1. Middle Earth
The Hobbit (Lord of the Rings trilogy) by J. R. R. Tolkien
A list of great Fantasy realms could not be made without mentioning possibly the most famous realm of them all. Despite the fact that I have not, as yet, read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Middle Earth was the first realm that came to mind when I started compiling. I read The Hobbit when I was about 11 and loved how much detail Tolkien went into when describing Middle Earth. It was as if Tolkien secretly travelled back in time, and to another dimension (Tolkien repeatedly wrote that Middle Earth was an imaginary representation of Earth in the past), spent years there studying the landscape, races and various languages/cultures and then masqueraded his findings as works of fiction because he knew no one would believe the truth. Whether J. R. R. Tolkien’s work is your cup of tea or not the man should be commended for the size of his imagination and the sheer amount of effort he put into his creations. I will read Lord of the Rings eventually, I swear!
Land of the Elves, Dwarves, Orcs and of course, the humble Hobbit
Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
I don’t know whether C. S. Lewis would have been pleased to be on this list right after Tolkien or furious, because the two were close friends as well as fierce rivals (in this day and age they would’ve been dubbed “frenemies”), but despite the controversy surrounding Lewis’ work I think Narnia is a wonderful creation. As a child I didn’t notice the religious overtones of the books, or the apparent sexism and racism, I was just entranced by a world you could step into through a wardrobe that was filled with talking animals, mythical beasts and witches.
Just a wardrobe away...
3. The realm of the Mulefa
All the different dimensions in the His Dark Materials trilogy were really well crafted and unique, but It was the unnamed dimension where Mary Malone travels that really stuck in my head. The reason this realm is so memorable is not so much the land itself but the creatures that inhabit it – namely the Mulefa (or zalif for an individual) and the Tualapi. The Mulefa are an intelligent race that sort of adopt Mary. They are a bit like a cross between an elephant and an antelope except they have evolved a diamond-shaped skeletal structure (as have most of the creatures in this realm) with a leg protruding from the front and back of the body and two others either side (i.e. one leg from each point of the diamond). They have an intricate language which consists of a combination of sounds and signing with their trunks and a unique way of moving around – they use spurs on their front and back feet to hold circular seed pods and roll around at high speeds like a motorcycle. The Tualapi are the Mulefa’s only threat in this beautiful world. They are massive white birds whose wings resemble sails when seen from a distance, and they maliciously destroy Mulefa dwellings and the precious seed pods with no apparent motive, but they do appear to also be intelligent. Hail Philip Pullman for coming up with such crazy creatures!
Mulefa from Amber Spyglass © 3djinn - found on Deviantart
4. The Half Continent
Monster Blood Tattoo series by D. M. Cornish
The worldbuilding D. M. Cornish has done in the Monster Blood Tattoo books is perhaps the most impressive I’ve seen in what is meant to be a children’s series. The map at the beginning of each book is incredibly detailed as is the content of the books, with an entire area at the end (called the Explicarium) which covers The 16-month calendar of the Half-Continent; the days of the week and vigils (days of observance); an extensive glossary of terms; and several illustrations of important machinery or people. But it is the little details that really make what Cornish has created amazing – especially the sheer volume of words he has invented, the complicated costumes worn by various classes of people and the host of strange monsters. If you’re prepared to tackle a children’s/Young Adult trilogy which packs a lot of punch then I would defiantly recommend them (even ‘tho I’m currently only about halfway through the second book).
Surely made by a master mapmaker!
Tallinor is the setting of the fabulous Trinity trilogy that I talked about in my last Top 10. It is not very different from countries on Earth, containing the same plants, animals and weather and having a culture similar to Europe in the middle ages which makes it very relatable and believable. While Tallinor may not have been as intricately developed as some of the realms in this list, the almost recognizable setting makes a perfect backdrop for a very strong and action-packed story and this really works for this series. I think if Tallinor had been too complicated and different from Earth then it would have detracted from what was really great in this series – the plot and the characters. If only there was a map available on the net and I didn’t have to settle for a dodgy phone pic from the front of Betrayal
apologies for the fuzziness
6. Tortall/Divine Realm
Tortall is the country that the Immortals is mainly set in, but the universe that the books are set in (as well as other series’ by Tamora Pierce) is often refered to as the Tortallan Universe, so this is what I will be taking about in this post. Also, the last book Realm of the Gods is almost entirely set in the Divine Realm and I feel that world is just as pivotal in this series as Tortall.
The Tortallan Universe covers several countries besides Tortall, which is like Middle Ages Europe (like Tallinor) in geography and culture, but the main one that is covered in the Immortals series is Carthak. Carthak is reminiscent of Ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia, with a hotter, drier climate and a culture which prides opulence and worships a range of Gods.
The Divine Realm sort of speaks for itself – it is the Realm that houses all the Gods of the various cultures including animal Gods (or Gods of Wild Magic which the main character Daine is gifted with) as well as a secluded society of dragons. When I read the series I was very impressed with what Pierce achieved with her worldbuilding – a series of countries and realms with unique geography, societies, and in the case of the Divine Realms, unique natural laws while still making them relatable to real countries that kids would be learning about.
Tortall and surrounding countries (Divine Realm not pictured :P)
Deltora is the perfect created world for the age group these books are aimed at. The places, people and creatures of Deltora are bursting with magic and adventure which kids just lap up, but the realm isn’t too complicated which can be boring for kids. Emily Rodda has also been very clever in naming key locations of Deltora – locations like The Forests of Silence, The Lake of Tears, City of the Rats, The Shifting Sands, Dread Mountain, The Maze of the Beast, and The Valley of the Lost are also titles of book in the first series and are quite enticing. I loved these books when I was younger because it was clear from the title where each book was heading, and each book was a mini journey to get the next gem of Deltora so It was like a series of small adventures wrapped up in one big one. I talk about all three series’ set in Deltora in my last Top 10 so if you’re interested in introducing these books to your kids (or reading them yourself!) then check it out. Recently an anime has also been made based on the Deltora Quest series and from what I’ve seen so far it is quite faithful to the original story.
This map is featured at the front of each of the books with a journey route gradually forming from book to book
I didn’t include this series in my Top 10 Fantasy series because I have only read book 1 (Eragon) and book 2 (Eldest) and also I didn’t enjoy it as much as others vying for a spot on the list. However, I was very impressed with the worldbuiding achieved by Chistopher Paolini, mainly because he started writing the series when he was still in highschool! The continent of Alagaesia is similar to Scandinavia around the time of Vikings, but mostly in language and culture as the geography isn’t particularly Scandinavian. The geography of the vast continent varies from mountainous forested regions in the north, flats and mountains in the south and a desert that dominates the centre of the land. Paolini’s world is inhabited by humans, elves, dwarves, Urgals (a brutal somewhat humanoid race) and of course Dragons, and overall this creates a rich fantasy which has proved very popular with children, teens and adults.
Online this series has been plagued with some criticism, mainly claiming that the story is just a repackaging of other famous tales, namely Star Wars but I think that is rubbish. Anyone who is knowledgeable about mythology, folklore, fairy tales and the works of Shakespeare knows that the same archetypal stories have been told countless times, and saying that the Inheritance Cycle is a rip-off of Star Wars just because it involves a young man who is orphaned, discovers his latent powers and is trained by a mentor, is ridiculous. I think a lot of this criticism is simply jealousy or tall poppy syndrome towards this talented young man, because really how many of us can claim to have written a bestselling series in their teens? I know I can’t!
Hats off to Master Paolini
9. Conjurors′ Realm
Alexandra Adornetto is another highly successful young person, starting her bestselling novel The Shadow Thief, when she was at the tender age of 13. The series continued with The Lampo Circus and it is this book that features the highly imaginative Conjurors’ Realm, ‘tho it is mentioned in The Shadow Thief and the last book Von Gobstopper’s Arcade. The main characters of the series, Milli and Ernest, end up in the Conjurors’ Realm when they are kidnapped (along with other children of their town) by the evil Conjuror Lord Aldor (who is the villain of the series) through a fake circus troupe. At first the only part of the realm the children see is a camp where they are being trained up as gladiators for an unnamed battle. When the children find out they are to be weapons in a war Lord Aldor is waging against the land of Mirth (a version of Faerie) they escape the camp and make the long journey to Mirth to warn the Queen. Along the way the Conjurors’ Realm presents unique challenges such as the creepy Grin Bandits that seek to extract the teeth of anyone who cross their path; and a life-size game of Monopoly. Mirth itself is a beautiful creation filled with song, dance and laughter, described wonderfully by Adordetto.
Book 2 of The Strangest Adventures
No surprise there! I have already stated before that I think the Discworld is one of the most imaginative ideas in literature, because come on, a flat world that is atop four elephants and swims through space on a giant turtle? That has to be the definition of awesome 🙂 But it is not just the shape of the world that makes it gloriously unique – Pratchett has also created a whole new system of Physics (mixed liberally with magic) that the universe (sometimes) confirms to; filled it with a range of known and unknown magical creatures and plant life; developed a calendar complete with different holidays (such as Hogswatch); and several languages. And on top of this Pratchett has created a series that is both magical and hilarious, rather than unbearably serious like some fantasy novels. It will be a sad, sad day for both fantasy and humourous literature when the great man is finally visited by Death, but possibly an interesting day for Pratchett when he is visited by his own creation!
Discworld from above