"It was a city in which the very old and the awkwardly new jostled each other, not uncomfortably, but without respect; a city of shops and offices and restaurants and homes, of parks and churches, of ignored monuments and remarkably unpalatial palaces; a city of hundreds of districts with strange names - Crouch End, Chalk Farm, Earl's Court, Marble Arch - and oddly distinct identities; a noisy, dirty, cheerful, troubled city, which fed on tourists, needed them as it despised them, in which the average speed of transportation through the city had not increased in three hundred years, following five hundred years of fitful road-widening and unskillful compromises between the needs of traffic, whether horse-drawn, or, more recently, motorized, and the needs of pedestrians; a city inhabited by and teeming with people of every color and manner and kind."
Such is Neil Gaiman's lengthy, yet appropriate, description of London in Neverwhere. And London, to me, is one of the greatest real life literary settings. I've visited it so many times: swimming through the yellow fog alongside Sherlock Holmes, clutching my trusty service revolver and waiting for him to yell, "The game is afoot!", wading through the foul yet magical sewers toshing with Dodger and running into platform barriers with Harry Potter. I feel like I know it like the back of my hand, the smell and sound of the thoroughfares and back alleys, and the city's look and feel in every century and through every significant event that has already occurred and even those that haven't. What can explain the wonderment of riding the Underground, not knowing when you would inadvertently stumble upon an Other World, with talking rats and villains that will gobble you up as a snack, except that it's the city that I dream of, the magical city. London is where all good book lovers go to pay homage to the city that taught us to fall in love with a setting.
So do tell me, boys and girls, what city do you run away to the most often in books and what is your literary setting of choice?
pictures via goodreads