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Literature / Bordertown

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The Bordertown series (also known as the Borderland series) is a Shared Universe created by Terri Windling. The series was aimed at teenagers and thus focused heavily on Teen Issues like runaways, drugs and gangs. It featured contributions from the likes of Charles de Lint, Emma Bull, and Will Shetterly.

At some point in the near future, the Land of Faerie returns to earth, landing on Los Angeles and the vicinity (Wolfboy encounters a sign in the ruined Nevernever). There is a brief, abortive war between the Fey and the governments of the "real world" which tails out when both sides realize that their weapons won't work on the other side of the Border. After this formal diplomacy opens up, and meanwhile teenage runaways from both sides of The Wall populate the (now mostly empty) town on the edge and christen it Bordertown.

Bordertown is a semi-dystopian Urban Fantasy setting where technology and magic each work half the time in an unpredictable fashion. Outside the city, there is the magical wasteland called the Nevernever, and through it runs the Mad River, the water of which is an addictive drug to humans.

The series consists of five multi-author anthologies—Borderland, Bordertown, Life on the Border, The Essential Bordertown: A Traveller's Guide to the Edge of Faerie, and Welcome to Bordertown—and three novels—Elsewhere and Nevernever by Will Shetterly, and Finder by Emma Bull.

Not to be confused with the short-lived TV cartoon.

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    General tropes 

The series as a whole contains examples of:

  • Animorphism:
    • Wolfboy is turned into a wolf-man hybrid by an elf he insulted; she was meaning to turn him into a dog, but magic gets screwed up on the Border.
    • Gray becomes a were-cat due to a curse laid on her family by an elf her parents betrayed. The curse is only active while she's in Bordertown, but she kind of likes having some magic, especially once she's blinded and can only see in her cat form.
  • Fantastic Drug: Mad River water for humans, Dragon's Milk for elves.
    • Mooner in Elsewhere drinks a 50/50 mix of both because he's a halfie.
    • Fairie dust works for both. It makes humans act stoned, and elves act hyper.
  • Fantastic Racism: All over the place, usually between humans and elves (and halfies, who get it from both sides).
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Half-elves, or halfies.
  • Magic Music: In the Borderlands, ordinary music can get this way.
    • F'rexample, there's a self-perpetuating Endless Rave at the edge of town which is constantly replenished with new dancers and musicians as people get tired and leave.
  • Narnia Time: Time does not flow the same in Bordertown as it does in either the world or Faerie, though there's no consistency to it.
    • This is worse in the Nevernever.
    • "Welcome To Bordertown" has the time differences between Bordertown and the World get more pronounced, as the way between closes for 13 days on the Bordertown side, and 13 years on the World side.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: At least half the cast; runaway characters are particularly prone to it. This is partially because of the belief that if an elf has your whole name, they can control you
    • Wolfboy, on the way to becoming Wolfboy, is known as "RonJustRon" and "Gone" during his just-fresh-out-of-the-World and Mad River-addict phases respectively.
  • Our Elves Are Different: Elves prefer to refer to themselves as "Truebloods."
  • Our Vampires Are Different: They're called Lankins and are elves who want to live forever (as opposed to the naturally long lives they already have) and who use blood magic to do it.
  • Retcon: Certain events in the short stories happened differently when they were expanded into novels.
  • Tongue-Tied: Elves are magically prevented from discussing Faerie in much detail. (Cory Doctorow's story has a human theorize that Faerie has more dimensions somehow than the mortal world, and that it's a mix of "not allowed to" and "physically impossible".)
  • Truce Zone: Anyone who causes trouble at the Hard Luck Cafe is not welcome anywhere in Bordertown.
  • Tuckerization: Milo Chevrolet, who has cameos in several stories, is John Milo Ford.


The stories in Borderland contain examples of:

  • Cryptic Conversation: The protagonist of "Prodigy" points out that "what you make belongs to you" is a vastly unhelpful way to warn someone that they can accidentally create magical monsters.

    Life on the Border 

The stories in Life on the Border contain examples of:

    The Essential Bordertown 

The stories in The Essential Bordertown contain examples of:

  • Make a Wish: The ending of "Hot Water" reveals that the magical events in the story have been a result of a wish.

    Welcome to Bordertown 

The stories in Welcome to Bordertown contain examples of:

    Elsewhere / Nevernever 

Elsewhere and Nevernever contain examples of:

  • Birthmark of Destiny: Florida has a birthmark which identifies her as the missing heir to the throne of Elfland.


Finder contains examples of:

  • Fatal Attractor: It's implied that Orient is one of these:
    Tick-Tick: Didn't I say, not so long ago, that your preference was for women that any reasonable man would ward off with garlic and crucifixes?
  • Too Dumb to Live: Orient, very nearly literally. His tendency to wander into dangerous situations without backup is lampshaded several times.
    Orient: I know, I know. Any reasonable person (and even I, now) will look at the decision to go find the bike and think, "Hey, what was that funny noise? Guess I'll go down into the dark basement alone and check it out." And that's not the only decision I've ever made that would cause one to think that.
  • Wrench Wench: Tick-Tick

Alternative Title(s): Borderland