Part of what makes fantasy and sci-fi appealing is that it's not just a bunch of characters -- it's a whole world. One you want to live in.
That's true even if it's an objectively bad place -- Gotham City looks like a shithole, but who wouldn't trade their current life with a chance to go there and fight supercriminals with Batman? Of course, that's part of the frustration, too -- we'll never actually see the Shire or Mordor firsthand. But you can come pretty close, because it turns out a lot of these fantasy settings were based on real places. For instance ...
The Fictional Setting:
Of course, Middle Earth from The Lord of the Rings isn't just one setting. There are storybook forests and blackened volcanoes and menacing towers. All of it is pretty fantastic, like Isengard, with its tower and surrounding circular stronghold:
From the air it looks exactly like some dude got hit in the eye with a dart.
The Real Thing:
Actually, it's more like a dude in a skirt with a hard-on.
As it turns out, Middle Earth - that is, the Shire, the forests, Isengard, even freaking Mordor -- all came from author J.R.R. Tolkien's surroundings growing up in and around the city of Birmingham, England. Seriously. The above image is what the University of Birmingham looked like back when Tolkien was in town.
OK, so what about Mordor? That charred, ruined country is pure fantasy, right?
The Thain's Book
Well, just northwest of Birmingham was an area called the Black Country, so called because it had been marred with pollution from all the coal mines, iron foundries and steel mills dotting its landscape thanks to the Industrial Revolution. The air was so dense with smog and dust and ore that the whole place looked like Godzilla's shithouse, all the time:
There's definitely a troll under that big wheel on the left.
So, when it came time for Tolkien to create a homeland for the most evil being in his fantasy world, he just channeled the Black Country into his writing, renaming it "Mordor" because that sounded less like a racist old debutante's description of Africa.
For a while, Tolkien lived with his aunt in a section of Birmingham called Edgbaston -- an area that was known for having two very distinct towers in it:
Those are the Edgbaston Waterworks Tower and Perrott's Folly. The former would even periodically billow smoke out into the air, as if fantasy siege engines were being constructed deep in the earth beneath it (or as if steam were coming out of a waterworks tower).
At another point in his childhood, Tolkien lived in Sarehole (a hamlet right outside of Birmingham). It provided much of the inspiration for what eventually became the Shire. It even was said to have large tunnels running beneath it that could've easily been the basis for Bag End, Bilbo's home (and incidentally also the name of Tolkien's aunt's farm in the area). Sarehole and nearby Moseley Bog look ... well ... look like something out of The Lord of the Rings:
The Green Scene Blog
There's one Ringwraith stalking about, but he's pretty old and overweight.
The Fictional Setting:
Statistically, about 7 percent of Cracked readers have this game on pause right now.
Arkham Asylum is one of those places that could only exist in a comic book universe, the sprawling insane asylum/haunted house where supervillains are imprisoned after being caught by Batman.
The Real Thing:
You'd be kind of disappointed to go here and not be murdered by ghosts.
Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts.
Arkham is of course well-known for both its creepy atmosphere and its atrocious security, which make it kind of a shitty asylum. Even without the costumed villainy lurking inside, Arkham Asylum is pretty over the top. Its looming structures and labyrinthine hallways lean heavily toward the macabre, almost to the point of absurdity.
On the plus side, real estate nearby is super cheap.
It's like a caricature of a haunted house, pulled straight from a turn of the century horror story. That's because it is literally from a turn of the century horror story, specifically from the work of H.P. Lovecraft's stories set in Arkham, Massachusetts, which included (along with cosmic insanity beasts) Arkham Sanitarium. But the sanitarium in Lovecraft's writing was based on a real place: Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts.
So yes, to the horror of comic book fans everywhere, Gotham City appears to be located in New England.
And true to its representation in D.C. Comics, Danvers comes off as a stereotypical haunted house, with such standard fixtures as ominous tunnels that, by the way, make a great video game setting.
Don't just stand there, man -- press "X"!
We would not go down there without a batarang.
It's a vast complex of shadows, arched doorways and exposed brick. It would be a cliche, if it weren't real:
It's like someone designed the perfect hallway for monster ambushes.
And how about the over-the-top, spooky patient rooms tucked away in the Arkham Asylum video game:
No way a real building is going to top that, right?
Yeah, Danvers' decaying patient quarters are now, without question, home to the shrieking spirits of the damned:
Dear Lord, it's nearly as terrible as a nice college dormitory.
The Fictional Setting:
The haunted town of Silent Hill, as seen in the series of video games and movies. Population: Abandoned buildings and an ever-present, spooky mist.
The Real Place:
Beware of Pyramid Head.
Those are pictures of the unassuming town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, which at one point was a nice enough place to live, with a population of over 1,000 residents.
If you count all the unburied skulls, it's three times larger today.
Then the strip mine beneath Centralia caught fire, and the residents were evacuated by the order of Governor Dick Thornburgh (it is unclear whether this took place before or after he was punched in the face by Holly McClane in front of Nakatomi Plaza). The fire is still burning ... five decades later.
The massive, smoldering hellblaze has opened up sinkholes, steam pits and carbon monoxide vents all over the town. Just like Silent Hill, Centralia is burning from the inside out, as if it were sitting directly over the gates of hell. This place is literally opening up like the streets of New York at the end of Ghostbusters.
As for the abandoned buildings, they've certainly got that:
Rent: One crowbar.
The similarities aren't coincidental. While the Silent Hill movie was in production, the filmmakers actually visited Centralia for inspiration, which seems obvious when you compare photos of the actual church in Centralia with stills of the Spookhouse Chapel of Barbed Wire Rape from the film:
You don't really find any pictures from inside this building.
So if for some reason you want to visit Silent Hill in real life, you totally can. We'll wait in the car.