Between updating the stuff in the headings and a massive amount of running around last week, the blog fell behind a bit! Here’s my Tuesday Ten on Magic Gateways/portals to other realms. There was one main requisite with this list and that was that the portals/doorways etc. were a fixed place or thing. Random doorways or gateways don’t count.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (Collier Books, c1950)
Possibly the most classic portal fantasy object in literature, it’s even mentioned in the title and has inspired countless readers to search their own closets and wardrobes for a way into Narnia. The wardrobe in the story intermittently becomes a gateway to the magical world of Narnia for the Pevensie children in this first story. Lucy is the first who discovers that there’s no back to the wardrobe and how the coats become trees, and that leads onto a snowy landscape with a streetlamp glowing in the middle of the forest. (If you read The Magician’s Nephew, you discover the origins of the wardrobe and the streetlamp both.
The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop (Yearling c1985)
William’s toy castle he finds in the attic is magical. When he picks up the tiny knight, it comes to life in his hands and starts telling him stories of the kingdom. The castle itself becomes a portal through which William himself can travel back in time to the real-life world of the castle. Time travel portals are probably the most common place sorts of magical portals you see in children’s literature.
Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll (Books of Wonder, c1871)
While the rabbit hole is also a great example of a portal, who hasn’t seen a mirror and imagined there was a world on the other side? Alice’s wild journey through the looking glass itself has captured the imagination in literature ever since with many mirrors acting as portals to elsewhere–often strange and dangerous elsewheres!
Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu (Katherine Tegen Books, 2015)
Priscilla and her three sisters have discovered that the closets in their home lead to fantastic places and things–secret sanctuaries from their increasingly uncertain life where they struggle to get through from day to day. But though these portals offer hope and magic to the sisters–it may not be the answer to solving their problems and bringing the family closer together.
Milo Speck, Accidental Agent by Linda Urban (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015)
In this humorous fantasy adventure, Milo goes to retrieve laundry from the dryer only to be snatched up and through a portal within the dryer! He finds himself in the world of Ogregon, where boys are a tasty snack for hungry ogres. Milo will have to use his wits to escape and find out how to put a stop to the whole operation!
Time at the Top by Edward Ormondroyd (Purple House Press, c1963)
Susan is a girl growing up in 1960s New York City, utterly dissatisfied with life as she knows it. Then when she lends a mysterious woman a helping hand, she’s granted three magical journeys on an old elevator. The elevator takes Susan back in time , to 1881 where Susan finds life much more what she wishes it could be. But can she find a way to make it hers permanently?
Coraline by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins, c2002)
The 14th door in the rambling house where Coraline lives with her two distracted parents is indeed a magical gateway. But the world beyond it isn’t necessarily one it’s good to go explore. A twisted reflection of this world, what starts out being a marvelous adventure for Coraline soon turns dark indeed. Can she escape home again?
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (Dutton Children’s Books, c1979)
The world over we know that books are portals into other worlds . . . but in the Neverending story the book truly is a portal. The book leads Bastian on an amazing adventure with Atreyu in a quest to stop the Nothing from swallowing the land of Fantastica. But it is Bastian who truly holds the key to saving their world, and to do so he must be brought into the story, through the book and into the world. From there he will venture on his own quest . . . but will he make it home again? This is a bit different from the movie version, so be prepared!
The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson (Puffin, c1994)
We all know about the platform for wizards in the London subway that was popularized in Harry Potter, but there was an earlier one. Platform 13 at King’s Cross Station has a magical portal that opens once every 9 years for 9 days. Nine years ago the prince of a magical kingdom was kidnapped and taken through the portal as a babe into the human world. Now denizens of the magical realm prepare to cross through the portal and find their missing prince before the nine days are up!
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow Books, c1986)
In this case the portal is one created by the Wizard Howl. It’s attached to the door of his castle and is activated by turning a knob to different colors for different places. Most of those places are other places in the same world. But one leads to a version of Britain that seems to be close to our own, and appears to be the original world that Howl is from.
So there are my portals. Please share some of your own!
Flashback Fridays: Of all the forces in the universe, the hardest to overcome is the force of habit . . .
You’re just a kid who sometimes has strange things happen to them. But this latest bit is sort of wild–there are dead people in the cemetery talking to you. They aren’t creepy or dangerous, they’re just ordinary people, except, well, dead of course . . .
Do you remember:
Johnny and the Dead by Terry Pratchett (Corgi Childrens, c1993)
Johnny Maxwell is an odd kid whose family is going through troubling times. They live in a small town in the U.K. called Blackbury. There’s a cemetery in town, an old, mostly forgotten one that Johnny likes to wander by. But suddenly he sees dead people. And talks to them to. The dead in this cemetery aren’t frightening or anything–they’re just ordinary people who once lived in Blackbury. And they’re alarmed when they find out their cemetery is about to be destroyed in the name of progress and “Bright Futures.” They want Johnny and his friends to help.
And so begins a most unusual ghost story. Where ghosts teach the living about the power of history, memory and legacy and learn in turn that there’s more to life than death and cemeteries. And that sometimes it’s essential to break the rules. Sometimes habits are all that keep us pinned down.
Back in 1997 wandering around Oxford this was one of the very first Terry Pratchett books I encountered, and I still have a great deal of love and fondness for it. Johnny is pretty much every boy. He’s well-meaning, has some odd quirks and strange stuff happen to him, but he’s still pretty ordinary. He’s got his friends, and a family going through troubles that he’s trying to avoid. He’s not a chosen one or a secret heir. He’s just Johnny. But Johnny sees ghosts. His friends are disappointed they aren’t spooky zombies like you’d find in the Thriller video. But they get on board with helping him through yet another adventure. (Last time it was a video game that featured real aliens).
A lot of the residents of the cemetery are eager to talk to him and find out what’s gone on in the world since they died. All except for Mr. Grimm who constantly warns them about breaking the rules and doing things that are improper. Johnny slowly uncovers the history of the people buried in the cemetery–becoming more and more invested in their stories and what it means to Blackbury–the real Blackbury and not the gray town it’s becoming. He sees the real evil in this story:
Real dark forces… aren’t dark. They’re sort of gray, like Mr. Grimm. They take all the color out of life; they take a town like Blackbury and turn it into frightened streets and plastic signs and Bright New Futures and towers where no one wants to live and no one really does live. The dead seem more alive than us. And everyone becomes gray and turns into numbers and then, somewhere, someone starts to do arithmetic…”
It’s evil in the classic Sir Terry mode. The evil of negating humanity. The evil of treating people as things–that’s what Johnny is fighting. But while the kids are fighting to save the cemetery, the ghosts are realizing that the cemetery has grown too small for them. They are curious, they are wondering and interested and excited again. And so they finally break the rules and leave the boundaries of the cemetery. And they discover they were never meant to stay at all–that there is a beyond to explore and travel and continue in–and only fear and habit was holding them back. It’s something that reminds that every life has meaning, and that the past still matters, so long as it informs us in the present.
It’s a great book, and it inspired a TV miniseries in 1995. Sir Terry wrote two other books in the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy. The first was Only You Can Save Mankind (1992) and the third is J0hnny and the Bomb (1996) .
If you’ve never heard of Sir Terry Pratchett, I can only say I hope you will discover him. He is by far and away one of my favorite writers and has many titles for readers to discover. Some for children, and many more for adults. His quirky humor and dry observations are ultimately balanced by a sense of heart, profundity and poignancy that can turn a funny book into one that makes you tear up and cry–or realize why you’re alive.
This list is purely subjective of course. And it’s purely of the moment. I invite all my readers to add their own titles to this list. But I thought it’d be fun to introduce some of my favorite female protagonists over the years.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, translated by Florence Lamborn (Puffin, c1945)
I’ll kick the list off with this red-haired gal from Sweden. Pippi is outrageous, wildly nonconformist and an affront to right thinking adults everywhere. This super-strong little girl is not only capable of living on her own with her horse and monkey, she insists on it. Watching Pippi interact with the more staid society around her leads to hilarious results. She really is one of the first female superheroes of literature. Re-reading this book with my son, as a parent I find myself wincing at many things in this story–but those are some of the very things that make the story so magical and delightful for children.
Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede (HMH, c1990)
Cimorene is anything but a proper princess. She wants to learn how to cook, and do magic, and fight with a sword. But her parents simply want her to marry a very dull prince as a proper princess should. So Cimorene runs away and makes a deal with a dragon. She’ll be the dragon’s princess if the dragon will keep away the princes and let her do all the unproper stuff she wants. I added the Trina Schart Hyman cover here because it so beautifully captures the Cimorene (not sweet or elegant) and her relationship with the dragon. Lots of fun with fairytales turned on their heads. Check out the rest of the series if you enjoy this one!
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by W. W. Denslow (HarperCollins, c1900)
It’s easy to forget, given it’s age and weight as a classic that this story contains one of the more forthright and impressive adventurers who’s ever crossed into a fairyland. Farm girl Dorothy mostly takes things in stride–from her quest to find the wizard, to her show down with the witch, and to her final journey home again. Think about how rare this was at the time to have a girl in that role (and not a princess). Then realize that unlike the movie, Dorothy’s journey was no dream, and she’ll return to Oz many more times throughout her life on other adventures. Baum’s extended series of books set in Oz don’t always feature Dorothy, but she’s an enjoyable character when she does appear.
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (Disney-Hyperion, c2007)
When the aliens invaded earth and Gratuity “Tip” Tucci’s mom is taken away aboard an alien ship, Tip is left on her own. So she does what any self-reliant tween does heads out to steal a hovercar and find her mother–oh, and maybe save Earth from yet another alien invasion in the process. A fun and funny narrator, Tip makes this story of aliens come to life with hilarious observations and crazy shenanigans. In the end it’s a darned good SF story too.
Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce (Atheneum, 1983)
Anyone who knows me by now probably has some notion that this series is bound to land on a list like this. Seriously, Alanna changed my life. This twin who disguised herself as a boy to become a knight, then goes on to prove herself and become a champion to the kingdom, well, up until then I’d never seen a female character in a sword and sorcery story succeed as hero by being the warrior. Alanna is a stubborn, hot-tempered gal who wants things her way–even if that way is a challenge. Her struggles to both succeed as a fighter and to figure out how to accept herself formed the backbone of my fantasy reading as a tween.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, c2009)
Minli is a poor girl who works hard to survive each day with her family, but she loves her father’s fantastic stories that he shares with her. Stories of magic and adventure and strange places. When she sets a goldfish free, she doesn’t imagine it will send her on a quest far from home. Along the way she will meet and befriend different creatures, and have to use her wits to win. Combining ancient Chinese myths with a girl’s magical adventure story, this is a fantastic read aloud to share with your family.
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow, c1986)
I could hardly have this list without including Sophie. Poor, elder sister Sophie who is told her life will be the dullest since she is the eldest. A girl who is quiet and has mostly accepted her lot in life, until she is cursed. In a case of mistaken identity, Sophie is cursed by a witch and turned into an old woman. Horrified by this, and not wanting to face her family, Sophie decides to seek out the nefarious wizard Howl. Being old gives Sophie a new latch on life, and she embraces the chance to be as stubborn and cantankerous as she wants. Sophie has a magic all her own, and with it she might cause the wizard Howl to lose his life . . . or might be his one chance at saving it.
Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall (HarperCollins, 2015)
Alice Dare is being sent to Mars with a shipload of other children so that they may be kept safe and train to one day fight the aliens that have invaded Earth. When all the adults on Mars go missing, there’s soon trouble–and Alice and her friends find themselves on the run out in the not-so-friendly Martian terrain. Alice is wry and funny as she tells her story about how she and her friends wind up bringing about a peace with the alien invaders and saving both races from an even greater threat. Hilarious SF adventure with several great female characters to cheer on!
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin Young Readers, Expected Publication April 2015)
Corinne La Mer is a fearless and strong-hearted girl living on an island in the Caribbean. Unlike so many others, she’s not afraid to venture into the dark forest. At least she wasn’t until a Jumbie followed her out! Now that Jumbie has designs on her father and on the village, and Corinne must come to accept her own lineage and decide where her loyalties lie. In the end that decision is not so simple. This spooky fantasy tale won me over the first time I read it, I hope others will enjoy discovering Corinne much as I did.
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (HarperTrophy, c2003)
If you’ve never encountered Tiffany Aching, I hope you will soon at your next opportunity. A girl of intelligence, determination and heart, Tiffany finds herself to be the hero of the story, even if others don’t want to acknowledge it. This is just the first book in an ongoing series about Tiffany and her journey from girlhood to womanhood and becoming a witch. Sir Terry handles it all brilliantly in my opinion. “Yes! I’m me! I am careful and logical and I look up things I don’t understand! When I hear people use the wrong words, I get edgy! I am good with cheese. I read books fast! I think! And I always have a piece of string! That’s the kind of person I am!”
So there you have it! Please share your favorites in the comments!