Imaginary Worlds

Imaginary Worlds

United States

Imaginary Worlds is a bi-weely podcast about science fiction, superheroes, fairy tales and other fantasy genres -- how we create them and why we suspend our disbelief.


The Sorting Hat  

Every 11-year old goes through this, right? Your teacher places a brown wizard's cap your head, and the hat tells you what your defining characteristic is. You are brave, or loyal, or ambitious, or intellectual. Plus, your whole school is sorted into personality types. If that were real life, parents and educators would be horrified -- but it's a fantasy that Harry Potter fans have thought about for years. James Madison University professor Elisabeth Gumnior, and Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile of the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text weigh in on the enduring appeal of the Sorting Hat at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Also featuring Kate Essig and Martin Cahill.

** This is part four in a six-part series on magic and fantasy. **

Magical Thinking  

Hocus Pocus. Abracadabra. Those words imply that magic is silly because it can solve problems far too easily. Fantasy novelists strive to avoid those types of situations when they design magic systems from scratch. Patrick Rothfuss (author of The Kingkiller Chronicle) explains how most magic systems can be divided into two camps: poetic magic and scientific magic. Tor critic Martin Cahill appreciates Rothfuss's work because he weaves both types of magic into his stories. And psychology professor Carol Nemeroff reveals why our brains are hardwired to believe in magical thinking. 

**This is part 3 in a 6 part series on magic and fantasy.**

Fantasy Maps  

J.R.R. Tolkien not only kicked off the modern fantasy genre, he also made maps an indispensable part of any fantasy book. Tolkien spent decades mapping out Middle-earth on graph paper -- and giving everything a name -- because he was inventing a world from scratch. Many of his maps weren't even published until after he died, but today's fantasy cartographers owe a great debt to his work. They also have a post-modern understanding that to create a believable fantasy map, they have to sow doubt in the minds of readers as to whether we should trust the mapmakers. With Isaac Stewart, Priscilla Spencer, Ethan Gilsdorf and Stefan Ekman.

** This is part 2 in a 6 part series on magic and fantasy.**

The Hobbits and The Hippies  

SEASON 3 PREMIERE: J.R.R. Tolkien wanted his work to be taken seriously. But his magnum opus The Lord of the Rings was unlike most of great literature of the mid-20th century, which was modernist or tackled the great issues of the day. And wasn't The Hobbit a children's book? The critics wondered, is this sequel supposed to be serious literature for adults? But there was a group of people who took Middle-earth very seriously and pushed this cult classic into the mainstream -- they just weren't the people Tolkien had expected. Wheaton College professor Michael Drout, Gary Lachman ("Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of Aquarius") and Ethan Gilsdorf ("Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks") explain how and why Tolkien became a folk hero to the counter-culture -- whether he liked it or not. 

***This is the first in a six-part series on Magic and Fantasy***

Behind The Felt  

In the continuation of my behind-the-scenes mini-series, I revisit the first interview I ever recorded for Imaginary Worlds -- the puppeteer Stephanie D'Abruzzo, who is best known for performing as Kate Monster in the Broadway musical Avenue Q. I interviewed Stephanie for an episode that compared puppets to computer generated characters, but she had so many interesting things to say about the craft of puppeteering which didn't fit into that early episode. In other words, she can tell you how to get to Sesame Street.  

Finding My Voice  

This week, I pull the curtain back on my process and look at two public radio stories I reported back in 2008 when I began to find my voice as a reporter -- and started to realize that I might want to have my own show where I could geek out freely. Along for ride is my former editor at Studio 360 and mentor: David Krasnow. We talk about what goes into making an audio feature, why I needed more "sign posting," and how hard it is to not sound like Ira Glass.  

Legacy of Octavia Butler  

2016 marks the ten-year anniversary of Octavia Butler's passing. Commemorative events are happening across Southern California, where she spent most of her life, from conferences to panels to walking tours. Recently, I've become obsessed with her writing -- which can be so powerfully disturbing it keeps me up at night, while at the same time, I can't get enough of it. Nisi Shawl, Ayana Jamieson and Cauleen Smith explain how Butler came to tell stories about power imbalances between humans and other worldly beings, and what her work means to them. 

Ghost in the Shell  

Ghost in the Shell was groundbreaking, visually and thematically. The 1995 Japanese animated film (or anime) was unapologetically for adults. The story focuses on a cyborg cop whose body is synthetic but her brain is organic. As she chases down a mysterious hacker, Major Motoko Kusanagi grapples with what it means to be alive. When Scarlett Johansson was cast as The Major in the live-action remake, there was an outcry over whitewashing. But the reaction in Japan has been different. Roland Kelts (author of "Japanamerica"), journalist Emily Yoshida and Tufts University professor Susan Napier discuss the racial politics of anime. 


How did a quirky low budget indie video game take the gaming world by storm?

The Year Without a Summer  

How a cataclysmic volcanic eruption inspired a teenage girl to write a literary masterpiece.

Then She Fell  

An immersive theatrical show takes me inside the asylum of Alice in Wonderland

The Robot Uprising  

How much does the legacy of slavery haunt our visions of the future, where we expect robots to do our bidding?

Humans: New & Improved  

The villains on the show Orphan Black are based on a real movement of people who want us to take control of our own evolution.

Economics of Thrones and Starships  

Sci-fi and fantasy writers play with economics principles to imagine worlds of great scarcity and abundance.

Becoming Godzilla  

A Godzilla superfan sets out to make a full body costume, and discovers what it takes to become a monster.

When Cthulhu Calls  

Imaginary Worlds and Here Be Monsters team up to make a radio drama inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Why They Fight  

Dungeons & Dragons may have the answer as to why our most popular superheroes are fighting each other rather than the bad guys.

Imagining Wonder Woman  

The Amazon warrior princess is finally making her big screen debut. Can they get her right this time?

Noble Effort  

In 2013, I co-produced this episode of 99% Invisible with Roman Mars about Maurice Noble, the artist who created many of the background (or "layouts") in Warner Brothers cartoons of the 1950s and '60s. Noble's work was revolutionary, but it got lost in the spotlight as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and other Looney Tunes became cultural icons. But the next generation of artists recognized his genius and the society of "Noble Boys" (and girls) started to put his ideas into use at Pixar and elsewhere. With Tod Polson, Scott Morse and Bob McKinnon. 

Dracula from Nebraska  

We all know that novelist Bram Stoker based the character of Dracula off Vlad the Impailer, the Romanian prince who fought off the Turks -- or that's the urban legend. Stoker actually didn't research Vlad that much, or vampire folklore. So scholars have looked into his personal life to suss out Stoker's inspiration. Many think Dracula could've been based on his employer, the famous actor Henry Irving. But Professor Louis Warren of UC Davis has another theory. The novel Dracula was inspired by a very unlikely persona: William "Buffalo Bill" Cody, star and creator of the Wild West show.

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