12 Imaginary Places

By Mark Nichol

Religion, legends, and literature alike are replete with various conceptions of ethereal or terrestrial paradises or places with romantic flair. Here are a dozen examples of ideal locales, including their names, their origins, and their definitions.

1. Arcadia (the Greek region of Arcadia): an idealized, unattainable pastoral state, bereft of civilization

2. Atlantis (allegorical legend recounted by Plato): an island with a complex, advanced civilization that was submerged in a cataclysmic disaster in preclassical times)

3. Camelot (European legends and folklore): the seat of the court of King Arthur, renowned for its splendor

4. Cockaigne (European medieval legend): a place of idleness and luxury

5. El Dorado or Eldorado (Spanish legend): the name given to a Native American chieftain and, by extension, to the prosperous city and surrounding empire he supposedly ruled; later, a metaphor for happiness or personal fulfillment

6. Erewhon (Samuel Butler’s satirical novel Erewhon): a seemingly utopian society with the same flaws as actual civilization

7. Faerie (European fairy tales and folktales): the magical realm of fairies and other legendary beings

8. Neverland or the Neverlands or Never Never Land (J. M. Barrie’s stage play Peter Pan and his novelization Peter and Wendy): an idyllic land serving as a metaphor for escapism and perpetual childhood

9. Shambhala (Buddhist tradition): a mythical hidden kingdom in Central Asia adopted as an ideal state by believers in mysticism

10. Shangri-La (James Hilton’s romantic novel Lost Horizon): an idealized paradise in a hidden valley in Asia

11. Utopia (Sir Thomas More’s allegorical novel Utopia): an island with a harmonious sociopolitical system; in uncapitalized form, any idealized society

12. Xanadu (Chinese history): a city in what is now Inner Mongolia, the historical summer palace of Kublai Khan, but also, inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan, an idealized place of luxurious splendor

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11 Responses to “12 Imaginary Places”

  • holt

    I have been getting Daily Writing Tips for months. But never been offered this Basic English Grammar. There is no, nor was there a link.

  • Rowbear

    Great post. Probably one constant across all societies. A yearning for a better place where everything is perfect. This list could go on and on.

  • Tim Bradley, Writer

    Brigadoon?
    Heaven?

  • Jevon

    I always thought el dorado was just the place, didn’t know it was also a person.

  • Vince

    Middle-Earth, Peralandra and Pandora!

  • TMcNeil

    Many others could be listed, but infamy should not exclude these legendary titans : OZ , Wonderland, Valhalla, Mount Olympus and Brigadoon, for the magical enchantments they have created generation after generation. Then, of course, what list could ever forget Bedrock.

    Yaba daba doo!

  • Sally

    Some etymology

    • Arcadia – A French colony in SE Canada/NE US was called Acadia (from the Greek tem). When its inhabitants were expelled and ended up in Louisiana, they became ‘Cajuns.”
    • Atlantis – Possibly based on the Mediterranean island of Thera (mod. Santorini) which blew up as the result of a volcanic explosion in Minoan times. Its mythology has greatly expanded since Plato’s day (!) Balanced during the C19 by Mu/Lemuria in the Southern Hemisphere.
    • Camelot – Mediaeval French form of Celtic ’Camulodunum –Fort/city of Camulos (a Celtic deity).’ In the UK, Arthur seems originally to have been associated with the end of the Romano-British period – ‘Arthurian’ legends also appear in Europe, from Chretien de Troyes to Wagner, apparently associated with the early days of the Merovingian dynasty.
    • ‘Cockaigne’ may be from a Middle Dutch word ‘kokenje – a treat for children made with honey.’
    • ‘Erewhon’ is ‘nowhere’ backwards.
    • Faerie – Despite its association with late-C19 fantasy writers (and Edmund Spenser), the word dates back to 1300.
    • Never-never – In Australia, the ‘never-never’ is the great unknown interior, also known as ‘the Outback,’ ‘beyond the black stump,’ ‘back o’ beyond,’ ‘back o’ Bourke’ or simply ‘the Bush.’ Putting an item aside in a merchant’s care and paying off a certain amount on a regular basis until the purchase was completed – the way poor people bought things before banks started shoving credit cards down all our throats – was also known as “buying on the never-never” (because it seemed like one would never, never own it).
    • Shambhala – Possibly originally a historical entity, the homeland of the Indo-European Tocharians.
    • ‘Shangri-la’ – Tibetan, from Sanskrit ‘Chandra ila – Blue Moon.’
    • ‘Utopia,’ from Greek = ‘nowhere.’
    • ‘Xanadu,’ Mongolian ‘Shanadu,’ Chinese ‘Shangdu,’ Kublai Khan’s summer capital, visited by Marco Polo.

    What about
    • The Land of Pwnt (Punt), possibly Eritrea, the source of wonders for the Egyptians
    • ‘Sarandib,’ the mediaeval Arabic name for Sri Lanka, which gives us ‘serendipity/serendipitous’
    • Barsoom, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ name for Mars
    • or my favourite, CP Gilman’s female society of Herland.

    And ‘The American Dream’ (and Ronnie Reagan’s “Morning in America”) is not so much a mythical place as a mythical State of Mind.

  • Stephen Thorn

    Isn’t El Dorado connected to a legend of a city/place of great wealth (generally, gold)? I’m thinking of Robert W. Service’s poem “The Man from Eldorado,” but have heard (and even used) similar allusions.

    A great idea for a tip, Mark. Suggestion: a similar post of places much less desirable to visit (ex. Sheol, Hell).

  • NewMillenniumWritings

    Also, how about Mandalay?

  • NewMillenniumWritings

    Great reference list. In our last issue, the winning fiction story involved a girl who spent time in a huge grandfather clock, “practicing for the afterlife.” She would describe visiting other planes of existence, meeting Greek gods and goddesses. It’s amazing how much depth a fantasy can bring to a piece.

  • sneha

    @Stephen Thorn :

    Yes, El Dorado is connected to a legend of profound wealth – more popularly known as the ‘city of gold’.

    I remember reading about it in the old ‘Mandrake’ and ‘Phantom’ Indrajal comics. That’s how I came across the word El Dorado.

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