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In classic imaginings of places that are pointedly Not Here (More's Utopia itself, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Butler's Erewhon, Hilton's lost Horizon, Hudson's Green Mansions, Barrie's Peter Pan) one could argue that such sites are proposed specifically to provide a unique angle of vision on the society against which they are "placed": their rules for living are offered as implied commentary on the (less acceptable) rules of the author's home land. In such worlds, the critique frequently enough casts the "real" world as a dystopia, one that may or may not be open to improvement. A softer version of the critique might be seen in works such as Thoreau's Walden, Adams's Watership Down, and St. Augustine's The City of God, with their implied suggestion that this better world may, in some sense, be already present in front of our faces, had we but eyes to see. The fault is in ourselves, so the message goes, and we are offered hope that we may gain new eyes through a new way of seeing and, of course, of being.

An observation that links these two spatial envisionings of utopia would be that the effect that visiting such a place on the protagonist is, itself, of major interest to the authors. More often than not, one returns a changed individual, in some sense a better person but less able to accommodate oneself to the world others consider "ordinary"; such afflicted individuals are consequently less acceptable to those who never left home. It is a reversal of the worldly adage, "How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree?": after Swift's protagonist visits the Houyhnhnms, the farm (or the stable, at least) doesn't look bad at all.

Chapter of

The Utopian Fantastic


Martha A. Bartter


The Utopian Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Twentieth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts by Martha Bartter. Copyright © 2005 by Martha Bartter. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of ABC-CLIO, LLC, Santa Barbara, CA.



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