6 Fictional Universes You Won't Believe Exist On Earth
Picture the most fantastical setting you can imagine. Odds are that place exists. Because coming up with entirely new stuff is super hard, while simply slapping a funny name on an existing island is way easier. As we've shown you twice before, you could hop on a plane right now and visit....
Rivendell From Lord Of The Rings
In J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings novels, Rivendell is the home of the elves, located inside a grand valley where evil dare not venture. We're not sure if evil dare not venture into Switzerland (though Hitler was compellingly reluctant), but that's where Rivendell is:
When he was 19, Tolkien visited the spectacular valley of Lauterbrunnen. Decades later, when he wrote The Hobbit, he described Rivendell, and illustrated it as well. And although he never explicitly identified the Lauterbrunnen Valley as the inspiration for Rivendell, well ... it ain't like this kind of majesty can be found in inner Philly.
Nor in West Philly, according to those born and raised there.
It was fans and scholars of Tolkien who fingered Lauterbrunnen as the real Rivendell in the '90s, based not only on the descriptions and images that Tolkien provided, but also other clues in the text itself. Notably, in the books, the English name for the river that flows through the valley is "Loudwater," and the Elvish name is "Bruinen."
Loudwater. Bruinen. Lauterbrunnen. Somewhere, the ghost of Tolkien is coyly inserting a pinky into the corner of his mouth and barely suppressing an amused chortle.
The Planet Naboo From Star Wars
You might be surprised to learn that less than 100 percent of the Star Wars prequels were CGI. In fact, some of the most striking locations on Naboo are real places that were hardly touched up at all.
Just like the script.
Scenes in Theed Palace, where the Queen lives, were filmed in the Palace of Caserta, Italy (shown above) and Plaza de Espana, Spain.
The only thing that's not real is the actor's chemistry.
And while some of the exterior shots were heavily retouched...
"The water path has long been a tourist favorite of Naboo's nipple district."
They're still based on real places. For example, the lake retreat where Anakin and Padme undertake the least convincing romance in the history of the galaxy is another real location in Italy -- the Villa del Balbianello, Naboo-ified with some CGI domes:
Begun the dome wars have.
The official Star Wars blog offers travel information for these and other Naboo locations, including the meadow where Anakin and Padme have a picnic. Of course, only the most diehard fans are likely to embark on a tour to relive the absolute weakest side plot out of all six films, but the option is there.
The Kingdom In Tangled
Disney's Tangled is set in the fictional kingdom of Corona, a city situated on an island, accessible from the mainland only by a single bridge. But the animators at Disney have admitted that they ripped the design of Corona from Mont St. Michel in northern France:
We'd assumed it was product placement, since Corona is basically a kids' drink.
The medieval monastery started out as a small church, but the owners kept making additions until they wound up building an 8th-century Death Star, complete with walls to protect it from invading Huns or Gauls or Lannisters or whatever they had to worry about back then.
All castles are really prisons.
Animator Glen Keane said that he knew the instant he visited the island that it was going to be adapted into a Disney-style fantasy kingdom. Look at the place. You know it's positively lousy with snarky mice and big-chinned villains.
"And if you can't live with all the constant singing, good news! The water's right there."
Hogwarts From Harry Potter
Several sites across the British Isles were used to create Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for the Harry Potter films, but Oxford University has the most. For example, that iconic Great Hall where most of the exposition happens is Oxford's Christ Church Hall. Just take down all the paintings and add some magical floating candles to set that inappropriately romantic mood ...
Oxonians must go elsewhere to have hot candle wax dripped on their scalps.
Oxford's Bodleian Library stood in for the Hogwarts library (and that awkward dance practice studio in Goblet Of Fire.)
Still the least awkward interaction to happen in the Oxford library.
If that last photograph of the Bodleian's Divinity School looks familiar, it should. It was also used for the infirmary where Hermione's Time-Turner rendered the whole goddamn plot a complete waste of time.
The Oxford Debating Union meets here. They debate nothing but plot holes.
The Spirit World From Spirited Away
Spirited Away takes place in another dimension, so that (and the fact that it's a cartoon) means you can't literally visit the setting. But you can come close. The spirit world that the heroine wanders around in was based on the town of Jiufen in Taiwan. Director Hayao Miyazaki visited the town and was inspired by how bonkers it looks at night:
Take acid, and the place actually looks less insane.
The gigantic bathhouse where most of the story takes place is based on the Jiufen teahouse.
Like a coffeehouse, but with fewer people pretending to write.
And here's the marketplace that inspired the one from the film:
Hollywood animated films, for comparison, are inspired by this marketplace.
Visitors to Jiufen should find the setting almost unwelcomely familiar, even down to the freaky disembodied heads:
If you don't see the terrified waif child, look in the mirror.
Arendelle From Frozen
Frozen's kingdom of Arendelle is essentially the real Norwegian city of Bergen.
Hans Christian Andersen went on drunk vacations here, maybe.
Most of the city scenes in Frozen take place at Bergen's Bryggen Wharf (Bergen Bryggen? Really? Not doing much to dispel those goofy-accented stereotypes, Norway), a world heritage site that you can see here, not trapped in an endless magical winter:
As featured in Frozen 2: An Inconvenient Truth
But Bergen lacks those towering mountains that made Arendelle so striking. Don't worry, though: For only a few thousand dollars, Adventures by Disney will haul your ass over to Geirangerfjord and Naeroyfjord to see the real things. Because how could you possibly make up something as outlandish as ... a mountain?
"And if you can't live with all the constant singing, good news! The cliff's right there."
Yeah, "Imagineers" our ass.
Visit CR McNeil's website, where you can watch new fictional settings come to life and guess which ones will appear in Real Fictional Places (Part 18). Please follow Jacopo on Twitter and read his novels The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy and License to Quill!
It turns out a lot of things we think are fantastical probably exist in some form or another in the real world. Like Cthulhu totally exists -- albeit much smaller and way cuter. See what we're talking about in 24 Terrifying Real-World Monsters You Won't Believe Exist. Or see some of the people in Hollywood who still care enough to bring our dreams to life in 6 Mind-Blowing Special Effects You Won't Believe Aren't CGI.
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