Minds: The Utopias and Dystopias of Imagination
Carol Matas and Perry Nodelman wrote the Minds series in the 1990s. While the series appears to take place in medieval times, the second book mentions that our [contemporary] time was several hundred years in the past. Ours was a world of chaos and distractions with no one ever being pleased with anything (including themselves) for very long, and the medieval setting allowed us to return to a simpler, quieter life. The theme of utopias and dystopias may be the main thread of the books, but there is also the topic of imagination and whether the use of it is beneficial or harmful to oneself and others. The two are linked and both require further contemplation by the reader if they remain hooked through all four installments.
In Of Two Minds, we are introduced to the Kingdom of Gepeth and our main protagonist, Princess Lenora. Gepethians have the ability to make whatever they imagine to life but are forbidden to do so under the law. Lenora has an overactive imagination and loves living in it within the confines of her room, much to the disdain of her parents and the Keeper of the Balance. They wish to reign in her imagination by forcing her to marry a foreign prince (who is also a renegade by his kingdom's standards) and banishing them both to an island until they have kids and become settled; the two of them are sixteen years old. Prince Coren is from the Kingdom of Andilla, where everyone literally lives in their imaginations while the world goes to ruin around them, something that Coren refuses to do. Lenora attempts to run away but unwittingly jumps into a realm created by her subconscious imagination and accidentally pulls Coren in with her. Lenora believes that this world, ruled by her ideal man and populated by beautiful people, is what she believes to be her utopia. Through a series of plot twists, she learns that her supposed perfect world is not perfect and can never be, as anything the ruler becomes displeased with is made to vanish from existence. This tyrannical ruler, Hevak, is her alter ego, what she could become if she were to continue on her self-indulgent path.
More Minds explores Gepeth itself as a supposed utopia as well. Lenora runs away again, only this time it's to investigate reports of a giant that has suddenly appeared in the north. During her journey, she discovers that not everyone in her kingdom is happy with the way things are but must pretend to be for the sake of keeping the world in balance. Frustrated with her parents telling her that the rules of their world had been decided long ago for the good of everyone, she uses her powers to travel back in time to prevent it from happening or at least put her two cents in; she ends up creating an origin paradox by mistake. Along the way, she discovers that the world created by her subconscious has devolved into anarchy, resulting in unbalance across countless kingdoms. Also touched upon is the subject of a perfect person, as the body double Lenora thinks up to take her place is everything everyone else wants her to be (which, in the end, just isn't as good).
Out of Their Minds explores the horrible mess that is Andilla. The court Andillans communicate telepathically and project their imagination around them in their minds. As such, everyone except Coren remains totally oblivious to the dilapidation and squalor around them (a cautionary tale if ever there was one). If not for the other type of Andillans, the Skwoes, nothing would get accomplished and the court Andillans would simply die. However, the anal-retentive Skwoes have no imagination at all, and their society seems reminiscent of 1984 or Brave New World. If that wasn't bad enough, Hevak possesses Lenora and tries to be a good guy by giving everyone what they want until it drives him insane and everything goes back to normal again.
Fed up with the shenanigans over the past three installments, the kingdoms get together and put on an expo for deciding a new world order. A Meeting of Minds is largely a story about Lenora and Coren suddenly finding themselves at an expo center in Winnipeg as the authors decide to break the fourth wall. However, our protagonists didn't really travel back in time or go to another place, as the Winnipeg of the '90s was actually an exhibit in the dystopian portion of the competition. They were sent there by Lenora's double, who is now possessed by Hevak and using her power for jealous revenge. Once they figure that out, they manage to escape and confront Leni and Coren's double Cori, who had been impersonating them for the attention (ironically, the expo in Winnipeg also featured Lenora and Coren cosplayers, though none of them went as Leni or Cori). Through an admitted deus-ex-machina and Hevak just giving up out of boredom and a severe dislike of being inside Leni's mind, the threat is neutralized once again. Lenora and Coren become friends with their doubles and have their wedding, and we assume that whatever reality they settled on made everyone happy because it just ends with the ceremony and their new-found appreciation for Leni and Cori as people.
While providing ample amounts of food for thought, the Minds books become increasingly silly and plagued by copy mistakes. While the arguments for what makes a world perfect or imperfect seems to be the main focus and motivation for the characters, the stories follow a maturation of Lenora's personality as well. By the end of it all, she is still adventurous and imaginative, willfully using her powers for the sake of herself and others, but she has figured out how to do so more responsibly. Neither side is presented as fully in the right or in the wrong, as Lenora and Coren learn more about the real world and what is actually wrong with it while their parents tell them to conform or else. No one's perfect, and no world is perfect either...except maybe the one they instituted at the end which we never get to see.