It’s easy to have nostalgia for real places. Off the top of my head, I can probably think of a dozen that I would visit again if I could somehow go back in time—and get back into the headspace of the time. Summer camp, my old soccer practice field, various portions of forest around my hometown. There are adult ones too. Parts of college campuses, or the route I used to walk to work when I lived in Washington DC. Old town Geneva is a big one, my home during an internship back when the Internet was young…
But I often wonder if anyone else gets nostalgic for imaginary places—because I can miss some of them just as much as bits of the real world. I’m not talking about my own creations, but the ones from favorite books in my childhood and adolescent years. Movies don’t quite count; I loved them too, but movies don’t allow you to travel the worlds they present the way books would. Books force you to create these worlds as you read, to live there for long stretches of time. I think that process imprints some of those places on the brain in a way that lasts the long haul.
The planet Arrakis comes to mind. I remember the dark passageways beneath the blinding deserts of Dune. Watching the Fremen harvest water in their windy caves, terraforming the sand while the rock whistled above them and static lighting lit the sky. My memory of that place—yes, memory—somehow has a sensory quality. It’s even sharper than my memory of some real-world places I’ve known.
I had Middle-Earth too, of course. But so did everyone else, so I’ll skip the details.
Like many pre-teens of the late 80s, I spent a fair amount of time in Terry Brooks’ worlds. Shanarra was a given, but I also lived in his fantasy world the stock trader bought off a classified ad in the newspaper.
If John DeChancie’s Castle Perilous appeared out of thin air right now, I could probably find my way to the kitchen with barely a wrong turn.
Sometimes I can’t remember the specific book or author, but I’ll have a flash memory of a single setting so clearly that it almost hurts.
I remember details about the Heart of Gold that Douglas Adams never gave the reader.
I stood in the lobby of the hotel where Heinlein’s genetically-engineered Friday waited for a lover that would never come. It was just a scene—just one scene—I read 25 years ago, but I can still see that lobby in detail. I could get a room there.
The quality of these memories astonishes me. My past is absolutely littered with chunks of worlds, cities, forests, glades, mountains, even kitchens and closets I can see with total clarity. And I miss visiting many of them.
You might wonder why I use the word “nostalgia,” as if I couldn’t go back to these places anytime I wanted. All these books still exist—couldn’t I just pick one up and go?
I wish it were so. I’m too analytical now. Maybe it’s the curse of being a writer myself—or just being an adult. I can still go to these words when I read, but there is always a part of me watching to see what the author does. Style and phrasing and world-building technique jump out at me. I think “oh, I like how she did this bit here…”
I still go mad over books and imaginary worlds, but I can’t quite live in them like I used to.
Do any of you have something like this? Extreme nostalgia not for a story or a character, but for the actual imaginary place they were set in? A setting? Does it feel like you lived there, even if for just a short time? Or am I just strange? I already know the answer to that last one, but surely I’m not the only one…