Those oh-so-real fictional places
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited. No smoke came from the chimney, and the little lattice windows gaped forlorn. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me.” – Daphne du Maurier in “Rebecca”
If you have read the novel or seen the film “Rebecca,” you may find it hard to think of Maxim de Winter’s estate as a fictional place. For readers, this is a tribute to the author’s imagination and writing skill. For movie viewers, it’s a tribute to a host of people including the producer, director, set designer and camera crew. While du Maurier’s location was inspired by a real house, Manderley has (or had) its own foreboding and somber charms.
Years after the novel and the movie “Gone With the Wind” were released, a surprising number of visitors to Atlanta want to see Scarlett O’ Hara’s Tara. You can see the house where Margaret Mitchell wrote the novel, but no matter how real Tara seemed, it was “just” a movie set. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that visitors to London want to see J. K. Rowling’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Born in the Imagination
I was reminded of the near-reality of fictional places when I saw a matching puzzle in a recent copy of the “AARP Bulletin. Similar to what many of us saw on high school tests and sometimes see now on Facebook, the puzzle listed fifty locations out of novels and movies and asked readers to match them up with the authors who dreamt them up.
The list includes Avalon, Camelot, Dogpatch, Gilligan’s Island, The Secret Garden, Wuthering Heights and Yoknapatawpha County. Yes, it did include Manderley, Tara and Hogwarts. While the puzzle and its Wonderland picture may have been, from the editor’s viewpoint, a lightweight space filler, it came with a worthy message in the feature’s subhead: “Some of our most beloved places started as figments of someone else’s imagination, yet feel so real we dream about visiting.”
What a powerful statement that is. An author dreams up a location and readers dream of visiting it. It amazes me to hear people discounting children’s fears and wonderments by saying “That’s just your imagination.” If adults can believe Tara is a real place, kids can believe there’s a dragon in the closet.
In the science fiction and epic fantasy genres, the creation of imaginary places is often called world building. The authors have stepped past Tara and Hogwarts to create galaxies and planets with an infinite amount of detail, including populations and laws of physics quite different from our own.
Yet, we believe. Part of us wonders if the seemingly all-powerful Borg collective on “Star Trek” with its cube-shaped space ship and the Empire in “Star Wars” with its Death Star might be waiting for us out there in space. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea, Stephen R. Donaldson’s alternate Earth, and Frank Herbert’s planet Arrakis in “Dune” are—to devoted fans—just as real as New York City and Yellowstone National Park.
The author creates the place. Readers and movie-goers keep it alive. It’s almost like magic.
What are your favorite imaginary places out of novels, poems, paintings and feature films? Personally, I would love to visit Hogwarts as long as everyone on the tour is given a wand.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy novels, including the recently released “The Seeker,” a story about love, magic and destiny.