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Where are the doorways to magical worlds?
January 21, 2014 10:29 PM   Subscribe

I need more examples of the ways that children get into magical worlds in books.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: back of the wardrobe.

The Phantom Tollbooth: tollbooth mysteriously delivered to Milo's bedroom.

Alice: down rabbit hole, through mirror.

Dorothy: tornado (in the first book, at least)

Harry Potter: owlgram

I'm especially looking for examples where the kid or kids are exploring and find their way through the veil between the worlds, but additional deus ex machina examples are fine, too.
posted by not that girl to Writing & Language (56 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Behold! The epic and wonderful Secret Room post.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:33 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


In Mary Poppins they jump through a chalk painting
posted by littlesq at 10:39 PM on January 21


The Thief of Always, by Clive Barker.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:48 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


"The Magician's Nephew" (part of the Narnia series): green and yellow magic rings. One color ring takes you to a mysterious magical woods full of tiny ponds. You show up in the middle of one of them.

Each pond represents a world you can visit. If you put on the other color ring and jump in a pond, you'll go to that world.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:49 PM on January 21


Playing Beattie Bow, by Ruth Park, is fantastic. It won a string of awards in Australia when I was a kid, and is still widely loved.
posted by Salamander at 10:52 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]




Also, there's that whole side branch of this genre where the "magical" world is a shared fictional/imaginary world. Bridge to Terabithia and Very Far Away from Anywhere Else, for instance.
posted by this is a thing at 10:59 PM on January 21




Similar question from a couple of months ago.
posted by XMLicious at 11:05 PM on January 21


In The Neverending Story, the portal is a book called The Neverending Story.
posted by Wordwoman at 11:18 PM on January 21 [4 favorites]


In the Captain Cobwebb novels the boys touch a blue spot on their hands to request an adventure and travel to magical lands.
posted by biffa at 11:52 PM on January 21


William Sleator does this a lot, as I recall. In "The Boy Who Reversed Himself" there's... huh, I think it's her neighbor has a skill that she learns she also has, probably something to do with a mirror world, given the title, but it's been ages since I read it. "Singularity" doesn't have a magical world, exactly, but it does have a black hole in the shed out back, and crossing the event horizon brings relativity into play (which means that you end up with identical twins who are years apart in age). "Marco's Millions" is probably the purest example, with kids exploring their basement and finding a portal to another world.

In Pullman's "The Subtle Knife", Lyra travels through the Aurora to Cittagazze, which Will has used the Subtle Knife to open a portal to. The knife can open portals to many worlds.

"The Bell Between Worlds" came out recently, but I can't remember what the mechanism for traveling between the worlds is, except that involves the eponymous bell.
posted by hades at 11:54 PM on January 21


A lot of Diana Wynne Jones books feature this motif, including my favourite, The Lives of Christopher Chant.
posted by smoke at 11:57 PM on January 21


A Wrinkle in Time.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:19 AM on January 22


The root cellar.... A girl goes down into the cellar and when she comes out its 100 years in the past...
posted by misspony at 12:45 AM on January 22


In Phantastes, Anodos opens a locked compartment in an inherited bureau and finds his fairy great-grandmother inside. Next morning his bedroom has been sort of integrated into an edge of Fairyland. He gets back, eventually, by dying, or rather some time after dying and being buried.

Actually it's not really a children's book, but it influenced CS Lewis.
posted by Segundus at 1:31 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


In The Kingdom of Kevin Malone, the Central Park arches serve as gates between the real world and the fantasy world Fayre Farre. (The central problem in the book is that you can only use each arch once and there are only 22 arches.)

In Pullman's "The Subtle Knife", Lyra travels through the Aurora to Cittagazze, which Will has used the Subtle Knife to open a portal to. The knife can open portals to many worlds.


Oh, yes! And in the opening of "The Subtle Knife," Will literally stumbles upon a window to Cittagazze while running away from home. THEN he [spoilers] to get the knife, which he learns to use to open all the portals. But he finds the first window by accident.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:42 AM on January 22


To be clear: I'm not looking just for book titles but for the means of travel.
posted by not that girl at 1:42 AM on January 22


In The Talisman, Jack flips to the Territories by drinking cheap wine, but eventually learns to flip without it.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 1:43 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Garth Nix's Abhorsen series - the Wall at Ancelstierre separates the magic/dangerous Old Kingdom from the regular world where magic doesn't work (much). It's an army checkpoint and crossing it requires the right permissions and paperwork.
posted by corvine at 1:47 AM on January 22


In the (alternative-universe Edwardian New Zealand) world of the Dreamhunter duet, "The Place," where professional dreamhunters can 'capture' dreams (for later 'playback' before audiences in dream-opera houses), is only accessible by those who are born with the ability. There's an official test which children can participate in when they come of age. It just involves walking toward the border and then seeing whether or not you disappear.
posted by spelunkingplato at 1:51 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


In Jane's Adventures In and Out of the Book the heroine recites a rhyme which lets her actually enter the illustrations of a very large book. In The Story of the Amulet the children have an Egyptian amulet which expands into a giant gateway through which they can travel to the amulet's past. In Elidor there are places where worlds nearly join, and the way can be opened by musical notes or by fixing your mind on the image of a door. In L Sprague De Camp's Enchanter series people travel between fictional worlds by contemplating alternate logic systems appropriate for those worlds.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:52 AM on January 22


Okay, then to clarify, in the His Dark Materials trilogy (which "The Subtle Knife" is part of), there are places where the borders between worlds are very thin and you can accidentally wander through one and end up lost in another world OR you can use the titular knife (there is only one in any universe) to cut a window directly through. The windows are just holes in the air and you don't have to do anything special to get through them, other than notice that they are there. They can only be seen from certain angles and, since they might show a very similar world (so there's grass where you expect there to be grass, instead of like four feet of random waterfall ten feet in the air), very difficult to detect.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:56 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


As Snarl Furillo says, His Dark Materials has a great deal of this (and the final park bench in Oxford is, like platform 9 3/4, an example of a literary portal that can be visited) - Philip Pullman has claims he was inspired by the Narnia books - but he also claims to draw on David Deutsch's work on the Fabric of Reality.

Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus has the circus perimeter itself serve as a portal between real and magical worlds.

Lots more - such as The Arabian Nights, and A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - listed here.
posted by rongorongo at 2:20 AM on January 22


Not children (protagonist Stile is like twenty, I think), but in Piers Anthony's Apprentice Adept books, the two worlds of Phaze and Proton are separated by a veil called the Curtain. You have to know where the Curtain is, at the very least, to cross it.

Again, not with the children, but lots of other worlds in Clive Barker stories. He seems to love worlds hidden under the surface.
In Weaveworld, a whole population is woven into a magic carpet. Calvin finds out his aunt (I think), was charged with custody of the carpet.
In Imajica, Gentle finds out that he made himself forget where the other worlds were.
In The Hellbound Heart, there's a puzzle box.

In Lev Grossman's The Magicians, which a friend of mine called "Harry Potter with Adderall and blowjobs", the protagonist goes to magic college, and eventually finds out the magical world of his favorite storybooks is a real place. He gets there by, here my memory flutters, but basically by being a graduate of magic college and thus a badass magician.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 2:54 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Enid Blyton's The Faraway Tree. A ladder at the top of the tree leads to a magical land which is different each visit. The children must leave in time to avoid being stuck or wait until the land is in the right place to exit again.
posted by Ness at 3:01 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


He gets there by, here my memory flutters, but basically by being a graduate of magic college and thus a badass magician.

No, first there's an actual magic button (like you wear on your clothes), which the protagonist uses to access the book's Narnia-equivalent, which is a fantasy world described in children's books in the book's universe. In THOSE books, the children get to the Narnia-equivalent through a grandfather clock.

In the sequel, "The Magician King," the main character and his friends do travel through worlds basically by willing it, though- they obsessively play a children's game (possibly a board game, I forget) for hours until they pass out and wake up in Narnia-equivalent.

And those are soooooooooo not children's books anymore than, say, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" is.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:10 AM on January 22


Quoting from the Philip Pullman interview I linked to above:
In The Thirty-fifth of May, a wonderful children’s book by Erich Kästner (who is better known for Emil and the Detectives), a little boy called Conrad has to do an essay about the South Seas; he grumbles about this to his uncle who takes him to the back of a wardrobe and there they find themselves magically transported to the South Seas. I wonder if that gave C.S. Lewis the idea of wardrobes as an entrance to another world?
The Kästner book was written in 1931; The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was published in 1950.
posted by rongorongo at 3:29 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Just came across this:
"I will also always highly recommend The Chronus Chronicles Trilogy, these are marvelous books, and its important for all of us to know that the entrance to Hades is in the Mall of America"
here under "Rowdy: The Protector.
posted by BoscosMom at 4:07 AM on January 22


In The Silver Nutmeg by Palmer Brown, Anna Lavinia is tossing acorns into a dew pond when a boy on the other side of the surface tosses them back, and then invites her to come explore his strange, looking-glass world.
posted by JiBB at 4:15 AM on January 22


Expanding on Lev Grossman's various entry methods from The Magicians and The Magician King, there's also climbing up a tree and walking through a very dense wood/hedge. The bit Snarl Furillo refers to is the characters playing a boardgame, getting drunk, and going to sleep on a kid's bed.

There's also a nice bit where a character follows a mathematical series referring to door numbers etc, and ends up at a kind of magical-ish place - not quite the same but worth mentioning.
posted by adrianhon at 4:49 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Keats: "Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn."
posted by lungtaworld at 5:35 AM on January 22


The portal to the garden in Tom's Midnight Garden is just the back door, but Tom can only go through it when the clock strikes 13.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:57 AM on January 22


The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper has several kinds of transitions. In The Dark is Rising, Will goes into the magical, out-of-time Hall of the Old Ones by walking through the carved wooden doors; of course, he's already gotten there by following one of the Old Ways. In Silver on the Tree he and Merriman travel to the past where they have hidden the Signs through a print of the Romans building the amphitheatre at Caerleon. Will and Bran also travel to the Lost Land, mostly by being in the right place at the right time and walking into it; shortly thereafter it disappears. Also the train at the end of the book seems to go through mythic time-space.

Diana Wynne Jones, as mentioned above, does this a bit. One of the more obvious is Homeward Bounders, in which there are "Bounds" which when reached by a Bounder, flicks them off into another world. Kind of like the Old Ways, really. In Deep Secret various characters travel to Babylon and back again by lighting candles, holding the right things (grain in pockets etc) and having Mages involved. In A Tale of Time City there are time travel portals, some of which are static and some of which are portable. In The Lives of Christopher Chant, Christopher travels to other worlds in his dreams, except he's really there. He can do this because he has nine lives and can leave one behind in the real world while his dream self goes off. Others can only astrally project into other worlds and, as in The Magician's Nephew, there's a kind of world between worlds. In A Sudden Wild Magic the Earth wizards construct a magical bus to take them to the otherworld. And in The Merlin Conspiracy various characters walk between the worlds; it seems to be something that has a genetic birthright as well as Magid ability (as I recall, haven't read it in a bit).

In Mary Stewart's A Walk In Wolf Wood the children see a strangely-dressed man (ie medieval garb) walk down a path and decide to follow him. They wind up in the past and the man turns out to be a werewolf.

Back to Lewis, in Voyage to the Dawn Treader Lucy, Edmund and Eustace get to Narnia through the painting of the ship in Eustace's room. In The Silver Chair, Eustace and Jill get to Narnia by going through a gate at the back of their boarding school. In Prince Caspian the Pevensies are just kind of magically whisked there whilst waiting for their train; in The Last Battle most of them are on trains when there's a big train accident and they wind up in Narnia. Except for Susan, because she likes lipstick and stockings.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:59 AM on January 22


From The Tower of Geburah by John White -- Three siblings discover some dusty old TV sets in the attic of their uncle's house. They idly fiddle with the knobs, but soon discover that the TVs aren't plugged in, and actually don't even have power cords. As the speculate about the purpose of the old sets, the TVs suddenly come to life, each displaying a unique, otherworldly scene. The children cautiously approach the sets to get a closer look at the far-too-vibrant scenes (considering the age of the TVs), when they find themselves abruptly transported through the glass and into the scene. The rest of the book describes their adventures in the land of Anthropos, a sort of Narnia-ish world.
posted by BurntHombre at 6:49 AM on January 22


The Freedom Maze:

In the summer of 1960, 13-year-old bookish Sophie Fairchild Martineau is dumped at her mother’s childhood Louisiana home, Oak Cottage, where Sophie’s grandmother has taken to her bed, sighing for the Good Old Days before the War of Northern Aggression. In the stifling humidity, Sophie vents her silent resentment by clearing an overgrown maze, part of the once proud Fairchild plantation. After she wishes impulsively for a grand adventure, she is transported to Oak Cottage in 1860. Here, the story takes a startling turn as Sophie is mistaken for a slave by her ancestors.
posted by mikepop at 7:06 AM on January 22


In A Wrinkle in Time, the kids use the concept of a tesseract to move through space and time - they use it as a verb, to tesser. There's another way of getting places in mental/emotional space that they call kything: a sort of wordless, mind to mind communication in which one person, in essence, almost becomes another, seeing through their eyes and feeling through their senses. (source: wikipedia)

In Can I Get There By Candlelight? by Jean Slaughter Doty, the main character, Gail, moves into the carriage house of an old estate called Babylon. On her horse, Candlelight ("Candy"), she is able to visit the past and befriend one of the original inhabitants of the estate. As I recall, the horse is key (see title) - she can't get there, or back home, without him. (I loved this book when I was a kid.)

In Black House, by Stephen King, Tyler Marshall is lured by a crow and kidnapped by a serial killer, and taken to the Furnace Lands through the Black House, which is partly in our world and partly in that one. Later, Jack Sawyer and his band of merry men get there the same way when they try to rescue him.
posted by kythuen at 7:12 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Two ways to get to China Mieville's Un Lun Dun:
* Turn a big valve wheel in a creepy boiler room in the basement of a particular building.
* Climb to the top of the bookshelves in any library, and keep climbing - they go a lot higher than you think.
posted by moonmilk at 7:24 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


In Peter Pan, Peter comes in the window of the childrens' house and, after getting to know Wendy, blows fairy dust on them so they can fly. Then they all fly to Neverland.

In Coraline by Neil Gaiman, there is a locked door between Coraline's family's flat and the empty flat next door. The opening is bricked up. But one day Coraline unlocks the door when her parents aren't home and finds it's no longer bricked up; instead a long hallway leads to a flat like hers but better, inhabited by people who look like her parents but have button eyes.

In Inkheart (and sequels) by Cornelia Funke, some people have the ability to read people into and out of books. When they read aloud, they cause characters they're reading about to appear out of the book or go into the world of the book.

In The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren, the brothers die and go to the land of Nangiyala.

In Mio, My Son, also by Lindgren, a genie takes an unhappy orphan to another land where it turns out he has a loving father who is the king.

In May Bird and the Ever After by Jodi Lynn Anderson, May finds a lake hidden in a briary part of the woods, which turns out to be a portal into the Ever After, the place where dead people go. A creature drags May down into the lake and into the Ever After.
posted by Redstart at 7:31 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


In one of the Indian in the Cupboard books (where a plastic toy figurine comes to life by being locked in a cupboard), the protagonist gets locked into a trunk (luggage, not car) and transported to where and when his toy Indian is from.

Peter Pan uses fairy dust and happy thoughts for the kids to fly to Never Land.
posted by Night_owl at 7:39 AM on January 22


In The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards, a professor teaches some children how they get can to another land by using their imaginations and being aware and open to possibilities, aided by special hats that are "sympathetic to the brain's impulses and desires."

In At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald, the North Wind, in the form of a woman, carries a boy to various places, and eventually tells him how he can get to "the country at the back of the north wind" by walking through her as if she were an open door.

In The Garden Behind the Moon by Howard Pyle, a boy walks on the path of moonlight across the water to the moon-house, which has a moon-garden behind it.
posted by Redstart at 7:55 AM on January 22


Ok, if you're looking for the means of travel, the assertion you've made about Harry Potter is wrong. Nobody literally gets to a magical land via owl post unless you're taking the whole letter from Hogwarts as the inciting incident thing really seriously. Port keys are portals in HP. And brooms, really. The pensieve also counts because of its ability to transport someone into a memory.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:58 AM on January 22


You're right about Harry Potter, of course. I merely meant that he got the invitation by owl, and was thinking of it as an example where something comes into the kid's life through no action of the kid: the owl shows up with the invite, or the box with the tollbooth is waiting in the bedroom.

This has been really helpful. I'm writing a story--no, really, it's for a writing project--in which the main character is a girl who has read all of these things and sees herself as the world's foremost authority on the means by which children find their way to magical realms.
posted by not that girl at 8:14 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


In the Magic Tree House series, Jack and Annie enter various times in history via their, uh, magic tree house. And a book - the tree house contains a library; opening a book and wishing themselves to the place pictured transports them to that place.
posted by dreamphone at 8:36 AM on January 22


In Saturday, the 12th of October by Norma Fox Mazer, the main character is in a park when a storm hits & transports her to the Stone Age.

It's been years since I've read it. My recollection is that she was huddled against a boulder but it was the storm (maybe not a literal storm) and not the boulder that was the method of transport. Not sure if that helps!
posted by peep at 8:54 AM on January 22


In Fog Magic by Julia Sauer the protagonist can visit a town in the past but it is only accessible when it is foggy/by walking through the fog the village appears.
posted by gudrun at 9:22 AM on January 22


In MeFi's Own Charles Stross' Merchant Princes series, travel to parallel universes is triggered by staring at complicated knot-like patterns.
posted by whuppy at 10:04 AM on January 22


In Diane Duane's So You Want To Be a Wizard, the two main characters use household items (like a battery and a silver spoon) to open up a hole in the sky above the Pan Am building. They talk the air into solidifying so they can get to it, and they end up falling into an alternate version of New York City.

In Mary Hoffman's Stravaganza series, kids who fall asleep holding a specific object wake up in another world. If they lose the object while in the other world, they can't get home.
posted by topoisomerase at 10:07 AM on January 22


In Maurice Sendak's very strange Outside Over There, the protagonist ''climbed backwards out her window into outside over there" (i.e. fairy land/Fey).
posted by that's candlepin at 10:39 AM on January 22


Also re: Harry Potter: to get into the magical world (which is coexistent with the nonmagical realm) you run your trolley through the wall to get to Platform 9 3/4. Once you are *in* the magical realm and have been taught how to make them work, then you can use port keys, Floo powder via chimney, flushing yourself into the Ministry of Magic, apparition, teleportation, etc.
posted by apartment dweller at 10:44 AM on January 22


Would Jack's magic beanstalk count?
posted by Julnyes at 1:06 PM on January 22


There is also being kidnapped by fairies. Variations on this show up in Tam Lin, Fire and Hemlock by Dianna Wynne Jones and An Artificial Night by Seannan McGuire. These are methods that are done to the children, rather than by them, but it is an alternative method for entering a magical world.

In American Gods, the protagonist, Shadow often finds himself "behind the scenes" of the world. He gets there by riding a carousel at the House on the Rock, turning a Winnebago 90 degrees through a dimension he cannot see and finally simply by stepping there, once he understands how things work. He is not a child, but the carousel is an unique way.

Finally, by riding a toy train, the protagonist of "The Trains That Climb the Winter Tree" finds his way into a magic realm.
posted by Hactar at 3:50 PM on January 22


Ooh! I can't remember the title, but there was this cheesy SF novel I read as a kid where scientists were doing experiments with soap bubbles on large wire frames. There was this arrangement where the frames would rotate and turn and poof! They could see into another world. The novel ends up with the hero entering that world. I also remember several short stories where there's another world that can be entered through the door of a freezer (or the world is actually miniature and inside the freezer). Those stories never end well. Larry Niven's For a Foggy Night suggests that fog is actually blurring caused by overlapping worlds, and that it's dangerous to walk in fog because you may get lost in alternate realities.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:10 PM on January 22


Doraemon!!!
posted by dinosaurprincess at 4:18 PM on January 22


Did anyone say Roger Zelazny's Amber Chronicals? The characters travel by "shadow" after having sucessfully walked "The Pattern" or "The Logrus". Some characters carry a deck of Tarot cards through which they can travel as well.
posted by BoscosMom at 4:19 PM on January 22


This is a great thread, thanks. Really helped me get my mind open to possibilities. Also helped me make a reading list.
posted by not that girl at 8:38 AM on February 1


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