Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Magical Portals

If you follow me on Facebook, we had an interesting discussion going on yesterday springing from this spoof article from The Onion on how critical the first 48 hours are in finding children who've traveled through a portal to a fantasy world.

One of my favorite quotes:
“As soon as we learn a child has disappeared down a pool of light underneath their staircase or through a strangely shaped attic door they had never before noticed, we must act fast to assemble search parties and cover as much enchanted territory as possible,” said investigator Joe Phillippe, who urged parents to contact authorities immediately if they believed their child had passed into a gleaming world of crystal palaces or been transported back in time to the age of King Arthur. “If they’re not found within that critical 48-hour window, children typically become disoriented in the thick fog and dense forest of a land where it’s always night, or they’re led astray by a well-dressed fox who promises to take them to a place where kids can play all varieties of games. At that point, they become almost impossible to locate.”

For one thing, this now makes me want to write about the team of investigators that has to jump into action to find children missing in fantasy realms. For another, it brought on a huge wave of nostalgia because I loved these kinds of books when I was a kid. I felt like I recognized all the tropes suggested in the article. There was a strong sense of familiarity.

And yet, when I started thinking about it, I couldn't think of any actual children's books like this that were published when I was a kid, beyond the Narnia books and the Alice in Wonderland books. I have a really strong memory of lying on my stomach on my canopy bed during summer afternoons in Oklahoma when it was too hot to play outside, reading books like this that carried me with the main characters into fantastical worlds, but I can't remember specific books, and I didn't even get into the Narnia books until later, when we were living in Germany. Even before I discovered the Narnia books, I had this sense that there had to be special, magical places where you could enter other worlds. I remember that there were a couple of spots around my neighborhood in Oklahoma that I had decided were magical, where you might enter some other world if you went there under the right circumstances, so I had to have had the idea from somewhere.

In the Facebook discussion, we did come up with a few titles that I may have read, and a few I know I read but that I only vaguely recall. I read so much that I'm sure there were lots of books I enjoyed while I read them but then forgot about when I moved on to the next book.

Or maybe I know about these passages and it all sounds familiar because I actually found some and my memory was magically wiped …

I could think of a lot more (and more recent) books for adults that play on this trope, possible because of whatever other books out there people of my generation grew up reading. In the 80s, this was all over the place. Stephen R. Donaldson had a couple of portal series. Terry Brooks had the Landover series. There was the Coramonde series by Brian Daley, in which an APC crew in Vietnam gets transported to a fantasy world that needs mercenaries. And many, many others. But I don't think those were really playing on nostalgia for the children's books of this type the way more recent things like The Magicians do.

I may go on a nostalgia binge this summer and re-read or read for the first time some of these children's books. And yes, I have a couple of ideas for writing this sort of thing myself.

And if you have recommendations for children's magical portal books, please share!


Diane Kalafsky said...

Would Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time books be considered 'magical portal' books?

Shanna Swendson said...

I tend not to think of those as magic portal books because they were meant to be science fiction, not fantasy, and for the most part they were physically traveling to literal other planets (or traveling in time), not going through a portal to some magical world. It was a kind of technology, not magic.