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Worlds In Which I Would Die: speculative worlds & an anti-hero's journey

I was – and am – a big fan of fantasy and dystopian worlds. Harry Potter made me pee my pants a little with excitement as a kid. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit still set my imagination on fire.

But there's no doubt in my mind that being tasked with a hero's journey would be the end of me.

In this black and white picture a hero stands on top of a mountain, ready to conquer the world. Image: Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash, 2021.

Hugely uncoordinated, a bit dim at times and with less common sense than a plank of wood, I would be dead in record-breaking time.

For a bit of fun (or not so fun, depending on how you view it), I thought I would calmly compose a list of worlds in which I would die. Very quickly.

Panem, from The Hunger Games

This example basically inspired this list. The Hunger Games was one of the first violent book series I grappled with as a teenage reader. It made me question my values, courage and resolve.

Katniss Everdeen struggles through her existence, a teenager tasked with feeding her family in an unforgiving world of death and poverty. As a reminder of citizens' powerlessness in the face of tyranny, the leaders of Panem host a tournament each year, pitching a group of 24 teenage contestants against each other in a battle to the death.

When Katniss's sister, Primrose, is chosen to compete, Katniss volunteers to take her place. As a result, she must demonstrate huge amounts of strength, skill, maturity and ruthlessness to survive.

Katniss Everdeen stands majestically in front of a mockingbird symbol. Image: WallpaperAccess, 2022.

Why would I die?

For a start, I wouldn't be able to fire an arrow accurately even if my life was on the line – which it would be. I also wouldn't be able to live with myself if I chose to kill another teenager: being a people pleaser all my life has its drawbacks. My introverted, terrified self would probably just find it easier and less stressful to lie down in a bush somewhere and wait calmly for death.

I'd probably be like that poor girl early in Katniss's tournament – the one who lights the fire to keep warm, unwittingly attracting a team of hunters to her campsite. She dies immediately. I would, too. Who can stand being cold?

This is just the beginning – don't get me started on the war between the districts.

Panem would kill me. Good and dead.

The Scottish Highlands, from Outlander

I've always been a huge fan of historical romps through time. I love the idea of living in another place, seeing historical events that I've read about in books come to life around me.

In Outlander, Claire (an army nurse from 1946), is thrown backwards through time while on holiday in Inverness. She comes to on a fairy hill, in the middle of a cattle raid between Scottish Highlanders and English dragoons in 1743.

It takes all of her medical training, common sense and cunning to stay alive; viewed as a spy by both sides, she must explain her sudden appearance and survive in a time that isn't hers.

Claire and Jamie face off against the British in the imposing Scottish Highlands. Image: WallpaperAccess, 2022.

Why would I die?

The Scottish Highlands were dangerous at the best of times – throw in a human who isn't too good with camping, hates conflict of any kind and enjoys three warm meals a day, and you've got a recipe for disaster.

I would also probably try to explain to a society that isn't a fan of women why we should have a fair go of things – or at least why we deserve not to be attacked every few seconds. Also while we're at it, why not try having a female laird?

All up, I would probably get my head kicked in for being sassy, which wouldn't stand me in good stead with any members of the Scottish rebellion.

Another note – Claire also survives due to the gentlemanly Jamie Fraser, a good-sized chap who falls in love with her almost immediately. I am not too good with flirtation or attracting the opposite sex (I still think my partner must have taken me on a date from pity), so I'm fairly sure Jamie would find his interest turning elsewhere.

Middle Earth, from The Lord of the Rings

Here it is – the big one. Middle Earth is a vast space of warring kingdoms, nasty orcs, cantankerous wizards and massive spiders with a taste for heroes. Marshlands, bogs, forests, mines and endless fields also make for a hike and a half.

In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo is tasked with destroying the Ring of Power by travelling across the country and casting it into the fires of Mount Doom – which just so happens to be in the middle of enemy territory.

Shenanigans ensue: the team who's set to accompany him are split; they get set upon by creepy goblins, orcs and even a demon at one point; the rest of the territories fight a war they can't possibly win; and humans spend a lot of their time being greedy and/or legendary.

A map of Middle Earth. Image: WallpaperAccess, 2022.

Why would I die?

I wouldn't necessarily have the violent end that you'd expect. Yes, there's a probability that I'd be killed by an errant arrow or a troll's hammer, or simply collapse in a heap from the pressure. But the real reason might be even more pathetic.

Truly, I don't know if my feet could deal with walking that far.

When Samwise says: 'If I take one more step, it will be the farthest away from home I've ever been', I would be flat on my back at the bottom of the previous hill. My fitness levels are so low that I would have to train for months just to be able to attempt the marathon that Frodo conquers in the first book alone.

I would need to consult my doctor and my podiatrist: 'Yeah, hey, I'm actually a hero about to embark on a journey to save Middle Earth. Any chance I could grab some extreme painkillers?'

Hogwarts, from Harry Potter

Kill the spare.

I would be the spare.

Westeros, from A Song of Ice and Fire

This one's another obvious choice, because everyone dies in Westeros.

If you're not killed in battle or murdered by tyrannical rulers, you would be fully dead-ed by dragons or icy monsters.

I'm convinced that I wouldn't even be written into these books; George R. R. Martin wouldn't have bothered to take the time to give me a backstory.

I would be the minor, nameless human crushed by falling debris in a battle, or killed by a passing knight just for fun. I would be the last one in Daenarys' line of soldiers: I probably would have fallen asleep in the camp, woken up too late and found that the column had simply moved on without me, leaving me stranded in the desert.

The throne of Westeros stands in the King's Landing castle. Image: WallpaperAccess, 2022.

Matthew Winkler explains the narrative structure of the 'Hero's Journey' in fiction. Video: What makes a hero? - Matthew Winkler, 2012.

You would think that considering all the ways that a normal person without the qualities necessary for a hero's survival could die in these narrative worlds would be a little bit of a downer. In fact, I've had the most fun compiling and writing this list than I've had in a long while.

I'd also like to think that I'd be a little more useful to the protagonists than I have been in this piece, but the images of funny deaths and the realities of luck, chance and enormous strength that these tales conjure lead me to think that I wouldn't, in reality, survive for very long.

But that's okay – I love reading these books and learning from the magical, phenomenally strong, brave-hearted characters that do.

Have I missed any dangerous worlds? Which speculative landscapes would you die in?

As always, thanks a bunch for reading with me.

Maddy x

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