Sunday, February 12, 2012

Hello Again, Fantasy Tourism Lives!

This is not a blog of shame.

 I return to you with my held high, for in the last year and half I have accomplished a lot. I was able to not only face but defeat my demons and finish university and get my degree, not something that was always guaranteed. I also lucked into an amazing job at one my favourite places in the world in exactly the industry I want to be in. All in all a grand ol’ time. 

But the times they are still a-changing. Come the spring I am finally making my long-awaited move across the pond from Canada to the UK. In light of this I, your Fantasy Tour Guide, bring to you a fantastical tour of the capital city of my new potential home.

London is littered with locations from film and TV in every genre, but its cult classic credentials are through the roof. In light of this, it would take a whole novel to describe them all, and well I just don’t have the time. (Also it’s been done, check out So, I will be covering the spots that are top on my list which I am thrilled to be able to cross off very soon.
We begin at the beginning with....

The Quartermass Experiment - Westminster Abbey

Kings, Queens, statesmen and celebrated poets, grand as they may be are not what would draw me to the magnificent construct that is the Westminster Abbey. For this great hall is where the world was saved by the genius that was Prof. Quartermass. 

Transmitted live in glorious black and white, The Quartermass Experiment was the first of its kind, and undoubtedly inspired much if not all of the classic British sci-fi to come. It told the story of man’s first rocket to space returning to earth with two missing astronauts and one very dodgy survivor. Victor, the last man standing, begins to behave strangely, and soon begins to mutate into some strange plant thing. While the rest of the world goes crazy (there are kidnappings and escapes with journalists and Scotland Yard running all about) Prof. Quartermass works away in his lab only to discover that the monster formerly known as Victor could destroy the whole world. 

Conveniently discovered by a TV crew in Westminster, Prof. Quartermass along with the army rush into the vaunted cathedral and essentially talk the monster down. (Okay so they convince the leftover consciousnesses of the astronauts to destroy the monster from within, but still how British is that!)

 Thanks to Quartermass and his big ol’ brain the world is once again safe from alien menace.

It was thrilling, genuinely terrifying stuff, and the predecessor to so much brilliant TV. I’d really like to memorize that final speech and hear it echoing off of those marble walls once more, but I suspect that is frowned upon, so perhaps I will just whisper them.

Real science bonus: Westminster is the final resting place of many great scientists including the granddaddy of all naturalists Charles Darwin. Not a bad place to begin your day out.

Doctor Who  - Thames Flood Barrier

As The Doctor’s most beloved city, you can’t throw a stone without hitting something that he’s visited, saved, or brought chaos upon. The London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Canary Wharf, Number 10 and the Parliament buildings have all been a part of a Who story at one time or another, some several times over. 

The Thames Flood Barrier is an interesting location both in Who lore as well as ecologicallyspeaking. It featured in The Runaway Bride, which introduced my favourite companion of the New Who, Donna (second only to the irreplaceable Sarah Jane Smith in my heart) 

 It was also a bit of a turning point for The Doctor. After losing Rose, 
Can you blame me?
and all the trauma he’d been through since the Time War and finding out that it was all for naught (the Daleks were still swanning about despite his best efforts), The Doctor got a bit revengey. Whilst drowning a load of alien babies with the water of the Thames in the bowels of the Barrier, The Doctor got quite caught up in all the rage of having to be the one to make the really tough choices, time and time again. Luckily, the plucky Donna arrived and brought the silly man to his senses, and he went off and was his jolly old self. It did get pretty dark there for a second though, as The Doctor very nearly committed suicide by rage-coma/drowning.

Interestingly, the Thames Flood Barrier is itself a part of a turning point and some very touch choices. London has always been vulnerable to floods, but since its construction in the 80s the need for the Barrier has doubled. Whether it is rising sea levels, an increase in storm surges or the confluence of spring melts with other environmental factors, all are indicators that the complications of climate change are very real. 

The increased usage of the Thames Barrier is a warning sign that while safe for now, some serious changes are coming our way, and we have to figure out a way to not just keep the symptoms at bay, but to battle the underlying causes. Although, maybe The Doctor was on the right track and we should just dump all that excess water down a whole that reaches to the center of the earth. That would work right?

 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone - London Zoo 

I can never get enough zoos. They are just awesome. London Zoo is in particular is so fabulous it needs a whole society to contain the awesomeness. From it’s conservation programs, the associated Institute of Zoology, and its education programs for schools, this place is a powerhouse of science. What more could a geek ask for! 

Oh yeah, it could also be the place where many a child's heart sang with pride and joy when the one and only Harry Potter first spoke to a snake and trapped the dreadful Dudley inside an enclosure. As the setting for the first in a long road of triumphs and heartache for the boy who lived, the Reptile House at the London Zoo has no doubt seen an upturn in its business. Though always a favourite of mine, reptiles have long had the reputation of being ookey ( a technical term I assure you). 

But if you have the right scar, you might be able to have a chat with the residents, a prospect that I suspect has led many a young witch and wizard to bravely conquer their fears and visit the reptilians home. London Zoo feeds both halves of my fantasy/nature soul, and since I’m the kind of person who can’t get enough of that, I will probably be a repeat visitor should I ever call London my home. Sadly, I am not fluent in parseltongue, because I’m betting the staff can translate by now.

And last but not least.....

Neverwhere and others - The whole damn city 

Okay so this one is a little vague, but lets face it, London is kind of magical. With the numerous urban fantasy, alternate London stories out there, the whole city has an element of the mystical. 

The top of the list is of course Neil Gaiman’s brilliant Neverwhere, which actually began as a TV series in 1996, and was then turned into a novel. This was my introduction to Gaiman’s work and I’ve never forgotten it. Add to that novels like The Borribles, Un Lun Dun and Ian Macleod’s The Light Ages, upon first visiting the city I will be looking for magic and mystery around every corner. I can’t help it, I do that even here in my boring old mining town, and it has no magical ambience at all. And considering it is the setting for my own alternate London set of stories, it will be fine fodder for a budding novelist.

And even if there isn’t any magic as we know it from stories, there is a palpable history in a place like London. The knowledge that millions of people have lived, loved and died in that very spot is remarkable. The first stop on our tour, Westminster Abbey was completed in 1066. People have been celebrating and mourning there ever since. Alongside the grand stories that we can read in history books, there is the knowledge that the smaller stories were happening too. A broken man finally finding his way out of the gutter, the silent tragedy of a mother who lost all of her children in the fire, a million love stories and a million broken hearts all in that one place. 

A modern city with a tangible past. Can you say temporal flux? Or maybe time travel? Whatever it is, its as close to magic as we can ever really get.

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