Tell if you’ve heard this one before:
A young, perky college student — a little lost as they search for a purpose in their terrifying maturation from youth to adulthood — is whisked away to a fantasy world, thrust into the middle of a crisis that, if they’re not complicit in finding a solution, will be disastrous for their newfound friends. By leveraging their otherworldly knowledge (and modern technology/understanding of medicine/science), they’re able to triumph over the bad guys and restore peace to the troubled fantasy land.
You might be thinking of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry, or Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, or Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland. You wouldn’t be wrong, all of these are popular examples of “portal fantasy.” Unlike protagonists in traditional epic fantasies, who at least understand most of the overarching societal values and some of the physical/metaphysical rules of the world, portal fantasies allow the author to cast a character who has no more understanding of the laws and societies of the fantasy land than the reader themselves (and often less, if the protagonist isn’t an avid fantasy fan who’s probably seen it all before). Over the course of the novel, the reader discovers the world, magic, etc. at the same rate as the protagonist. It’s a tried-and-true formula, but therein lies the issue with most portal fantasy: we have seen it all before. Read More »