Every Thursday, Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn leads a group of fellow bloggers on “Tough Travels”, a trip through the tropes that populate the fantasy and sci-fi world, using Diane Wynne Jones’ hilarious The Tough Guide to Fantasyland as a guide.
This week’s subject is “Portals to Another Land”:
I challenge anyone who read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a kid to deny they didn’t go rummaging through their parents’ closets, looking for the snowy lamppost. Everyone loves portals, something to whisk you away from your every day life to a magical world of adventure. Here are some of my favorites (Outlander not included):
I didn’t think I would get to celebrate Mr. Trope himself this week, there are no portals in the works I have read. But a little research pointed out that he did include a portal in this later standalone. Apparently there is a house from which the hero Althalus travels to other worlds. Sounds good to me. Maybe someday I’ll read it.
Okay, pretty much any Neil Gaiman novel has a portal. He just loves the them. Door isn’t a portal, however, she’s a person. But she’s able to open portals. Her ability, like all of her family, is to unlock things, allowing Richard Mayhew to travel from our world, London Above, to the magical world of London Below. With that talent, she’s understandably sought after, and hunted by dark forces that want certain places and things to stay locked.
There are lots of ways to enter Narnia apart from the titular Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis borrowed this particular method from his favorite author, the influential Scottish fantasist, George MacDonald. When Lucy and Edmund are staying with their cousin Eustace, an old painting of a tall ship in the guest bedroom did the trick. And it didn’t even need any Turkish Delight to tempt Edmund to come through.
Need a vacation away from the rigors of day-to-day life? Or maybe just a place to hang-out while civilization collapses? If you’re the head of a major intergalactic corporation, why not build your own private universe to get away from it all. That’s what Zarniwoop did, and Zaphod Beeblebrox took advantage of it, inadvertently hiding from the Galactic Police who wanted to destroy his mind.
The princes of Amber are able to walk between realities. But that can take time. So the family all use trumps. These magical tarot cards feature the likeness of the numerous members of the royal family, and allow the bearer to communicate with and open a portal to the person on the card. If the other person doesn’t feel like communicating, however, you won’t be able to get through.
The royal seat of Castle Roogna in Xanth has a beautiful tapestry depicting glorious adventures from bygone days. With a special spell, the teenage Prince Dor, along with an errant spider, was able to enter the Tapestry and participate in a series of adventures in Ancient Xanth history. At some point other tapestries were made courtesy of the sorceress Tapis, I think, but I’d given up on Xanth at that point.
Another great way to enter a magical land is to get picked up by a tornado and dropped on top of a witch. You get some cool ruby slippers that way, and meet some singing little people and talking lions, and have a grand adventure. And once you’re done, getting home turns out to be pretty easy as well.
Following rabbits in waistcoats will get you through a portal as well. Probably run into some weirdos along the way, like murderous queens hookah-smoking caterpillars, and a whole lot of other nonsensical creatures . Just proves that traveling through portals can be surreal as well as dangerous, especially for little girls.
Fillory, the magical land of Lev Grossman’s magnificent The Magicians is a lot like Narnia. With a lot less whimsy. And like Narnia, it requires a portal to get there. In The Magicians, that portal is a fountain in the Neitherlands, a decaying world filled with fountains to alternate universe. Time flows differently though, so you may find a long time has passed between trips into the fountain.
In Cornell’s new novella, the sleepy Costwolds village of Lychford is a gateway, well several gateways actually —that have been magically sealed to prevent unseen entities from the other side. But when a huge grocery conglomerate looks to build a new superstore in the village, the construction will disrupt the intricate web of border walls, buildings and roads that have kept the otherworldly creatures from using Lychford as an invasion point to Earth.
Well, not a literal closet. More of an immigration checkpoint, actually. But the portal from our world to Fairyland acts like a figurative closet for our world — a place where all the cast-off and forgotten detritus is tossed and eventually builds up. But if you have the right combination, you can unlock passage through customs to Valente’s surreal, whimsical world.
Come back next week when we take a look at “Women with Swords.”