It’s the first of the month, so time for a bit of tough travelling again! This feature was originally created and run by Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn and is now hosted by Laura Hughes at Fantasy Faction. Inspired by Diana Wynne Jones’s humorous classic The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, every month it puts the spotlight on a particular fantasy trope, theme or cliché, and invites bloggers to list stand-out books related to that week’s theme.
This month’s theme is strongholds:
The Tough Guide offers information on various kinds of fantasy strongholds. For example, you might be looking for CASTLES, complete with ‘frowning battlements, slit windows and multiple defensible spiral stairways inside’ and which ‘occasionally adorn the heights for pictorial effect’. Or perhaps TOWERS, which ‘stand alone in WASTE AREAS and almost always belong to wizards.’
Towers are often ‘several storeys high, round, doorless, virtually windowless, and composed of smooth blocks of masonry that make them very hard to climb. The Rule is that there is also a strong no-entry SPELL, often backed up by a guardian DEMON.’
I’m excited for this one because I’m a huge fan of strongholds, and in particular, castles. This might sound silly, but I think one of the many reasons I was excited to move to Europe was because I knew I’d have a large supply of castles within easy reach 🙂
A month ago I poked some fun at a few castle tropes on Fantasy-Faction, but now I have a chance to list my three fictional favourites! (I’m going to refer to series rather than individual books for this one):
Harry Potter Series (Hogwarts)
I know this is a predictable answer but as far as I’m concerned, few fictional castles rival Hogwarts. It’s got everything: secret passageways, hidden rooms, dungeons, towers, a massive dining hall, greenhouses, a forest, a lake, magical ceilings and paintings and stairways… it even has a no-entry spell and a range of guardians both good and evil (The Whomping Willow, The Basilisk, The Dementors, The Portraits that guard the common rooms). One of my favourite moments in the series was when Hogwarts actually became a stronghold in the fullest sense of the word, its walls, magic, and even its suits of armour serving as a defence in the last battle against Lord Voldemort.
The Obernewtyn Chronicles (Obernewtyn)
Obernewtyn is the first book in a series I fell in love with as a young teen. One of the things I love about it is the very old castle-like manor called Obernewtyn, a place that definitely fits the bill of a stronghold. In a post-nuclear-holocaust world, it is a feared, remote place in the high mountains surrounded by twisted forests and wastelands, to which ‘misfits’ with strange mental powers are sent to be ‘cured’. However, in the course of the series it transforms into a sanctuary and stronghold for the main characters. The place has hidden rooms, dark secrets, and a long history, and is owned by a mysterious, rarely seen doctor who treats the misfits and is much feared.
The Old Kingdom Trilogy (The Abhorsen’s House)
The Abhorsen’s House boasts the most unique location among the strongholds I know. Introduced in the first book, Sabriel, the Abhorsens are a family of good necromancers, their ancient calling being to stop the dead from rising and preying on the living. Because the dead can’t cross running water, the first Abhorsen pitched a tent on an island in the middle of a river at the edge of a giant waterfall. Subsequent family members built on this location, until it became a multi-levelled, fortress protected by spells and spell-created beings called ‘Sendings’. Each Abhorsen adds a new Sending to serve the inhabitants, so the house is full of odd magical creatures.
Of all the strongholds I mentioned, this is the one I’d most like to live in, not just for the view, but for all the great rooms and magical features (There’s a more detailed description of it and an artist’s rendition here on the Old Kingdom Wiki).
There are plenty more fictional strongholds I’ve enjoyed reading about, but those are my three favourites. I suppose I could have chosen a looming tower or two, but I’ve realised I prefer strongholds where the heroes find a sanctuary, a home, and a little bit of adventure to the ones where the dark witches and wizards lurk.
For links to more Tough Travelling posts, or to join in yourself and see next month’s theme, check out the host page on Fantasy Faction.