Half-Baked Theories: When Worlds Collide! Or, Some Ideas about Science Fiction and Fantasy and the Fifth Wall

Diana is a meta sort of kid. She likes narrative asides to the reader—Lemony Snicket was an awesome thrill. She likes breaking through that fourth wall. When we watched Blazing Saddles (truly an awesome film for the fart-joke-loving middle school crowd), at the end of the movie when they crash through the walls of the set onto the set of another movie, she gave an audible shriek and leapt to her feet in a paroxysm of joy. It's what she loves about Monty Python—the constant strange balance of the separate worlds, one within the other.

At dinner last night, Diana mentioned, "You know why I love the first book of any fantasy series the best? Because that's the one where they discover the other world."

And I've been thinking about it.

I know what she's talking about. That moment when Lucy pushes through the old coats and ends up in the snowy wood. That sense of otherness, of the world's having more dimensions than you thought it did. And what I was thinking was that maybe that's one way fantasy makes more sense to me than science fiction does. Fantasy somehow implies that there's this world, and then there's another one, and you can move between the two, and that's what's so awesome. Science fiction gives you an alternate world, but it's the world there is—it's the future. It's farther along a continuum but not on a different plane, if you follow my tortured not-quite-mathematically-accurate metaphor.

Of course, once I thought of this I immediately saw that I was wrong. Some fantasy doesn't involve movement between worlds (though my favorite fantasy always seems to). And no doubt some sci-fi posits multiple worlds. But still, I feel like there's an idea here somewhere, if I could only grasp it. Ah, the trials of the half-baked theory.

What do you think? Are you a fan of that moment when one world connects to another? Is it part of fantasy only? And, just because I want to know, what's your favorite intsance of this moment? Please?

10 thoughts on “Half-Baked Theories: When Worlds Collide! Or, Some Ideas about Science Fiction and Fantasy and the Fifth Wall

  1. I think you are onto something, as usual. There is something particularly thrilling about the moment when you realize that there are worlds beyond our world. I get the thrill with almost all the Narnia books, when they enter Narnia again – except the last one. With science fiction, it’s more the fascination of imagining living in this other world, and what it would be like. But as you say, it’s already there. Other books I like with this discovery theme is Mio, my Mio by Astrid Lindgren, and The Neverending Story by Michael Ende.


  2. I’m with Smukke and Narnia except the first book really grabbed me:
    Lucy, playing hide and seek and hiding in the wardrobe only to discover…. I read the book most recently about 30 years ago and I still remember that moment.


  3. Yes, yes, yes, I love the discovery of a new world! My actual favorite is when Harry Potter first goes to Diagon Alley and buys his school supplies, but the whole book is a great introduction to the Wizarding World.


  4. Love this post! After Narnia (still remember the feeling of the coats turning to scratchy needles, the crunching underfoot…), the first thing I thought of was actually a non-fantasy novel – The Secret Garden. Secret discoveries of any kind will do, it seems.
    Thinking further…that sense of discovery is present for me in any fantasy or science fiction novel (especially the first in a series, like Diana said). It’s that feeling of a previously unknown world opening up before you. Doesn’t matter if the main character is literally going through a door or not.
    Of course, that can be true of non-speculative novels, too. But the world you find on the other side is always better in speculative fiction.


  5. yep, I think Siri Paulson might be on to something, but as much as the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey generated the happy “ooo, cool new world, with dragons” feeling in me, it wasn’t as cool as the Harry Potter and Narnia “through the door” feelings. There’s something about a book starting in the humdrum mundane world and then BOOM, a totally better one appears. James and the Giant Peach comes to mind, somewhat unexpectedly. But my favorite is probably Harry Potter, closely followed by Narnia. what a fun half-baked theory!


  6. If I may interject with a “grown up” novel other world discovery–the dual reveals in Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. First, the reveal of the Brakebills world and second, the reveal that Fillory (a thinly disguised Narnia) also exists. Worlds within worlds within worlds! (Also an excellent echo of the Narnia and Harry potter discovery moments).


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