11 Of The Best Fantasy Schools In Literature To Celebrate Back-To-School Season
Somehow and against all odds, September has come again. As a post-college adult, this mostly means that I am finally relieved of the pressure of going to the beach or attending parties at overpriced rooftop bars for yet another year. It doesn't really change my day-to-day all that much. And yet, a very small part of me feels a little wistful about back to school shopping. I'm almost slightly jealous of the kids who'll be meeting their new teachers and their new classmates and starting a new semester with all new, freshly sharpened pencils. Does this mean that I want to go back to grade school? Hell no, but it does mean that I want to curl up in my grown up armchair, and read a novel that makes it feel like I'm back at school... only this time, my school teaches MAGIC and also maybe it's in space. Here are some of the best fantasy schools from literature, for those back-to-school moments of nostalgia.
After all, literature is full of schools that teach witchcraft or space stuff or assassin skills. Some are secret boarding schools full of powerful wizards, while others offer a typical high school experience to kids who just so happen to be supermutants. All of them are worth re-visiting, so check out some of the fantastical schools and the not-so-ordinary kids who attend them:
1. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Let's start with the magically charged elephant in the room: Hogwarts. For many of us, Hogwarts hold as much nostalgia as our own alma maters. Yes, the school was always getting attacked by Death Eaters or giant snakes and sure, I don't think they did a great job of teaching math. But at the end of the day, we all still like to picture ourselves racing up the moving staircases to get to charms class, or zooming around the Quidditch pitch on a broomstick, or kicking back with a butterbeer in front of a cozy common room fire.
2. Unseen University
Terry Pratchett's Discworld is a fantasy realm that manages to walk the line between epic, sweeping storytelling and Monty Python-esque farce. Unseen University just so happens to be the home of "the greatest wizards on the Discworld. And one or two of the worst." It's a prestigious, silly place full of inept faculty, enthusiastic young students, and classrooms that frequently become unmoored in space and time.
3. Oomza University
In the Binti books, Binti is the first of her people to attend the famous intergalactic university, Oomza Uni. She travels there from Earth in a living space ship filled with plant life. The school itself seems to take up the better part of an entire planet, featuring numerous aliens professors and students, an impossibly huge wealth of knowledge, and some very weird dorm rooms (to accommodate students of various size and breathing apparatus).
4. Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality
If you're looking for an assassin school that will also teach you how to properly curtsy, then the Finishing Academy is the place for you. Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is being taught her manners, of course, and the appropriate skills for dancing, dining, and greeting gentleman callers. But, unbeknownst to her family, this finishing school also teaches its young women how to deal out death and diversion (as politely as possible, of course).
5. Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy
You may have heard the school from The Magicians described as "Hogwarts, but with sex and drinking," and... it's not all that far off. Unlike wizard high school, though, Brakebills educates young magicians through their college years, and (like actual college) it's not really the super-fun magical adventure that a lot of students might be hoping for. But it does feature six schools of magic, moving topiary animals, and a personal demon protector upon graduation.
6. Princess Academy
Princess Academy is less of a fun, magical school you get to attend, and more of an unwanted academic institution forced on all the teenaged girls of a particular mountain town. The future princess is going to be selected from this bunch, so they'd better shape up for the task. But Princess Academy is really more of a book about rebelling against a strict school set up, so if you were never much for rules and regulations anyway, this might be the fantasy school for you.
7. The University
The University from the Kingkiller Chronicles is so ancient and well regarded that it doesn't need a specific name. It's just the University. It teaches a number of disciplines of the "arcane arts," such as Sympathy, Artificery, Alchemy and Naming, and you basically have to be a rich kid or a student of tremendous power to make the admissions list.
8. Watford School of Magicks
Watford School of Magicks from Carry On manages to be a send-up of the "magical boarding school" genre, while also functioning as a pretty great (and pretty hilarious) magical boarding school in its own right. It's a loving rip off of Hogwarts, with "Simon Snow" playing the role of reluctant chosen one, complete with heartbreak, monsters, and an evil vampire roommate who's (of course) totally in love with him.
9. SuperMutant Magic Academy
The most wonderful thing about The SuperMutant Magic Academy is that it's basically just a normal school. I mean yes, it's a prep school for mutants and witches, but the plots of each vignette in the book revolve around unrequited crushes, upstaged bake sales, and general teenage ennui. The kids might be immortal or part lizard or whatnot, but their problems are hilariously mundane (and all-too relatable, even as a non-mutant adult).
10. The School of Magic on Roke Island
At the heart of the archipelago of Earthsea there lies the magical island of Roke, where the fog wards off evil and students learn to control the weather, cast healing spells, deal with dragons, and much more. In true Ursula K. Le Guin fashion, the school manages to have all the pomp and mystique of a classic magical university without so many of the cliche, faux-European trappings. The magic school on Roke is a place of great and sacred power, second only to the king.
11. Wayside School
And then of course, if you're looking for a school that's less magical and more just out-and-out bizarre, there's always Wayside School. Wayside is not so much a school you'd want to actually attend, lest you get transformed into an apple or fall out a window on the 13th floor. But it is delightfully strange, what with invisible students, non-existent classrooms, hypnotists, and at least one child who is revealed to be a dead rat bundled in a coat.