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Portal fantasies — fantasy stories that involve jumping from one high-profile magical universe to another, usually through some mechanism that allows characters to travel between worlds — have been popular throughout the genre’s history. Portal fantasies are arguably older than the novel form itself; Legends of voyages between the Nine Realms in Viking mythology or voyages to the land of the fairies in Celtic myths could be seen as early portal fantasies. One of the earliest fantasy novels ever published, The Burning World by Margaret Cavendish, can possibly be read as a portal fantasy as the main character reaches a utopian world by passing through the North Pole. Alice in Wonderland combines portal fantasy with the dream narrative trope, with Alice falling down a rabbit hole into Wonderland, but waking back to the real world. CS Lewis Chronicles of Narnia are among the most famous portal fantasies of 20th-century literature. The wardrobe of the same name in The lion, the witch and the wardrobe is an iconic portal to a fantasy world, but the pools lead to different universes that we see in the magician’s nephew also deserve a mention.
Twenty-first century fantasy literature has also borrowed from portal fantasy. The series by LD Lapinski The Strangeworlds travel agency lets the protagonists Flick and Jonathan travel through countless worlds in a magical suitcase. At Karuna Riazi The glove, a group of children uses a magical board game to gain access to a dangerous world in which they must win the game or risk being trapped forever. and A blade so black by YA author LL McKinney picks up Alice in Wonderland to create a portal fantasy that moves between modern-day America and the Nightmareverse, a more dangerous version of Wonderland.
Why have portal fantasies remained popular through the decades and centuries? There are many things about portal fantasies that appeal to readers of speculative fiction, from the concept to the way it affects the plot.
World hopping mechanisms
While most fantasy novels are set in one world, portal fantasies can allow the author to create a variety of different worlds for their characters to explore. in the the magician’s nephewNot only do we see the beginning of the new world of Narnia, but we also explore the world of Charn where Jadis – also known as the White Witch – originally came from. In the Strangeworlds series, we follow Flick and Jonathan into worlds like Five Lights, full of magic and wonder, and into other worlds like The Break, a tiny ocean world inhabited by pirates and merpeople. With Heidi Heilig The girl from everywhereNix and her father’s sailing ship crew travel to a variety of real-world locations at various points in history, as well as legendary and mythical locations, using maps that Nix’s father uses as a focus and guide.
Being immersed in different worlds is one of the most appealing things about reading fantasy fiction, and while portal fantasies can mean the author can’t go into the same details as with a story set entirely in another world, it will this offsets the fact that the world-hopping structure means that the reader experiences not just one, but a multitude of worlds. Portal fantasies may not always have the depth of worldbuilding that we get with traditional fantasies, but they make up for this with a breadth that allows the writer to play around with multiple concepts for different worlds.
The best world-building is the kind that complements and influences the characters’ journeys. The assemblage of different worlds that we see in portal fantasies can be a great way for writers to show different sides of their protagonists’ personalities. The different game scenarios that Farah encounters The glove Allow her and her friends to show off their resourcefulness and tenacity. Neil Gaimans corala portal fantasy that alternates between the real world and a terrifying other world that Coraline enters through a door, sees Coraline taking lessons she’s learned about her family and neighbors, and uses them to enhance her encounters with outlive their twisted counterparts.
Portal fantasies give writers the opportunity to place their characters in a variety of different situations and show the reader important things about their personalities.
Another reason portal fantasies appeal to readers is because of speculative fiction’s role in reflecting and commenting on contemporary real-world history and society. Fantasy stories have often been a way for writers to reflect on reality; for example Terry Pratchett’s earn money deals with capitalism and the economic recessions of the time it was written, during born of legends by Tracy Deonn addresses the implicit racism of privileged institutions. Portal fantasies, unlike one-world fantasies, can be a way for writers to think about a number of different real-world situations in a narrative. strange worldsFive Lights’ exploration addresses overconsumption, while the world of pause can be read as a metaphor for climate change. the magician’s nephew was written in 1955, ten years after the atomic bomb was built, and in Charn we see a world devastated by its rulers’ use of the “regrettable word,” a spell that destroyed all living things in this reality save for their former ruler, jadi The fate of Charn can be viewed as a magical counterpart to the feared possible fate of the real world during the Cold War.
Portal fantasies not only reflect concerns and concerns about our current world, but can also allow the writer to explore a variety of worlds that give us a break from reality or even hope for the future. In the Diana Wynne Jones classic Howl’s Moving Castle, we see this through the character of Howl himself escaping the mundaneness and responsibilities of his original world. However, the light-hearted fantasy rules of Sophie’s own world will appeal to many readers. In Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series we see some utopian worlds alongside the darker and more dystopian worlds explored by the protagonists Lyra and Will – I still like to think of the world of the mulefas The amber binoculars.
The variety of ideas and worlds in portal fantasies means that there is a portal fantasy book for every reader with passages to a large number of different worlds.
For a comprehensive look at some of the best portal fantasies, check out 50+ Must-Read Portal Fantasy Books. Teen readers can try 8 Great Portal Fantasies for YA Readers.