Not every story involves the underworld, or however the world of the dead is called in the setting. However, it still exists.
Every time the characters consider their own mortality in the story, the world of the dead looms in the backdrop. The way the characters think about death, life (or lack thereof) after death is reflected in what they think it is.
The culture that believes in reincarnation makes promises of meeting in the next life. The culture that doesn't, will likely find comfort in promises of paradise or a better existence in the beyond.
Therefore, even if the characters in our story never visit their world's underworld, they will still be imbued with it and affected by it in the way they deal with their own mortality, their existential questions, and even their ethics.
As creators, we perhaps never think about the underworld when worldbuilding. Especially if the story takes place in our world or some kind of modernity or medieval setting that resembles that of our history, the underworld tends to take the form of what we have grown up to believe.
But when the worldbuilding is for a fantasy setting that aims to be its own thing, consider developing its underworld along with the world of the living. It will give depth to the cultures and a powerful element of immersion to the audience when characters interact.
What is the best fictional underworld you've encountered?
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The World of the DeadTantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Feb. 12, 2022
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Preedee at 1:26AM, March 13, 2022
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plymayer at 8:09PM, Feb. 12, 2022
Fredo was dead to Micheal. Then after his mother died, he was dead for real.
bravo1102 at 3:51PM, Feb. 12, 2022
The Heroes in Hell shared universe series is worth a look. It has stories by many fantasy writers including C.J. Cherrah and Robert Silverback. Nobody who is anybody goes to Heaven. But of course Marilyn did because of her suffering on Earth and Spencer Tracy because even Satan couldn't keep him down. (From the Hellywood stories) And imagine Gilgamesh on a quest with H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. The novella by Robert Silverberg won a Nebula award
usedbooks at 4:34AM, Feb. 12, 2022
And then there is Discworld, where the dead are brought to a desert of greyish-black sand where they ultimately have to walk to the afterlife of their belief system. (In Discworld, belief calls things into existence, so anything believed in by enough people is real.)
usedbooks at 4:19AM, Feb. 12, 2022
I wouldn't call it the best, but "The Good Place" was fun. I once saw a European film where Hell was a British bureaucracy, and Heaven was Paris is black and white. The "living world" in the story was Spain. I'm not sure it was a great depiction, but it was memorable enough to recall twenty years later. The most dismal, I think, it Beetlejuice, where the spirits are stuck on Earth in their own home forever or banished to "Saturn" with the sandworms.
bravo1102 at 3:41AM, Feb. 12, 2022
Note: "Doctor to the Dead" is an actual folk tale from the American South where there was also a blending of various traditions that build on the beliefs of Africa and Europe like Voodoo but with its own twists and turns and terrors.
bravo1102 at 3:37AM, Feb. 12, 2022
Suffice to say you really don't have to create up from full cloth so much as delve deep into existing beliefs and change the names around and you'll have something very unique. Like the ghost mythology and their version of the afterlife where the ancestors must be appeased or they will haunt and curse you. The wrinkle that ghosts do not have legs because spirits float and do not walk. Beliefs that can often be extrapolated by how the dead are handled and preparation of the dead often mirrors what the beliefs are about the afterworld. Santeria and Voodoo are great examples of how beliefs blend when two different cultures come together and things only get more weird.
bravo1102 at 3:30AM, Feb. 12, 2022
Well the one with a bodily resurrection when a prophet returns who rose from the dead is a pretty good one. It forbids certain practices like cremation or dissection to find cause of death or medical research (can't rise bodily if your body was burnt up or cut up for medical experiments) and favors certain funerary practices like graveyards and leaves open the possibility that other things could rise up from the dead to plague the living. It leaves open that there are "doctors to the dead" or magicians (Necromancy) who work with the dead because of all those bodies lying in the ground. There is so much spooky stuff in human supernatural belief that it is its own vast fantasy world with room for all kinds of nasties. I touched on it in my DD anthology piece "Ghosts don't Kill" and mixing and matching beliefs, some of which go back to the ancient world listed in exhaustive detail on cuneiform tablets no less.
marcorossi at 1:13AM, Feb. 12, 2022
My pet theory is that the world of the dead and the world of fae are originally the same: people who lived in small prehistoric villages divided the world in the normal part (their village) and the misterious world ouside, like beyond the forest, beyond the mountains etc.. The mysterious world ouside was populated by spirits of all kinds, both animal and of the dead (for totemic cultures it was similar). Then with social and cultural changes moving out if the totemic stage the two things became different. IMHO.