Weekend Reccos | Fantastical Realms and Where to Find Them

Step inside the alien world of Pandora, study wizardry at Hogwarts, or hop aboard the TARDIS and travel through time—our pop culture list of films and books open doorways to otherworldly landscapes. 

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A film still from Avatar.

Movies / TV Series

Avatar (2009)

By Earth standards, Pandora looks like a lush paradise during the day. But come dusk fall, virtually all life on the moon exhibits bioluminescent qualities in various tints of blue, green and purple. The fantastical world, as portrayed by James Cameron in Avatar, is the fifth of the 13 moons of the Saturn-sized gas giant Polyphemus, where life is as fascinating as it is terrifying. The humanoid, blue-skinned Na’vi—an indigenous race—coexist with other alien creatures such as the grey-skinned direhorse, the airborne mountain banshee, and the predatory leonopteryx. The rainforest nurtures a thriving species of flora and fauna that makes the extra-terrestrial realm a sight for sore eyes.

It comes as no surprise when paraplegic Marine Jake Sully—the Hollywood blockbuster’s protagonist—becomes torn between completing a selfishly, human-pioneered mission and protecting the new world he feels is his home. This futuristic, sci-fi flick is as ambitious as the director’s dreams.

—Pooja Naik


Doctor Who (2005)

“It’s bigger on the inside.” Imagine a blue police-box cantering across the many worlds—and nay indeed—many universes through space and time. Wouldn’t we all want to get on board? The TARDIS, the trademark time-machine and spacecraft of the Doctor through “wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff” is our ride through the incredible destinations shown in the popular British science-fiction series. The Doctor and his/her companion exchange a giddy “where to?” before hurling off towards their next adventure: quote-offs with Shakespeare in the dingy streets of Elizabethan London, Pompeii a day before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, saving Vincent van Gogh in France, meeting Agatha Christie in the lush countryside of 1920’s Wales, fighting Daleks in 1930’s Manhattan, saving Madame de Pompadour amidst the  glittering court at 18th century Versailles and witnessing the Partition of India. And these are only the worldly destinations explored on the show. Futuristic cities made out of glass, asteroids housing the largest library in the universe, planets that mimic the Roman Empire and spaceships acting as human colonies—it would take several lifetimes to explore every corner of the Doctor’s universe. Good thing the Doctor doesn’t believe in linear time.

—Sanjana Ray



The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (1997-2007)

A castle-school with enchanted skies, trick staricases, and paintings that speak. People who cleverly hide from Muggle (non-magic people) eyes in daylight. Wise centaurs guard forests, spells that manifest your heart’s desire—J.K. Rowling’s world in the Harry Potter series is endlessly fascinating and detailed. In the first book, we are as stunned as Harry Potter when half-giant Hagrid breaks down a door to tell him he’s a wizard, a famous one at that. From then on, their world thrills readers at every step. There’s Harry’s arch nemesis Voldemort, who firsts shares the body of a professor at Hogwarts and later harms anyone who gets in the way of his plans during the Quidditch World Cup. There is potion master Snape with secrets of his own, and headmaster Dumbledore who protects Harry along the way. But most magical of all in this universe is the friendship Harry finds in Hermione and Ron. In a world of twists, turns, and trickery it’s these three who save one another, book after book.

—Kareena Gianani


His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman (1995-2000)

Pullman’s books, The Northern LightsThe Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, feature places such as Oxford and Svalbard, which although ripped from our own are different in beguiling ways. Here, all humans have daemons—animal versions of their souls, electricity goes by anbaricity, polar bears are golden breast-plated warriors, and the Aurora Borealis just might allow passage into multiple universes. Against this mysterious setting, Lyra Belacqua, a young girl hunts for her mother, a woman who dared inquire into that heretical of all substances: Dust. Pullman’s rather obvious allegorical questioning of religion may not be for everyone but even non-believers can’t deny the tug of his enchanting world-building.

—Lakshmi Sankaran 


Magic Faraway Tree Series by Enid Blyton (1939-1946)

For kids discovering British author Enid Blyton, summer lull is easily escaped by a second-hand stumble into the Enchanted Woods, where the trees are “greener than usual”, and incredible secrets unfolds around The Magic Faraway Tree.

In the iconic series of children’s books that have tickled young fantasies across generations, siblings Jo, Bessie and Fanny move to the honeysuckled English countryside, and into their accidental reality of a gigantic tree that hosts revolving lands of adventure on its misty crest. With woodland friends like Moonface, Silky and Saucepan Man, and a draw-of-card destination every chapter, the thrill of unpredictable travel looms in and out of these stories. You may be in the Land of Take What You Want, the Land of Ice and Snow, the Land of Secrets or my childish favourite–Land of Birthdays–if Blyton has her way with you, the journey will always be a smidgen more magical than her very magic destinations.

—Sohini Das Gupta


Shogun by James Clavell (1975)

At the turn of the 17th century, John Blackthorne, an English navigator of the Dutch East India Company, pilots the last surviving ship of the original fleet sent out to pillage from Spanish and Portuguese adversaries and discover Japan. A storm crashes his ship and his future along the shore of Japan where he awakens a captive and pawn in the future of this foreign land. Well over a thousand pages, this novel by James Clavell is a pop swashbuckler built on the bricks of historical fantasy that imagines the life of William Adams, known in Japanese as Miura Anjin, a real life navigator and subject of feudal Japan whose grave can be found in Kyushu.

—Julian Manning


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