Down the Rabbit Hole: The Appeal of Portal Fantasy

Portal fantasy has always been popular. From tales of fairy circles to Narnia, we’ve always enjoyed watching people from familiar places enter fantastic realms.

At the titular panel at WorldCon2019, Seanan McGuire, Vina Prasad, Genevieve Cogman, and Kathryn Sullivan discussed what it was about portal fantasy that kept people coming back for more.

What Is Portal Fantasy?

In a portal fantasy, the main character is transported from our world to another. This allows us to see the new world through the eyes of someone with our context. (NOTE: The Japanese version is called: Isekai )

Usually, the protagonist is either young and/or dissatisfied with their life and looking for an escape.

But, the portal to go home has to be hard to reach. If it’s like flipping a button, it’s just a story about someone who lives in two (or more) worlds.

But aren’t portal fantasies just big fairytales?

Well, while fairytales are a subset of folklore, in those, you know where the portal world is and how to access it. And you choose to go there (or at least risk it).

Portal fantasies, you stumble into, and you have to find out the rules as you go along.

Introductions to Portal Fantasies

  • Most of the 80s cartoons
  • Doctor Who
  • Wizard of Oz
  • Digimon
  • Narnia
  • own daydreams
  • John Carter of Mars
  • Irish Mythology
  • Dante’s Inferno

Favorite Portal Fantasy Tropes

  • When the main character tries to introduce something they know from their own world that seems obvious… and then finds out WHY things were the way they were.
  • The kids who go through the portal are never the cool or popular kids. It’s the weird kids. And? Whatever the kids’ weirdness is, that weirdness is the reason they succeed in the portal world.

What is the Appeal of Portal Fantasy?

  • Wish fulfillment – one day, as a kid, you wake up and realize that you’re not actually going to become a unicorn/space princess
  • Being the one with the answers – you go into the fantasy world knowing so much more about technology and mechanicals possibilities, that you can actually change society.
  • Different expectations – in a fantasy world, they can value something that is a detriment, or that nobody cares about in the real world
  • Teaching the value of home/what you already have – Sometimes, home sucks and you’re better off elsewhere. But, for most of us, being reminded to look at what we have helps us see, with all our struggles and issues, it’s not that bad.

Are you a fan of portal fantasy?

What are your favorite portal fantasies?
How do people get them right… and how do people get them wrong?

Let me know in the comments below and join me next week, for more writing tips and writerly musings
.

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