'The octopus unquestionably looms largest' - China Miéville and Kraken
The Week that Was

7 Great Fantasy Londons

In our list of great fantasy cities, we were forced to squash the many thousands of Londons down to just one. That's a little unfair, so we've decided to explore our favorite city in a bit more detail. 

The BookmanLondon, Haunted: Without sounding dismissive, on paper, there's not much about DC Peter Grant's London that's structurally different from the Londons of the other occult detectives - Mike Carey's Felix Castor, for example. But Ben Aaronovitch doesn't just evoke the shady history of the city, he also captures the spirit of its present. From the tourist hordes of Covent Garden to the drunks in Soho, Ben Aaronovitch's London is the distilled essence of, well, London. Except with ghosts, of course.

London, Overrun with literary figures: London's literary history is such that modern authors can even indulge in the self-referential. Lavie Tidhar's The Bookman is perhaps the most recent of these - taking place in a city ruled by the lizard people and populated by clockwork poets, Gilgamesh and Karl Marx (the latter is not fictional - nor, if you ask some, are the lizard people). The Bookman is packed to the gills with cleverness, and not in the plot-defying way - Mr. Tidhard skims the best of history and fiction and gleefully melts it into the pot of his own novel. If we broaden the scope to comics, Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentleman also deserves a mention here: who can forget Mr Hyde vs the Martian invaders while the Thames is a-wriggle with alien seaweed...

Amulet of SamarkandLondon, Ruled by wizards: The idea of London as the seat of an Empire isn't too improbable - rumor has it, it actually was for a year or two. In Jonathan Stroud's Amulet of Samarkand, said Empire is run not just by Victorians, but also by wizards. Thanks to their ability to harness demons, the wizards run a pretty tight ship - a magocracy of the top-hatted few. The best parts (well, second-best, behind the cheeky asides of the book's djinni protagonist) are the hilarious subversions of real London. Again, the fantasy trumps the reality - William Gladstone was pretty nifty in history, but he never strode the Continent in a blaze of dark magic..

London, Psychogeographical: In The Hill of Dreams, Arthur Machen writes a semi-autobiographical accounting of a young Welshman who comes to London to write and gets rapidly swallowed up by the city's suburbs. Even surrounded by the thoroughly unlyrical landscape of Shepherd's Bush, Machen's protagonist manages to find himself overcome by the mystical nature of the city. Not the most straightforward intepretation of London, but nor is it supposed to be. Machen saw the city as layers upon layers upon layers upon (personal interpretations of layers) upon layers, a seductive combination of perception and occultism.

London, Strangely inverted: What happens to everything we're done with? All the clutter of the metropolis, either discarded (broken umbrellas) or forced into obsolescence (Routemaster busses) has to go somewhere. In China Miéville's twisted children's tale, everything MOIL (mildly obsolete in London) winds up in Un Lun Dun - which isn't really "below" as much as "sort of hard to get to through conventional means". Mr. Miéville doesn't just fill his city with nostalgic throwaways - there are also predatory giraffes, ghosts and the occasional binja (a ninja bin, obviously). 

wolves of willoughby chaseLondon, Underneath: When I first visited London as an impressionable ten year old, I was astounding by the tube - a feeling that lingered for decades (and is now reduced to an irritable grumbling during "signal failures"). The silly names, the tiled tunnels, the mysterious map... In Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman takes that curiousity and turns it into an entire landscape, "London Below" (as opposed to the pedestrian life in "London Above"). Earl's Court has an Earl, Knightsbridge belongs to the Night and it all gets sillier and more wonderful from there. 

London, Wolf-infested: There's a complex alternate history involved in Joan Aiken's series, but the most memorable part is the presence of roving wolf packs in central London. As a child, I'm not even sure I knew The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was an alternate history - I'm still a little saddened whenever I realize that there haven't been English wolves for over five centuries. Still, Joan Aiken's lively, Dickensian tales take place in an equally vivacious and cinematic city - one filled with stage whispers and proper skulduggery.  

So... what'd we miss? What's your favorite fantasy interpretation of London?

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