Episode 9: Imaginary Countries and the Ruritanian Romance

Imaginary Countries

Map of Ruritania (Words To That Effect Podcast)

Writers make up imaginary countries all the time, and for a variety of reasons. It’s relatively straightforward to slip in a familiar-sounding name into a part of the world your reader or viewer may not be too familiar with.

Livonia, Wallaria, Tazbekistan…

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They could be countries, right? But there’s one name in particular which stands out. It is the imaginary country, and the inspiration for an entire subgenre. This is the country of Ruritania.


The Ruritanian Romance

Ruritania was the setting for Anthony HPrisoner of Zenda Ruritanian Romance Words To That Effect Ep9ope’s 1894 novel The Prisoner of Zenda. The novel itself was a huge bestseller and it immediately spawned theatrical versions and later film adaptations. It was the basis for hundreds of imitations, reworkings, and parodies. So much so, that the Ruritanian romance became a subgenre unto itself.

In this episode I talk to Prof Nick Daly of Univesity College Dublin about Ruritania and imaginary countries more generally. What was it about The Prisoner of Zenda that made it so influential? How is the Ruritanian romance different from a lost world tale, a utopia, or a fantasy tale? And why do we like inventing imaginary countries anyway? What purpose do they serve and what do they tell us about ourselves?



Guest Profile

Professor Nicholas Daly

Professor Daly is the Professor of Modern English and American Literature at University College Dublin, Ireland. His publications and full profile can be found here. He is the author of a number of studies on Victorian and early twentieth-century fiction and is currently working on a project examining representations of imaginary European territories from The Prisoner of Zenda to The Princess Diaries.

You can read more about The Prisoner of Zenda in this article by Prof Daly at The Branch Collective, a great online resource for Victorian studies.


Learning To Growl Album Cover (Words To That Effect Podcast William Edward Hickman Ep)Music this week was by Overhead, The Albatross. Their 2016 album, Learning To Growl is available for download here

Tracks, in the order played:

Big River Man

Telekinetic Forest Guard




Works Mentioned

Anthony Hope: The Prisoner of Zenda

The Ambassadors (BBC)

The West Wing



Want to know more about popular literature? There’s an episode on popular literature here. There’s also a related article about “genrefication” here.


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There’s an art to naming a great imaginary country. What’s your favourite? Let me know in the comments below or check out the Words To That Effect Facebook Page

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