Top Ten Fictional Buildings?

      6 Comments on Top Ten Fictional Buildings?

As I often say, the purpose of Top Ten lists is to be wrong, and David Annand’s list of the Top Ten Fictional Buildings for the Grauniad is definitely wrong. But oddly enough I’m having difficulty coming up with a Top Ten that I don’t think is wrong.

I’m not even absolutely sure what my criteria are. I think to be top-tier, a fictional building (and I am working here from prose fiction, obviously) has to be fully realized, outside and in, to the point where I feel like I am as familiar with it as my workplace or my childhood home. But it also has to be fantastic, or at least strange—a fully realized building that’s too ordinary isn’t going to be memorable enough for my Top Ten.

  1. Blandings Castle: I can totally see what it looks like from the outside, as well as the study with its French window, the dining room, the drawing room, bedrooms, stairs, the gardens, the lake… and as a Stately Home, it has the kind of ourageous fabulousness that puts it in the top tier.
  2. Hogwarts: The impressive thing about Hogwarts, honestly, is that it keeps being interesting as a location, even as the books become less interesting (to me, anyway). It starts out with a bunch of charming aspects, but then it grows.
  3. 221B Baker Street: Somehow, this hasn’t been ruined for me by overly literal filming. Maybe because there are so many different versions? At any rate, it’s one of the greats—and I can totally see the view from the window.
  4. Isengard: Mr. Annand mentions Bag End, but of the buildings of Middle Earth, I would pick either Isengard or Minas Tirith. I would like to pick Rivendell—certainly of all the buildings of Middle Earth, that’s the one I would choose to visit—but somehow I can’t really see Rivendell as a building.
  5. Howl’s Moving Castle: Has the advantage of also being, at least somewhat, a character in the story.
  6. Krook’s rag-and-bottle shop from Bleak House: I think this is the Dickens building I would pick, with the wineshop from A Tale of Two Cities and The Wooden Midshipman from Dombey and Son the strongest competition.
  7. Maybe Thornfield Hall from Jane Eyre?I feel like there should be at least one scary mansion on this list, I think I’d put this ahead of the Castle of Otranto or Wuthering Heights or Manderley. And the House of Usher doesn’t have the physicality I’m looking for.
  8. Mr. Annand includes the Library of Babel, which I don’t think has enough reality in it to make my list, but I can’t think of a better fictional library.
  9. The Deadly Nightshade Diner (we never close) from the Snarkout Boys series, by Daniel Pinkwater is a terrific location, but part of its charm is that the physical building is a quite generic diner. Right? On the other hand, they have borgelnuskies. And, again, I can’t think of another great fictional restaurant building.
  10. The Wayside School from the Louis Sachar series? Eeyore’s (Piglet’s) house in the Hundred Acre Wood? The Batcave under Stately Wayne Manor? Really, I’m having trouble getting to ten.
    1. What are your favorites?

      Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

6 thoughts on “Top Ten Fictional Buildings?

  1. Fran

    The Bu-Javid from CJ Cherryh’s atevi books?
    The house on Cold Comfort Farm? (or possibly the woodshed)
    I guess most books I read don’t have iconic buildings.

    1. Vardibidian Post author

      The farmhouse on Cold Comfort Farm does not rise to greatness, but it may well be that the woodshed is sufficiently iconic that it belongs in a Top Ten despite completely failing at all the usual criteria, including that it is never described or even visited during the book.


  2. Chris Cobb

    Your list has more strong picks than the original, although as I lean toward speculative fiction as well, I am more sympathetic to those choices. I do like Pemberley from the original list. Mr. Annand has done a good job of picking novels in which the building is a central feature of the novel. Your top 5 are definitely good with me. I’d go with the Defarge wineshop for Dickens. There are a lot of highly visualizable and significant buildings in The Lord of the Rings–Tolkien is great on architecture as well as landscapes, isn’t he? Isengard and Minas Tirith are a good #1 and #2, but in addition to Bag End, the Inn of the Prancing Pony is a great building on a livable scale that works brilliantly as a microcosm of the culture and history of Bree, and Henneth Annun and the Hold of Dunharrow are each marvelous in their own way as well. I’m not ready to be systematic enough for a top 10, and I want to stretch the category of “building” a bit, but here are some memorable “fictional constructed dwellings” that my bookshelf helps me call to mind:

    Richard Adams, Watership Down: The Honeycomb
    Jean Auel, The Mammoth Hunters: The Lion Camp Earthlodge
    David Brin, Startide Rising and later Earthclan books: The Starship Streaker
    Steven Brust, Dragaera Books: Castle Black and The Imperial Palace
    Steven Donaldson, Thomas Covenant Trilogies: Revelstone
    Ursula Le Guin, The Tombs of Atuan: The Place of the Tombs
    Anne McCaffrey, Pern Novels: Benden Weyr
    John Crowley, Little, Big: Edgewood
    Larry Niven, Ringworld

    My imagination seems to be captured particularly by buildings that aren’t exactly buildings, but I do think I’ve tended to focus on structures that are not only significant in design but that have a central role in the fiction. In a more mainstream vein, Old Meats in Jane Smiley’s Moo is a favorite, although its power lies more in its thematic presence and campus location than in the specifics of its interiors.

    1. Vardibidian Post author

      All good suggestions—although I think I’m inclined to rule that Ringworld is not a building, as such, and neither are starships. Not clear if that’s a justifiable ruling, but there it is.

      I personally find Cowslip’s warren a more vivid and memorable “building” than the Honeycomb. But it’s a great addition, and totally worth consideration.

      I considered the Prancing Pony, which has both heft and reality, and I would put it in a Top Ten before Bag End. And don’t forget the treehouses of Lothlorien!


      1. Chris Cobb

        I’d completely accept Ringworld and starships being ruled out. I like them as examples, though, of how speculative fiction expands the possibilities for built environments.

        Thanks for mentioning Cowslip’s warren! Adams does a great job of making it seem a fascinating and eerie place: I can readily see picking it over the Honeycomb. I went with the Honeycomb because the reader’s knowledge of it is ultimately more intimate, and because of the way in which its particular characteristics become integral to both the story and the character of the rabbits who build and defend it.

        The flets in Lothlorien are cool and precisely realized, but they are farther down on my personal buildings list from The Lord of the Rings because their design is so (elegantly) simple. I considered mentioning Treebeard’s ent-house. It is considerably stranger than the tree-houses and very revealing of the character of its builder and resident.

        1. Dan P

          I love this whole conversation. Glad to see someone else mention The Place of the Tombs. Rather than add something useful, I’m going to triple-threat Watership Down and nominate Blackberry’s warren, from the chapter The Wire — the one in which rabbits turned towards the arts to cope with the existential stress of being essentially wild-farmed for meat. The image of the mosaic on the wall in the dark really stuck with me.

          Oh, wait, I’ve got a couple:

          The tower on Wind Plain from The Riddlemaster of Hed
          The House of Piranesi


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