebel X-wing pilot or Sith apprentice. Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge is the closest this world comes to a galaxy far, far away, and at least while there, one can have a drink at the Mos Eisley cantina.
Camps Half-Blood and Jupiter – ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’
Though neither movie adaptation appreciates nor accurately portrays Camp Half-Blood and the world of modernized mythology, there is hope in Disney’s upcoming Percy Jackson series. Nevertheless, some kids wanted to be wizards growing up, others wanted to be demigods, and many adore both. The world of Percy Jackson is very much a hidden fantasy world, superimposed over real-world cities and hidden by the Mist.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have its fantastic settings. Camp Half-Blood, for Greek demigods, sits on Long Island, while the rival Camp Jupiter, for Roman demigods, is outside San Francisco. Both are seemingly places out of time, havens for the children of the gods from monsters and abusive mortals, where they can hone their godly abilities.
Next: Disney’s ‘Percy Jackson’: 10 Must-Haves for the New Series