Our favourite fantasy destinations and the heroes who live there

Most of us as children spent time in far off fantasy worlds found in books– whether it was Narnia, Discworld, Middle-Earth or Camelot.  With a new movie adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time in cinemas, Laura looks at six other fantastical destinations you can visit with your children or on your own.

Madeline L’Engle

First edition of A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time is the first of what is often grouped as a quintet by Madeline L’Engle.  Set in our world, the heroine Meg Murry and her family must scale the intersection of science and faith to rescue their father, a scientist who has disappeared.

Madeline L’Engle was an American East Coast author who wrote fiction and non-fiction for all ages.  The Time quintet are probably her best known and most loved books.  In them scientific and Christian-based mythology interact in a seamless way– cherubim, nephilim, unicorns and tesseracts all operate and interact in the same startling and sometimes scary universe.


Uncredited cover art for A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time is also one of the most banned books of all time– frequently targeted by school boards and parents groups as being too religious or not religious enough.  The books do spend time examining not only ecumenical concepts of Christianity but also scientific, philosophic and mathematical ideas; so they no way exclude folks with a different or absent spiritual perspective from joining in.

Particularly great for readers of sci-fi fantasy who self-identify as outsiders, nerds, who love maths or watch everything Neil deGrasse Tyson presents on the telly.

Joan Aiken

Author Joan Aiken

Joan Aiken is one of the most prolific authors on our list, which is fantastic news because once you have fallen under her spell you’ll want to go on reading her books forever.  One of her most popular series begins with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and through twelve books introduces us to one of literature’s most doughty heroines– Dido Twite.

The world of Dido Twite is set in an alternate England in which Stuart Kings are in constant threat from Hanoverian and Burgandian conspirators, wolves rampage England through the newly opened channel tunnel and steam trains and hot air balloons charge around the snowy countryside.


Illustration of Dido Twite

Dido Twite starts out as a plucky street imp who grows up of the course of the series into a resourceful heroine; careless of her appearance and optimistic of attitude she faces many foes and has outlandish adventures, and may end up on the throne.

These books are perfect for everyone, but especially those readers who like gutsy heroines who care more for adventure than romance.

Garth Nix


Ancelstierre is a land a lot like ours—specifically a lot like England—but it borders a world stranger and more dangerous. The Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix opens up a universe where magic courses through everything and the living and the dead vie for control of it.

Garth Nix is an Australian author who writes fantasy novels for children and young adults. His Old kingdom series consists of four novels Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen and Clariel.


In this world there is the official, sanctioned Charter Magic and the forbidden Wild Magic, an uncontrolled amoral force favoured by necromancers. The Abhorsen in this world is a ruler not only of the living population, but someone who must maintain the balance of power and keep the dead where they belong.

In each of his Old Kingdom books a young woman has to face-up to unlooked for responsibilities and the wielding of great power. It rarely goes exactly to anyone’s plan. Nix is a fabulous world builder and the Old Kingdom thrums with magic and fantastical landscapes—from the Clayr’s glacial home with it’s vast and dangerous library to the Abhorsen’s house, situated mid-river on the edge of a rushing waterfall.

Perfect for fantasy readers who like their books with a hint of scariness, stories of quests, talking animal companions, and the ordinary girl who becomes extraordinary.

Ursula Le Guin


First brought into the world by Ursula K. Le Guin in 1964, the ocean and magic-bound world of Earthsea has become one of the most loved fantasy locations.  In this roughly iron-age archipelago magic is a fact of the world.  In the first novel, The Wizard of Earthsea, would-be wizard Ged makes his way to the wizardry school on Roke, earns his staff, but must at last face his earlier hubris and defeat the shadow he let loose into the world.

The other Earthsea novels also follow classic heroic quest plotlines, with The Tombs of Atuan focussing on young potential priestess Tenar and The Farthest Shore continuing the story of Ged.


Dragon of Pendor by tsmor of DeviantArt

As with all of Le Guin’s writing, the Earthsea novels (and there are five in total, along with various short stories) deal with Taoist and Jungian ideas, dandle different ideas of gender and race on their knee and look sensitively at the way different cultures and faiths interact.

All this and dragons, magic and more dragons.

Ingrid Law


In Mibs Beaumont’s family, unusual goes with the territory.  All her relatives have a particular ‘savvy’– a gift that manifests itself when an individual turns thirteen.  It might be the ability to cause hurricanes, control electricity, or move the earth itself.

Twelve year old Mibs was excited to find out what hers was going to be, until her dad’s terrible accident put her birthday in a different light.  Now she’s determined her savvy will be something that saves his life… except what your savvy is not something you have a say in.

Ingrid Law’s Savvy is a great introduction to fantasy literature– the world is recognisably ours but with a magical twist, the story is funny and family centred without being saccharine or shallow.


Ingrid Law extends the Savvy universe in two more books– Scumble; which focuses on Mibs Beaumont’s cousin Ledge, and Switch; which follows Gypsy Beaumont, little sister of Mibs.

These books have all the key elements of successful fantasy– fantastical worlds that are completely believable, likeable characters who discover and struggle with new powers and elegant storytelling beautifully written.  These are great books to read aloud or be read by oneself up a tree hiding from your siblings.

Lucy Boston

Illustration by Peter Boston

I can’t remember how old I was when I first went to Green Knowe in one of Lucy M. Boston‘s books, but her description of the place and the atmosphere was so vivid that it felt for many years more like a memory of an actual visit than of something I had read.

Perhaps this is partly because the books are based the actual house where she lived, so the house itself and its gardens and inhabitants so convincingly portrayed in her writing.  The opening of that first book, in which the boy Tolly arrives at the house by night, crossing floodwaters to get there is one of the most haunting sequences ever written.


Illustration by Peter Boston

There are six books in the series, all set in the same manor house where dwells the ancient Mrs Oldknow, as well the ghosts of three children from the reign of Charles II.  The fantasy within these books is very gentle– the ghostly goings on are sometimes a little scary but never sinister; the overall feeling is one of mysterious sanctuary.

The books are perfect for quiet, sensitive readers interested in ghosts and stories about the past.

Lewis Carroll

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

Of course the most famous wonderland of all is probably the one visited by Alice all those years ago after she tumbled down a rabbit hole.  It is so famous that we all feel a little bit familiar with Alice and her kooky companions, even if we have never read the books or seen any of the film adaptations.

If you have not read the books, or is it has been some time since you have it is worth opening them up, for you will find them curiouser and curiouser than you might imagine.


Illustration by Arthur Rackham

Charles Dodgson, writing under the pen name Lewis Carroll, published Alice in Wonderland in 1865, and its sequel, the somewhat darker Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There in 1871.

Both books are filled not only with strange and humorous (and sometimes frightening) characters but also poems, songs and nonsense that will delight readers who find puns and wordplay funny.  Everybody has their favourite iteration of Alice and company, for me the Arthur Rackham illustrated editions are the most perfect.  Rackham had such a knack for animating the inanimate– the knobbly joints of his coppiced trees– that they give the story a suitably sinister frisson.


So what do you think?  Where are some of your favourite fantasy destinations?  Let me know– I’m always ready for a literary adventure!

Ten Tales of the Terrifying and Fantastic

Laura Macfehin shares 10 stories that stay with you long after you’ve closed the book!  

I have to say my number one favourite thing to read is spooky short stories.  They are the literary equivalent of comfort food for me–  mashed potatoes in book form.  Ghost stories, stories of magic or horror or the unexplained–I love them all.  So because sharing is caring here are ten stories that have stuck around in my psyche – I hope you find some new reads!

  1. Margaret Atwood Death by Landscape

It seems fitting, seeing as the television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has been giving everybody the chills recently, to start this shuddery list with another haunting story by Atwood.

The Canadian author has published many novels, short stories and volumes of poetry and whether she is writing dystopian futures or describing the protean friendships between girls there is always a cutting edge to her words; she is often funny but never safe.

Death by Landscape appears in Wilderness Tips (1991) and explains how Lois, now living alone has been defined her whole life by the disappearance of her friend Lucy, who vanished out of (or into) the landscape while they were on a canoeing trip as girls.

One of those stories that remains with you—a cumulative creepiness like that found in unconcerned nature, it contains what in my mind Atwood is best at—the description of formative female friendships, as well as an evocation of the instantaneous nature of tragedy.


2.Caitlin R Kiernan In the Waterworks (Birmingham, Alabama 1888)

Kiernan is an Irish-born writer from the southern states of America, whose dark fantasy works are steeped both in that Southern Gothic genre and in her scientific interests—she has published articles on paleontology, among other things.

In the Waterworks first appeared in her short story collection Tales of Pain and Wonder (2000) and recounts the experience of spindly schoolteacher Henry S. Matthews, whose fossil-hound habits around the foothills of the Appalachians lead to his sharing with the men of the Water Works Company an unusual discovery deep inside Red Mountain.

The story has tendrils of Lovecraft creeping around its edges but the writing and the atmosphere it conjures is all Kiernan, and delightfully monstrous.


3. Shirley Jackson A Visit

 Jackson was born in 1916 in California, and from the get-go chafed at the culture and society she found herself in.

Most famous for her short story The Lottery (1948) and for the novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959) her stories exemplify for me the way anxiety blurs the boundaries of reality.

Her work has always a sense of unease, of something sinister in the seeming normality that the increasingly panicked protagonists find themselves in that conjures like no other writing a nightmare sense of sleep paralysis that cannot be woken from.

In A Visit Margaret is welcomed into the home of her school-friend Carla for the summer, and although she is so grateful to be there and the family are so pleased to have her there all the time reading it you will be shouting “but what is wrong—what is happening? Get out!” A Visit can be found in Jackson’s 1968 collection of stories Come Along With Me.

shutterstock_677627804. Dorothy K Haynes King of the Fair

 Folk horror has been having a bit of a resurgence on the cinema screen in recent years, and it has always been a favourite genre of mine in film and in literature.

The ‘King for a Day’ theme has always been a popular one for horror writers—where an unwitting outsider is jokingly made king by the locals in keeping with some longstanding rural tradition—often to find that he is to lose more than his crown by the end of the day.

Haynes re-writes this narrative into the context of a garish English seaside pier, told from the perspective of the fool/king’s wife and in doing so gives it a sticky, sherry glazed domesticity that makes it all the more horrible.

Haynes was a Scots writer whose work regularly crops up in horror anthologies—she wrote short stories and novels as well as articles for The Scotsman.

Her own childhood had in its outline more than a little of the gothic to it—she grew up in an orphanage with her twin brother Leonard, and later married a former resident of the same orphanage.

It is impossible to read this story without hearing in your head the sound of carousel music, screams and the voice booming “who-o-o’ll be King of the Fair?”


5. Rosemary Timperley Harry

 Timperley was born in North London in 1920 and wrote prolifically right up until her death in 1988 (on my thirteenth birthday, as it happens). Her stories appear in many anthologies—some of which she also edited and introduced.

She also wrote scores of novels, as well as plays and scripts for television. This story, Harry, has been filmed many times because it is so creepy in its imagery—in what is both seen and unseen.

Such ordinary things make me afraid. Sunshine. Sharp shadows on grass. White roses. Children with red hair. And the name—Harry. Such an ordinary name.

Harry himself is unseen by most, but not all in the story—but that does not stop him from exerting his will, however loving—on those around him.


6. Elizabeth Gaskell Lois the Witch

 Gaskell was born in 1810 and is well remembered for her novels describing life across the whole strata of Victorian society, with a particular emphasis on the roles and lives of women.

Books like North and South, Cranford and Wives and Daughters have been filmed as costume dramas and are well-loved both for her clever characterisation and for her satirisation of Victorian mores.

She also wrote exceedingly spooky gothic fiction. Most often included in anthologies is the The Old Nurse’s Story – which features a cold dead child who cries and taps on the window—but even more haunting for me is her novella Lois the Witch (1861).

There is something so precarious and awful about the predicament of poor Lois Barclay—the English girl who finds herself left with unknown Puritan relatives on the raw edge of the wilderness in seventeenth century Massachusetts.

Satan may be abroad in that splintered settler community, but Mrs Gaskell knows that a girl’s greatest danger has always been the unrequited affections of an unwanted suitor.


7. Jean Rhys I Used To Live Here Once

 By far the briefest story on this list, with I Used To Live Here Once Rhys shows that you the simplest moment—some pretty children in the sunshine, a split second realisation—can outlast some of the most verbose tomes in its power to stick with you.

Rhys was born on the island of Dominica in the Caribbean in 1890 and is best remembered today for her novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), which functions as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. As someone who felt themselves a perpetual outsider in the British society she mainly lived in she had a knack for presenting a perspective unlooked-for in most literature of it’s time.

I Used to Live Here Once can be found in Rhys’s 1976 collection Sleep it Off, Lady

shutterstock_583602858. Delia Sherman Mrs Carstairs and the Merman

 Of all the authors on this list Delia Sherman is my most recent discovery.

Born in Tokyo in 1951 this American writer has published young adult and adult fiction in the Fantasy genre, and her first short story collection—Young Woman in a Garden—came out in 2015.

She is a most satisfying world-builder whose fantastic environments look much like our own except for the presence of werewolves, paper-poppetts come to life or witches practising space bending magic.

The titular Mrs Carstairs is a late nineteenth century Massachusetts spinster and naturalist, with a ‘reputation of being very sound on the Mollusca of the New England coast’.

Then one day the stormy sea brings her a very interesting specimen indeed.

Not so frightening as fantastical I like this story very much—perhaps my penchant for the creature of Black Lagoon fame makes me a little biased— I can only hope we get more from her soon.

34736241781_12278bf357_o 9. Joan Aiken Furry Night

Ok, so strictly speaking Furry Night isn’t really all that terrifying either, despite having lycanthropy at it’s golden-eyed heart.

Joan Aiken wrote plenty of stories that are really very spooky—she was a dab hand at the creepy—but perhaps because of the title or perhaps because of her distinct take on werewolves I love this story very much and often come back to it.

Aiken was born in Rye, in Sussex, in 1924 and is best remembered for her alternative history books for children, known collectively as the Wolves Chronicles.

She also published many collections of spooky stories and one supernatural novel for adults as well as novels that act as companions to some Jane Austen titles.

In Furry Night Dr Ian Peachtree is employed to act as secretary/physician to Sir Murdoch, a renowned Shakespearian actor who has had to retire from the stage due to his being a werewolf.

All seems to be alright until the local tradition of ‘furry night’ threatens to bring trespassers onto his land. Furry Night can be found in the collection A Bundle of Nerves (1976). main-qimg-aaf50f6018618c3a580d0cc529af02bf-c

10. Kelly Link The Specialist’s Hat

Unlike the last two stories, The Specialist’s Hat is as spooky as all get out.

The first time I read it I found it so disturbing I had to read it again immediately to try to inoculate myself against its creeping horror.

Like all really good horror it is hard to put your finger on what it is about it that brings such chills; it taps into something inside yourself you didn’t know was there.

Kelly Link was born in Miami in 1969 and now lives in Massachusetts where she writes and co-manages Small Beer Press with her husband.

She has published several collections of stories as well as individual stories like this one, for which she won the World Fantasy Award in 1999.

And lucky for you, you can read The Specialist’s Hat straight away, for here is a link to it. http://kellylink.net/specialists-hat 

Be sure and let me know what it did to you.

shutterstock_377486215 Surprise! Because you are such very good readers here is a Bonus Story: Joyce Carol Oates Where Are You Going Where Have You Been. Because no list of creepy stories should be without a story by Oates, the author of some of the most horrifying of short horror fiction. You are very welcome.

Surprise surprise!  I am always on the look out for new reading suggestions.

 Comment with your favourite creepy or fantastical story is (any author, any story) and I will put you in the draw to win a brand new copy of Don’t Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne Du Maurier.  

This competition is open to any blog reader anywhere in the world but only for a week!  I will draw a winner on August the 9th 2017, so hit me with your story suggestions and good luck!

This competition is now closed!  Congratulations Helena!