Six of Fiction’s Most Inspiring Paracosms

I’m not ashamed to admit that paracosm is a word I learned and heard for the first time only last month. In fact, the running list of “Words to Use” I keep in my iPhone notepad is speckled with words I should have learned long ago.

But now that I know this word–paracosm–I’m obsessed.

A paracosm is a detailed imaginary world created inside one’s mind. This fantasy world may involve humans, animals, and things that exist in reality; or it may also contain entities that are entirely imaginary, alien, and otherwordly. Commonly having its own geography, history, and language, the experience of such a paracosm is often developed during childhood and continues over a long period of time: months or even years.

I’m a fantasy writer. One of the things I look forward to most when I begin is new story is world-building. The likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, and C.S. Lewis are gods of paracosms–Middle Earth, the wizarding world, Narnia. While I’m not at the level of the gods that be, the YA fantasy novel I’ve been slaving over is all about the paracosm.

I’ve been inspired by a number of my favorite fictional paracosms, and was so in writing Aurelia and the House of Dire. While not all of these alternate worlds influenced my book, they certainly stoked the creative fires. Don’t get uppity about the fact that these are all movies; most are based on books. In no particular order…

munchkinland oz 1. Oz – The Wizard of Oz

I was never as enamored with the Emerald City as I was with Munchkinland. For the record.

But it’s hard to beat any city or province in Oz when it comes to imaginary places. IN TECHNICOLOR NO LESS. Nappy-time fields, a plasticky sort of Shire bursting with themed troupes who sing their greeting, green horses, cranky apple trees. Oh my!

I have no qualms about the book-to-movie translation of Baum’s world (maybe because I never read the book), but I think it’s safe to say Victor Fleming made some decent decisions there.

Fantasia Neverending Story2. Fantasia – The NeverEnding Story

Fantasia was breathtaking even as a crumb of its former self floating out in desolate space and let’s just pretend the sequels never happened.

We had to fall in love with Fantasia in order for The Nothing to send us into despair with Bastian. One of my favorite places and home to my favorite characters in the movie was Engywook and Urgl’s scientific, witchy-poo dwelling. I’m a sucker for manifestations of science+magic in world building.

I’ve never stopped wanting to live in the palace and stand around looking doe-eyed and near-tears in my blinding white gown (when I needed a break from flying through space on Falkor’s back).

Illustration by Shinigami Rukia

Illustration by Shinigami Rukia

3. The Spirit World – Spirited Away

But wait, now I want to be a radish spirit and stew in a giant vat of personally-concocted bathwater at the onsen in Spirited Away! And then there was the train that drove across the sea on unseen tracks and the market where heaps of spirit food were served out of stalls. It’s all so rich and clean and magical. Can I vacation in Miyazaki’s mind?

While I can understand Chihiro’s desire to return home and find her family, I might have taken a few extra days off in the spirit world. Maybe hung out with Kamajii and those cute dust balls in the boiler room.

adventures_of_baron_munchausen_moon4. The Imagined(?) World of Baron Munchausen – The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Baron Munchausen is a man after my own imagination and the world he spun in his big fish tales is everything I want in life. Except maybe the moon, which reminded me of the Small World ride at Disneyland but with lusty and vindictive floating heads. But let’s get serious–who wouldn’t want to eat petit fours with Vulcan and Venus in their decadent Rococo home or play cards with Death in the belly of a fish?

Alice in Wonderland Bread and Butterflies5. Wonderland – Alice in Wonderland

Obviously, I can’t get away with talking about paracosms without mention of the Lewis Carroll fan favorite. While I have found myself Wonderland-fatigued at various points in my life, thanks in large part to goth culture, I can’t help but smile every time I read “The Walrus and the Carpenter” or watch the classic Disney movie while under the influence of illness and NyQuil.

Mermaid Cove Neverland 6. Neverland – Peter Pan

But only if I get to be a mermaid. Or Smee. I seriously thought I might one day find the map to Neverland and join the Lost Boys for an adventure. I would’ve been way more fun to hang out with than prim Wendy. In Neverland, I’d find the tropical destination of my dreams with underground tree homes, lagoons, and pirate ships. Sure, the locals might be somewhat obnoxious or prone to violence, but what’s an exotic vacation without a little danger.