Dark Doorways

Updates first: This week I made a good exchange with Emily, the illustrator of “The Star Shard.” I sent her a signed copy of Dragonfly and she sent me a signed print of Minstrels’ Song, the picture of Cymbril, Bobbin, and Argent singing in the wagon bed. (I still believe that’s my favorite of her illustrations for the story, but several are right up there almost even with it.) If anyone else is interested in the artwork for this story, keep watching Emily’s website (see the blogroll at right); I think she plans to make prints available for sale in the near future.

This is not really an update, but I’m on something of an Enya kick lately. I just got her CD The Celts and like it a lot. (When I go to karaoke, which is not often these days, “May It Be,” “Only Time,” and “Orinoco Flow” are in my regular repertoire.) What impresses me about Enya is that she seems to see herself as just one component of the musical tapestry. The instrumental parts are often as important as the vocals; it’s about the whole, not about her being the star.

Third, my current project has now passed the 20,000 word mark (20,450 words as of quitting time tonight; 1,300 new ones today). I’m happy with it; it’s going well, by grace! Looks as if it will probably be a novella — possibly a novel — magic realism for about a teenage audience and upward. No caverns and no balloon craft — I know, that’s weird, right? Don’t ask me anything else, because I never talk much about works in progress — always afraid of jinxing them. [Unfortunately for everyone, I talk endlessly about projects that are finished. Blah, blah, blah, blah. . . .]

Groink. On to the main event: as an intro, I’m going to quote two passages. (In answer to my recent poll, one reader asked for occasional glimpses of works on the drawing board. This is a good chance to deliver just such, because they’re to the point.) These are from my manuscript Agondria, which is currently out under consideration. It’s a bigger story made up of smaller stories. In both of these excerpts, note that the characters are venturing over dark, perilous thresholds into the unknown. . . .

1. From “The Heir of Agondria”:

Beneath the arch, the reek was stronger. Even Ancaea seemed loath to go onward. She glanced at Lorian and paused at the edge of shadow, squinting up the dark track to the next patch of daylight.

“The air is foul,” murmured Iphys, behind Sarath. “There is a part of night that remains here, even in the day.”

“It’s the way of tunnels and caverns,” said Peleagar, his mace upon his shoulder. “They’re dark, and bats foul them.”

Elina, blue-eyed and slight, drew her sword in a slow, ringing glide from the scabbard.

Arlas leaned on his spear. “Should we return, and bring a greater strength of arms?”

Lorian considered, then shook her head. “Until we know what danger may be here, I would not lead our crew into it. Wait here, all of you. I will go a little farther on—“

“No, my Lady.” Ancaea glanced around at the others, and several chuckled. “Do not tell us to wait while you go on, for all will disobey. You must get used to that, before you put on a High Queen’s crown.”

Lorian smiled back. Arms akimbo, she surveyed the other warriors. She started forward, and again Ancaea and Arlas preceded her.


2. From “Lucia’s Quest”:

Hand on her sword-hilt, Lucia could feel the tension of the warriors around her, though all held their peace.

Then, in the rocky vaults ahead, a light began to grow. Red and flickering, it cast wavering shadows over great piers and buttresses of stone.  “Forward,” called Ethani, and the oars dipped again into the waves. Passing beneath a last stalactite-fringed arch, the bireme emerged into a subterranean harbor — a wide, calm lake in the caverns.

An uneven ceiling hung near the limit of vision. All around the harbor at varying heights, tunnels led away into obscurity. Beside these dark mouths, upon ledges beside endless stairways carved into the rock, torches flared. Even as the ship arrived, dim figures were carrying these lights, setting the last of them in place. These shrouded shapes must be the Chalybes, though the firelight did little to illuminate them. They wore black cloaks with peaked hoods, but their white arms protruded from the garments — spindly, sinewy arms so long they nearly reached the floor, the hands doubly broad.

The place was loftier and more terrible than the Temple on Vorcyra, even though Lucia recalled that edifice from her childhood’s perception, which made all structures larger. More frightening this cavern was, for it felt hidden from the sight of the gods, its dark masters a race who held no fear of Olympus or of any mortal army.

Ethani gave an order, and again the rowing ceased. Behind, a second gate groaned shut within the tunnel, as mighty and ponderous as the first. When silence reigned again, Ethani paced forward along the deck, hands on her waist, her cloak trailing. The firelight limned her bronze helmet with its tall comb of dyed and stiffened horse-mane. The Vorcyrans flanked her. At the bow they halted and waited, searching the shadows.

. . .

Ethani turned her rain-gray eyes on Iloni. As the leader of this quest, appointed by the Oracle, it was Iloni’s place to speak.

Taking and expelling a deep breath, Iloni moved another step closer to the prow. “Hail, Chalybes!” she cried, her clear voice ringing into the vaults. She spoke in Anren, the language of Vorcyra, Shandria, and the lands to the west, a tongue generally understood upon the rims of Middlemere. “Hail, sons of the Earth, lords of fire and iron! We come to you with honor and reverence for the great King Agetychus, whose name we know: may it please the Sea and the Rock that he still rules here, and shall till the mountains fall!”

The echoes of her brave shout faded. Stillness returned. Iloni’s Shandrian helm turned right and left as she scanned the cavern. She drew breath for another cry, but Ethani laid a hand on her arm. “It was well-spoken,” the captain murmured. “Let them see that we can wait as well as they.”

And well we may wait until the mountains fall, thought Lucia. The silence was oppressive, disheartening. She had the sudden notion that the indistinct figures might be no more than wraiths, the ghosts of a people long dead, with no more power to answer than the stones.

But at last, from a balcony at the head of a steep stair, one of the smith-folk replied in a voice dry and cracked, also speaking in Anren. “A fair speech, seafarer. Agetychus reigns indeed, and has for fourteen lives of the kings and queens under the sun.”

. . .

“It gives us joy,” Iloni continued, “to know that he who was mighty in our grandmothers’ days is mighty still. We have brought him rich gifts, beseeching one kindness in return.” Iloni spread her arms, bowed her head, and knelt on the deck. Ethani and Lucia mimicked the obeisance, though Lucia sensed it ill-pleased the captain to kneel.


The Doorway

The Doorway

Back in my junior high days, my Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set came with a playing module called “Descent into the Depths of the Earth.” It had me hooked with its very name. What could be more appealing than that? That is the essence of fantasy role-playing . . . and, in a broader view, the essence of fantasy reading, isn’t it? — the question of what lies beyond the dark portal ahead — of what’s around the next corner or just past the circle of torchlight.

Westering LightIt occurs to me that the passage of dark doorways is a primary element in the vast majority of these stories we hold so dear. Sometimes it’s a literal door, and literally dark. Sometimes it’s a figurative doorway, and the “darkness” is rather the mist of the unknown. Let’s consider a few examples, right after the following pertinent side note.

Traditional Japanese Noh play often deals with ghosts and the supernatural. The Noh stage doesn’t use painted flats or furniture; it’s very austere. But an essential element is the placement, along one runway leading to the main platform, of three small pine trees. These are set in a staggered line. They’re not all equally distant from the viewers; and this variance of depth represents an open passage into the spirit world.

I won’t even mention the authors and titles: you know them.

Max wears his wolf suit, and that night in his bedroom, a forest grows. He sails away through a year and a day to where the wild things are.

Children who don’t want to go to bed are given the chance, instead, to fly with a mysterious boy out the window into the starry night, all the way to Neverland.

The one good thing about being sucked up by a tornado is that it might plunk you down unharmed into the land of Oz and take out a major bad witch in the deal. (What darker doorway can there be than the dirty, freight-train-roaring, snakily-writhing, unpredictable, unstoppable vortex of a twister? Those things are the nightmares of kids growing up in the Midwest. You may run and you may hide, but you can’t take your house with you: it’s either in the tornado’s path or it isn’t.)

Alice slides and tumbles down a rabbit hole to Wonderland.

After a long voyage to the Island of Tangerina, Elmer Elevator walks along the coast until at last he locates the string of ocean rocks described by the cat, and he leaps across them one by one to Wild Island.

Lucy pushes her way through the coats in the wardrobe, and what does she find?

At King’s Cross Station, Harry finds his way onto a train platform that isn’t supposed to exist, and the train departs from there.

Beneath the Paris Opera House stretch flight after descending flight of stairs, dungeon after dungeon, down to a subterranean lake, and a boat, and beyond that. . . . (I’m just now realizing what an influence this book had on Dragonfly. I read it just before or after I came to Japan, at the end of my college years — immediately preceding the writing of Dragonfly.)

The Sumatra makes a long sea voyage for reasons unknown even to her captain, and within a perpetual fog bank she reaches an island bisected by a cyclopean Wall . . . and in the Wall there is a colossal gate. . . .

The U-33 limps along with her seething, conglomerate crew to the beachless, cliff-walled island of Caprona.

Before the coming of the white man, two Mandan Indian youths wander into a cave, become hopelessly lost, and eventually emerge into the Lost Land, a valley world beneath the desert, where prehistoric life still thrives in all its carnivorous glory.

When Ray Kinsella takes the suggestion of a disembodied voice and carves a baseball field out of his corn field, a magical world emerges from a door that is not dark, but whispering and green. (This one’s quite a reversal: build the door yourself, and they will come. This story appealed to me so much because I’d grown up knowing that cornfields were doorways into Faerie.)

Professor Challenger leads his expedition up the side of a South American plateau, at the isolated top of which is — you guessed it — a primordial world untouched by the passage of time.

In Jules Verne’s book, our intrepid heroes descend into the crater of Mt. Sneffels, an inactive volcano, following the promise made by an earlier explorer that they can “reach the center of the Earth. I did it.”

Burroughs again: the mole machine burrows into the ground, gets out of control, and takes its two occupants down, down, down to Pellucidar, at the Earth’s core.

The airship Hyperion braves the snows and storms of the frozen north to reach Astragard, a lost paradise of warmth and green growing things, populated by a colony of Norsemen.

Gandalf realizes at last the trick to the inscription above the gates Narvi made, and the wonder and terror of Moria is unlocked.

In my own stories:

Ren climbs the bell rope of a church steeple at the hour when the full moon is passing overhead; and so he comes to the frozen realm within the lunar shell. (“Ren and the Shadow Imps,” Cricket, October 2003 – January 2004)

The nameless narrator undertakes a journey no living person has ever attempted: to climb down the trunks of the mighty trees to a place described only in myth — the Place of Roots. (“The Place of Roots,” Fantasy & Science Fiction, February 2001)

And so it goes. And so our childhood games involved imaginative forays into these otherworlds, always beyond a dark door of one sort or another.

It’s impossible to show this correctly in movies. When it’s done in cinema, the world completely changes around the child, and he’s in another place, with a different landscape, with 100% visual realism. But that’s not how it works, is it? When we’re really playing as children, we don’t actually leave our mundane surroundings. We can still see them as they are; but they become charged with a special significance, a symbolic meaning. The living room wall remains a wall, but it is also a cliff wall; the carpet remains a carpet, but it is also a perfectly rectangular bed of molten lava. How marvelous it is that these things can carry so much enchantment! They can, because we have passed through those dark doorways into the lands of shadow and wonder, silhouette and dream.

My cousin Phil and I used to play Journey to the Earth’s Core at Grandma’s house. The space behind the sofa was always the entrance crater. At times we would even force parents, aunts, uncles, and Grandma to watch this as a play: the scientists would clamber up the rocky sofa, surmount its summit ridge, and descend, descend, into the infinite depths behind it. And they would emerge into the world at the Earth’s center, where recliner chairs were great boulders, where closets were cavern mouths, and where, yes, carpets were pools or beds of lava that must not be stepped into if one valued one’s life.

So . . . questions for discussion [and you’re by no means required to comment on all three — or any]:

1. What are the elements of a good passage to an Otherworld? (In a good story, what aspects or conditions are present to make it “work,” to make the passage feel right, plausible, and attractive?)

2. Are there stories anyone cares to tell about your own childhood imaginative forays into Otherworlds? (Or those of your kids, if you’re a parent? Are you now being forced to watch intrepid scientists climbing the stone-strewn sofa to get at the fathomless depths behind it?)

3. Are there other good fictional examples I missed (or covered inadequately)?


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21 Responses to “Dark Doorways”

  1. Catherine Says:

    Ooh, you’re in for it now! I bet that the others in my family who regularly read this blog (and comment) know exactly what’s going to come next . . .

    My best friend, Shadrack, had to live somewhere. Of course, I never really SAW her, but I knew that she existed. All the stories I told about her were perfectly true, but their world was . . . invisible. Here my imagination gave out and I just called the place Invisible World.

    The trouble was, how did one get to the Invisible World? Shadrack, of course, traveled freely between worlds, and her idea was that there was a hole between them. The Hole to the Invisible World, I called it. It was somewhere around my house, but I didn’t know where I was supposed to find it. I looked all over the place. I brought my entire family into the search. Mum told me to put my stuffed animals in the little well where the garage steps are, and make that my hole; I didn’t know how to tell her that the Hole was bigger . . . and smaller, too.

    Then I found it. It was a hole in the concrete — perfectly round, perfectly unnecessary, unless it had some sort of magical purpose. It was right by the hose. It was also not even big enough for my hand. I spent ages poking sticks down into its unplumbed depths, dropping down chalk and erasers as gifts for Shadrack, her sisters Meshack and Abendego, and their friends Danielle and Kool-Aid. I knew that eventually I would find something that would shrink me down so that I could jump in and meet them there. I fantasized as to what I would find there, and I wondered just how I was going to manage to get back up. I figured that Mum, who wouldn’t let me out of the yard alone, would accept the Hole since it had been so long sought-after; and anyway, it wasn’t technically OUT of the yard, was it?

    Which is where I wrap up my spiel. Does anyone have anything that would shrink me down to about two inches around? Because if you do I might be able to get down there, someday . . . 🙂

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      That is a great and fascinating story! (Actually, I’ve heard parts of it before, but I’m glad you decided to tell everyone about Shadrack and the Hole to the Invisible World!) Is the Hole still there beside the hose?

  2. mileposter Says:

    I am the person that I have become because, in part, I still see magical worlds, and enter them through various “gateways,” which are mostly on roads or paths of some sort. The feature which is common to all of them is that they mark an exit from the world I am in. For tandem bike rides, the exit/entrance is no farther away than the nearest set of posts used to block auto traffic from entering the trail. Such passages are hazardous, of course, and that is why I yell “Posts!” each time I see them coming up ahead, and my stokers are expected to respond in kind. If you don’t believe that riding through a set of posts on a tandem bicycle takes you into another world, then please come to visit me and I will show you! 🙂

    Can’t wind this up without commenting on the quote below:

    “What impresses me about Enya is that she seems to see herself as just one component of the musical tapestry. The instrumental parts are often as important as the vocals; it’s about the whole, not about her being the star.”

    This phenomenon is very typical of the music of Brahms, whether it is an art song with its accompaniment, a concerto, or anything else. Each instrument, each voice, has something to say, and no thread of melody is any more or less important than another, except that Brahms always considered the highest and lowest lines at any given moment (the soprano and the bass) to be the most critical.

  3. fsdthreshold Says:

    Fascinating about Brahms!

    I can vouch for what Tandemcat is saying about bike trails. I had the privilege of riding along a few years back, when he made the special effort to haul one of those bikes all the way to Taylorville! We rode on the then-newly-completed bike path between Taylorville and Pana, a path that’s wooded for most of its length. Our tires trundled over wooden bridges high above the sluggish waters of Flatbranch Creek; we glided through emerald shade with the trees meeting overhead, like the “pleached alleys” of Lud-in-the-Mist.

    What added an extra dimension to that trip for me was that in my childhood, I knew that very pathway as a railroad track. The new bike trail is built right along the line where the rails used to be. The trail head is about a five-minute walk from where my grandma used to live. Grandma and I would often take long strolls along the tracks, gathering up rusty railroad spikes that had worked loose and were lying in the gravel beside the rails. I don’t know why we collected them, except that I thought they were really cool objects. We had a big bucketful of them at Grandma’s house.

  4. fsdthreshold Says:

    Hey, everyone! I’m just calling your attention to the fact that some really great comments came in at the “last minute” on the previous posting, “Trees.” Your life will be poorer if you miss them! (I’ve also left comments on them, but that’s neither here nor there.)

    When I put up a new post, late-breaking comments on earlier entries can get lost in the shuffle. A look back there is worth your while!

  5. SwordLily Says:

    When I was little me and my brother would find all sorts of things washed up on the rocky bank of the canal by our house. Once we found one of those little trademarks that come stuck to the front of most cars. It was a symbol with wings. The reflective material of the “wings” shone like diamonds. Of course we had no idea what the thing really was. I insisted it was magical and I stuck it in a drawer and told my brother we had to check on it every day to see whether its magic was working. Every time I opened that drawer I expected a golden light to spill out and whisk us off to another world. You can imagine my bitter disappointment at it not working out. I was a very literal child with a big imagination, a contrast that made this story of simple childhood magic turn into one of a disappointing realization that not everything works out the way it should.
    In my teen years I spent a lot of time being mad at the world for not being more magical. It was only recently (I just turned 18) that I realized all my accusations were empty. Magic doesn’t work like that. It’s like Catherine so wonderfully showed in her post: it’s not how the magic works on us but how much we believe in the magic.
    The park in my neighborhood has a beach. Once long ago there was a hotel off that beach but it got burned in a great fire. All that’s left is the blackened posts it once stood on. Some of these posts are lined up and create a walkway between them. When the tide is just right I imagine if you stayed between those blackened posts to the very last pair a new world would open in front of you. About a year ago I went on a walk with my siblings and told them about this, and we spent the walk home pretending we really were in another world. I had more fun on that day then I ever did waiting for a magic light to come and whisk me away to another world.
    Letting go of my insistence that magic has to be shiny and larger than life has made my life a little easier. I’m still looking for the answers but I’ve found a lot of doorways. Glowing or not every time I take that leap and believe that I can find a place beyond where I am, I find a little piece of this puzzle some would call life.
    I don’t know if I went off topic there. But those are my stories about doorways (or portals if you may) and what came of them ^-^.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Nope, you didn’t go a bit off topic, SwordLily! I love your posting, and you touch on some really significant points! It’s those times we spend with people (such as you and your siblings walking among those hotel posts–or you and your brother checking that car emblem in the drawer)–it’s those times that really are the magic we’re seeking. Those are the times when we are in a place beyond this world with its limitations, disappointments, and griefs. Those “golden moments” are glimpses of Heaven, in my opinion.

      Great point about the aspect of belief, too! That reminds me: there’s a movie that explores this theme that I’d really recommend. It’s called Fairy Tale: A True Story, and it stars Peter O’Toole as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s based on the historical incident of the Cottingley Fairies, in which two girls who were cousins took a series of photos that they claimed showed fairies. The photos became a huge controversy for many years. I won’t say here what the eventual outcome was: if you’re interested, it’s easy to research, and there are good books on the subject. But anyway, this movie is based on that, and it’s beautifully done, and it’s suitable for even your younger siblings to watch. Harvey Keitel plays the role of Harry Houdini in the film, and he has some of the best lines. I recommend it–to everyone, not just to SwordLily! 🙂

      By the way, there IS something enchanting about the old foundations where buildings once stood. I’m not sure what it is, but there are some places near my home in Illinois that are like that. Maybe it’s the lingering memory of the people who once lived there. I can remember finding some old stones on the site of that farm across the road from my place after the buildings were torn down (remember that aerial photo a couple entries back?) — the stones had grazes or gouges across them, and as a kid, I believed those were made by shots fired during the Civil War. [As an adult, I kind of know that no Civil War battles were fought in central Illinois, and also that the “stones” were chunks of concrete, most likely poured long after the 1860s. . . . But they held a kind of magic for me when I found them.]

  6. Catherine Says:

    Fred, the hole is still there, still round, still filled with rotting chalk and erasers. I’m still not sure what it’s actually *for*, in the boring scheme of things. I’m not sure I care to find out.

    Thanks, Swordlily, for your compliment! I think your post is absolutely wonderful.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Ah, but are the chalk and erasers really still there, and rotting? Shadrack and company may have used them all up long ago . . . they may be in need of more. . . .

  7. John Says:

    Actually Shadrack switched over to laptop a few years back. I think she’s currently using a mmBook 2400. (The mmBook, of course, is similar to an Apple iBook but is based on magic mirror technology, which predated the internet by a number of years.)

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      So, should Catherine be dropping a few flash memory sticks (thumb drives) down the hole in the concrete? Or do those not work with mm technology. . . .?

  8. Chris Says:

    Enya? I will confess to liking Orinoco Flow, but I think it must be hard to sing along with what Enya I’ve heard. It does seem to be that she is just using her voice as another instrumentation in the tapestry.

    Try doing karaoke to Cocteau Twins some time! It’s a Scottish band from the 1980’s (still around I think) but the lead singer was known for basically singing nonsense “words” or so altering the usual pronounciation of words that they became almost incomprehensible, but went along with the music. When they released one album in which she sang a few random recognizable words she was lambasted by some of the bands fans for going too mainstream.

    It’s some nice stuff, though. I’ve been reverting back to my “synthesizer” phase lately. Every few years I swing back and forth for or against synths.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      It sounds like I might like the Cocteau Twins! I first noticed Enya several years back when she was on Japanese television. The sound got my attention, because I’d never heard anything quite like it. Then I took notice again when she did the song for The Fellowship of the Ring. When she was featured this past New Year’s Eve on Japan’s annual Kyou-Haku (the Japanese equivalent of “watching the ball come down” on New Year’s Eve — an annual music contest among hundreds of singers and pop stars), I decided I really liked her sound.

  9. Chris Says:

    Doorways to the earth’s depths:
    Despite being a geologist by degree and training I never got into the spelunking aspect as many of my co-workers liked in the midwestern universities.

    I read one too many stories about explorers getting trapped between two very tight rocks. I couldn’t imagine a worse way to die: slowly trapped between an area you had just seen for the first time and an unknown vastness (or maybe lack of vastness) ahead.

    But I guess that’s pretty much life in a nutshell, right?

    That’s probably why I was always a “lab geologist”. Nice light and I could always go outside when the going got tough. Except for the coal lab where I spent summers in a darkened room looking through a microscope day after day after day. But even then I could escape with minimal effort.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      That’s deep, all right — life in a nutshell. Even with my Christian worldview, I can see truth in that image.

      Yes, I remember as a kid being terrified by the story of Floyd Collins, the spelunker who became trapped in Sand Cave (foot caught under a collapsing block in a narrow space). He was trapped for days as rescue workers tried everything they could think of to get him out of there. He finally expired before they could get it done. So, yeah, you’re safer in the lab. . . .

  10. I, too, love dark doorways Says:

    I certainly agree that not all ‘dark doorways’ need be exactly that.

    How about “Marshall, Will and Holly, on a routine expedition, met the greatest earthquake every know. It took their tiny raft, and plunged them into the valley deep below … into the Land of the Lost?” Now Will Farrell is about to ruin my guilty memories of maybe the campiest TV show of all time with another vain effort at being funny.

    How about “the Machine” in Carl Sagan’s novel “Contact” (as opposed to the silly treatment it was given in the movie).

    A certain author trips in the living room of his rural home, smacks his head on the edge of the coffee table, and …

    A computer programmer tries to find out who is stealing the games he has created, and the MCP “puts him on the grid” in 1982’s TRON.

    I am sure others can add to the list …

    Would you consider a Hasslein Curve a dark doorway? Col. George Taylor, Landon, Dodge and their female crewmmate — along with Brent and his dead skipper — certainly would.

  11. John Says:

    Fred, mm technology thumb drives are actual thumbs. (see any good account of Fionn mac Cumhaill)

  12. Gabe Dybing Says:

    I remember having conversations with Nick in which we recognized that the “doorways” in fantasy fiction seemed to be the easiest thing to write about – virtually anything could become a doorway: it was determining what was on the other side that got tricky. George MacDonald’s books _Phantastes_ and _Lilith_ are brilliant examples of the numinosity of these doorways. (I’m trying to give a particular example from these works but it seems to me that many doorways were in both – both of which began with large, mysterious “houses” and “libraries.”)

    It always seemed to me that the doorway was the easiest thing to think up because, and perhaps this separates the fantastic mind from the more mundane, the overwhelming majority of my daydreams, even in adulthood, consist of “escape,” a magic door with a life of meaning on the other side.

    Swordlily, I love your post. For many years I, too, was angry that the world isn’t magical enough – and I suppose I still am, at 33 (I quite ostentatiously periodically tell people that I have committed myself, in the latter half of my life, to becoming as smart as I can, in part in hopes that I can find “where the magic lives once and for all,” presupposing that magic does have some sort of material being). The best expression for this kind of “angst,” I believe, is in the opening passages of Sherwood Smith’s book _Over the Sea: CJ’s First Notebook_, in which CJ expresses the belief that she’s different from other people – she thinks about and wants to go to other worlds. She also feels that the real world is “ugly:” “The houses were ugly, the clothes were ugly, the smells were ugly, but mostly (to me) the spirit was ugly.” The images and memories that Fred and all of you post here are certainly not “ugly” – we can’t go this far – but I think that it was a sentiment much like this that in great part impelled Tolkien to create Middle-Earth. And, in CJ’s defense, I think she grew up in the sprawling desert culture of L.A.

    Well, stories in great measure give our hungry souls some consolation. I can’t wait for Fred’s next one!

    • Gabe Dybing Says:

      “He had been thinking too much about the vague regions which his formulae told him must lie beyond the three dimensions we know, and about the possibility that old Keziah Mason – guided by some influence past all conjecture – had actually found the gate to those regions.”

      – Lovecraft, “The Dreams in the Witch House”

  13. Shieldmaiden Says:

    Probably my favorite doorways to other worlds are books themselves. I still get a rush when I turn back the front cover of a new book; it is like opening the door to an unknown world.

    1. The Chronicles of Narnia are a wonderful example of doorways because each of the books has one or two different portals or passages. You rarely enter the same way twice and sometimes you go home an altogether different way than you got in. On the back of one of my books someone says it better than I can…

    “From the seed of a silver apple came the wardrobe. Through the wardrobe came four children. To these children came a special magic. With that magic came seven unforgettable stories.”

    The tree which sprang from the apple planted by Digory was ultimately destroyed in a storm. The infamous wardrobe was fashioned from its wood, and years later is found by the Pevensie children in Professor Kirk’s old house. I am not sure if the pathway through the wardrobe into Narnia opens to the place where the Tree of Protection stood, or even if it is still there. It may have been destroyed at the same time the one in England was blown down, or that the hundred years of winter caused by the White Witch made the tree unable to produce the fruit that protected Narnia from her. For me it is that very feeling of magic that makes it “work”. I have never read any of the books that explain Narnia or answer these kinds of questions; I like the magic of it all! The pieces are there, but it is up to the reader to put them together.

    Oddly enough some of my favorite fictional trees are also a favorite passage to an Otherworld. When Polly and Digory are transported by magical rings they discover a wood with many pools of water. These pools, which appear to be shallow puddles, they realize are really portals to other worlds. When the correct ring is worn, the pool of water transports the wearer to a different world; the children can travel to different universes by jumping into the different pools. This Wood Between Worlds isn’t really a place itself; it is more a linking room for gateways between many worlds. As a child I most wanted to spend a day here under the trees, hanging out with the guineapig, and traveling though puddles.

    2. When I was very young, I was sure that the gleaming flashes the setting sun makes when it shines on top of water were really the secret passageways used by fairies and other magical creatures to travel between our world and their own. Of course they could only go through this twinkling portal as it flashed with light… and that is why no one ever sees them. Even as an adult I still look for them, and when I look very closely, I sometimes think I catch a glimpse of magic as they pass to and fro on the sparkling surface of the water.

    3. Other favorite fictional examples for me are found by Bridget Anne, who followed after Mothkin by diving though her laundry chute to a landing on a haphazard stairway, in what was her basement. After many stairs (and one of my favorite parts of this story) the two enter the haunted kingdom of Harvest Moon, a Halloween Town, “scooped out of the dark souls of basements” glowing with it’s gloomy red light. I can’t wait for a late October night, when I can read their descent of the basement stairs by firelight to a group of kids! One of the best examples of a dark doorway to other worlds is in Dragonfly but I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t read it yet.

    Speaking of dark or magic doorways I don’t think it gets anymore magical than the picture I saw on one of the blog posts last summer. The one of an old gate leaning against the trunks of maples and partially swallowed by their trunks. I couldn’t help but imagine that on a certain midsummer night when the moonlight fell just right, and several other elements lined up, that the gate would swing open and when you went though it you would step into an enchanted forest of another world.

    “What’s magic? Nothing but the ability to do what everybody knows is impossible. …Only my dear little witch, just remember that nothing is impossible.”
    —Alexander Key “Flight to the Lonesome Place”

  14. fsdthreshold Says:

    Thank you, commenters! There’s really nothing I can add here except how much I appreciate all your comments. You all make this blog worth doing!

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