Awesome Portal Fantasy Novels that Spark the Imagination

Awesome Portal Fantasy Novels that Spark the Imagination

The first Portal Fantasy I ever read was Yon Ill Wind by Piers Anthony. It’s part of his Xanth series. (Not all of which are portal fantasies, though several include whisking unsuspecting mundane folk into the magical land of puns). In the book, a family vacation goes horribly wrong when a strong wind sweeps their RV into a different world. As the family struggle to get home, they encounter a fantastic cast of creatures. Some want to help and some are less than friendly. It also turns out to be a love story. And I’ve always been a sucker for a good love story.

I tend to have mixed feelings about some of Piers Anthony’s work (that’s a whole other blog post). But as a sixth grader, Yon Ill Wind was exactly the kind of story that enchanted me. Because I wanted nothing more than to waltz out of my mundane life into a world of excitement and adventure. Anything that would carry me beyond the dull humdrum of day-to-day life and give my actions meaning.

What are Portal Fantasies?

Portal fantasies usually start in the real world. Then our unsuspecting hero steps through a portal into a place with different rules. Usually there is magic, though there doesn’t have to be. And often the protagonist spends the rest of the story trying to get home. Though sometimes they save the world along the way.

Though I didn’t realize until recently, the first portal fantasy I was ever exposed to was the Wizard of Oz. Think of that moment in the movie where Dorothy wakes up, blinks away her black and white vision and steps into the beautiful, full-color world of Oz. That’s the magic of a portal fantasy to transport us to a different time and place!

It turns out that my favorite book of all time is not just a portal fantasy, but the ultimate one (at least according to me). The Neverending Story is a book about a shy young school boy named Bastian Balthazar Bux. He steals a book and flees to the school house attic to read it. The book is called The Neverending Story (yes, the book exists inside itself – twice actually, it’s nested). At some point during the hero’s adventure, he draws Bastian into the book to save Fantastica, the world of stories.

As a young book nerd with few friends outside the pages, and who had already begun to scribble stories of her own, there was something infinitely appealing about a world where all a writer’s stories come to life. Even as an adult, I imagine how cool it would be to walk through the worlds I create. Though I don’t know that I’ll ever be ready to meet Domerin face to face.

Portal Fantasies were a staple of my teenage years.

Looking back, I realize I’ve read tons of portal fantasies. The most famous was probably Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. I’m sure I also read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But it’s the strange chessboard world from Through the Looking Glass that always sticks in my mind. (Do we dare wake the White King in case we inhabit his dream?)

The portal fantasy I remember most vividly is Into the Land of Unicorns. In this book an ordinary girl is transported to the land of unicorns after her grandmother gifts her an amulet. All of my friends read the same book and were equally frustrated by the fact that the author had never written the second installment. In fact, that reminds me that I still need to finish the series, since the next book did finally come out, many years later.

I also read a fantastic little novel called Horsemaster, which I borrowed from the local library. In this book, a quiet girl named Jessica finds herself drawn into a mystical land where everyone seems to think she’s a princess. She has been summoned by a powerful magician to help solve a dispute over who should own a very powerful tapestry. I loved this book so much, I carried the images with me long after I forgot its title. Luckily, a librarian friend was able to help me relocate it with just the words tapestry, horse, and brown cover to guide him!

Toward the end of high school, I also became enamored with the Everworld series by K.A. Applegate, in which a group of teenagers are swept into a world where every mythology turns out to be real. (A series that later inspired some of my work on Eternity’s Empire.)

There are plenty of portal fantasy stories for adults

You might think I should have outgrown the desire to visit magical worlds as I grew older. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In some ways, the urge has only grown stronger as I started working in earnest on novels of my own. But luckily, there are plenty of portal fantasies specifically written for adults.

My first experience with adult portal fantasies was Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (because of course it was a Neil Gaiman book). This time, instead of stepping into another world, the protagonist finds himself touring a bizarre hidden world that has always existed along side his own, he just never noticed it. This world specifically seems to inhabit the London Underground an small clues often bleed between the two. Unfortunately, once you become part of the underground world, most of the ‘normal’ world stops noticing you, making it very difficult to get back.

The next major portal fantasy I read as an adult was The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay. Ironically, this book starts in Toronto, where I lived for eight years prior to reading. A group of five college students are approached by a wizard and invited to participate in a strange ceremony that involves crossing between worlds. Of course, as soon as they step through the portal, they’re drawn into a war against a crazed god of darkness. I was a tad disappointed with the end of this series, but it was still an interesting read.

Of course the ultimate adult portal fantasy is Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series which, in many ways, defies classification. But there is certainly a lot of world crossing in that fiction, as well as a fair number of magic doors.

In Portal Fantasies, the possibilities are endless!

Whatever you like to read, there’s probably a portal fantasy out there for you somewhere. Sci-fi might use wormholes instead of doors, but the effects are largely the same. It was only when I sat down to write this blog that I realized how many portal fantasies I’ve encountered in my life. Narnia is one of the most famous examples (though I still haven’t read the books). There’s also Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (which he actually wrote in response to the Narnia series).

I would also be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, which is written for kids but is quite enjoyable for adults (if you don’t mind a little bit of terror). I also read a fantastic book called Princess Nevermore about a princess from a magical underground world that passes into our world through a fountain. It’s reminiscent of Pan’s Labyrinth, but without the horror elements.

Of course, given how widely I’ve read portal fantasies, it only makes sense that the first book I ever published fits into the category. Island of Lost Forevers involves a magical, dimension-hopping island that just so happens to appear one day off the coast of San Francisco. As soon as the book’s two protagonists – university professors Catilen Taylor and Damian Cooke – set foot on it, they’re swept into a world and an adventure beyond their imagining. It still counts if the magical world comes to you, right?

If you’re interested in Island of Lost Forevers, you can find it over here. And please do recommend more portal fantasies in the comments!

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