Mundane Portal!
November 14, 2013 11:46 AM   Subscribe

Starting with the wardrobe in the Narnia books, I'm looking for other examples of mundane objects (ideally furniture) that contain or allow access to magical worlds. Literature, film, pop culture - anything really.

I'm at the research phase of my graduation thesis in furniture design and I've begun with the idea of a "Narnia Cabinet" or maybe "Toymakers Toolchest" - an ordinary-looking piece of furniture that contains a magical, miniature narrative. But I need more examples and inspiration!

This Coke ad works well as it plays nicely with scale and character or this scene from Men in Black.

I don't know if there's a specific name or trope associated with this idea but it seems common enough
posted by rog to Media & Arts (52 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Through the Looking Glass
posted by rouftop at 11:50 AM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's not really furniture per se, but the TARDIS is maybe an example of this.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:51 AM on November 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

In Lev Grossman's The Magicians it's mentioned that the fictitious (but actually not fictitious) world Fillory has an access point in a grandfather clock, and in the sequel The Magician King they seek out the grandfather clock to get into Fillory (and I guess spoiler, the clock doesn't work, but a nearby bed does). There are also buttons (like, normal mundane buttons) that can be used to get into Fillory.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:52 AM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the Dark Materials trilogy of books, there's an object called 'the subtle knife' which is "a tool that cuts windows between worlds and cuts easily through anything – both material and spiritual." The idea is that the knife is so sharp that it can cut the fabric of reality, making doors to other universes.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:53 AM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Being John Malkovich
would The Indian in the Cupboard work maybe?
posted by phunniemee at 11:54 AM on November 14, 2013

Last Action Hero
posted by phunniemee at 11:54 AM on November 14, 2013

Pandora's box? Also, the puzzle box in the Hellraiser films.
posted by jbickers at 11:57 AM on November 14, 2013

The entrance to the Red Bull's lair in The Last Unicorn is also a grandfather clock. In the last Narnia book, a stable shed is the portal to a better Narnia.
posted by Nomyte at 11:57 AM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hot Tub Time Machine.
posted by bondcliff at 11:59 AM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the kids go into Narnia via a picture frame.
posted by merocet at 11:59 AM on November 14, 2013

That godawful rat's nest of wires behind the TV. (Kinda NSFW for indelicate speech bubble in last panel of comic.)
posted by sourcequench at 12:03 PM on November 14, 2013

The TV in Poltergeist?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:06 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Wishing Chair series by Enid Blyton.
posted by AnnaRat at 12:09 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:10 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the Dark is Rising series, the all-powerful book of knowledge in the series is hidden within a grandfather clock. If the book or a person touches the pendulum, they will be destroyed.
posted by bfranklin at 12:10 PM on November 14, 2013

The horcruxes in Harry Potter are sort of like this.
posted by Sara C. at 12:12 PM on November 14, 2013

Port keys are inherently mundane objects that can transport you from place to place.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:13 PM on November 14, 2013

When you're dead, all the external doors of your house lead to Sand Worms. I know this because of Beetlejuice.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:15 PM on November 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

(Probably not relevant but immediately thought of Dorothy's silver shoes and ruby slippers.)
posted by humph at 12:24 PM on November 14, 2013

Bed Knobs and Broomsticks?
Mary Poppins's umbrella leads to a whole magical world.
A simple chocolate bar leads Charlie Bucket to a magical world.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:26 PM on November 14, 2013

If the TARDIS works for you then so will the Tollbooth.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:29 PM on November 14, 2013

"The Bewitchin' Pool" episode of The Twilight Zone:
Two children escape their bickering parents through a portal in the bottom of their swimming pool to a magical land watched over by a kindly old woman the children call Aunt T.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:33 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's an issue of Sandman which puts forth the idea that all mazes, in all worlds, are connected. Dream and Delirium travel to Destiny's garden, which has a hedge maze, by entering a funhouse maze in "our" world.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:34 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Several of shakespeherian's Choose Your Own Adventure By Committee stories (As seen on tv MetaFilter) are in a series that features closets and random locked doors as doorways to a supernatural underworld.

Not furniture, but still awesome.
posted by aubilenon at 12:57 PM on November 14, 2013

Rabbit hole, of course, as well as the looking glass.

In H.P. Lovecraft's and E. Hoffmann Price's Through the Gates of the Silver Key, written in the 1930s, there was a "coffin-shaped clock which told no earthly time" that appeared to serve as an interdimensional portal for an alien who stepped though it, unexpectedly to the human characters in the story who thought it was simply an exotic antique.
posted by XMLicious at 1:02 PM on November 14, 2013

Terry Pratchett gave us The Luggage in "The Color of Magic": "The inside area of The Luggage does not appear to be constrained by its external dimensions, and contains many conveniences: even when it has just devoured a monster, the next time it opens the owner will find his underwear, neatly pressed and smelling slightly of lavender. It is unknown exactly what happens to anyone it 'eats'."
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:17 PM on November 14, 2013

Being John Malkovitch and Coraline both use miniature doors in locations that don't make any mundane sense, but then you open the door (which by the architecture of the house would be a crawlspace or closet at best, or more likely bricked off), and it's another reality behind them. But that's not really what you're after for a furniture-design project.
posted by aimedwander at 1:17 PM on November 14, 2013

In The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe a Christamas present becomes a portal.

In other various episodes of classic Doctor Who, other various TARDIS take on some mundane disguises: grandfather clock, fireplace, Doric column, etc.
posted by mikepop at 1:19 PM on November 14, 2013

Another Terry Pratchett one that might fit is the Wandering Shops, whose storefronts disappear and appear in different locations.
posted by XMLicious at 1:35 PM on November 14, 2013

Stephen Soderbergh's Kafka has a nod to Wizard of Oz where Kafka goes through a file cabinet labeled O-Z (Baum's inspiration for the name) and suddenly the film switches from black and white to color.
posted by Flannery Culp at 1:48 PM on November 14, 2013

Fridges and coolers are gateways to frozen fun places in beer commercials. Or maybe sunny places, which seems like a bad beer storage method.

A recent one showed coolers being gateways to frozen cliffs where your own ice-climbing slave person harvests your beer, but in that case only the spoils were going through the gateway, not people. Though in my imagination those poor mistreated workers sneak out in the night and go all Nat Turner on their oppressors.
posted by phearlez at 1:53 PM on November 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

How about a bookshelf? Pratchett also gave us L-Space. Premise: dense concentrations of books deform reality, thus all libraries and bookstores everywhere and everywhen are connected.

You know that odd feeling you get at the twisty back shelves of a certain sort of used bookstore? That's a nascent awareness of the fact that one wrong turn and a short wander could land you in the Bodelian library in 1605. I suggest you bring a ball of string and watch out for the vashta nerada.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:01 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you will accept a piece of furniture that lets one see the future, there's always the creepy toy at the center of D.H. Lawrence's "The Rocking-Horse Winner."
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:07 PM on November 14, 2013

The Chesterfield sofa that takes Arthur and Ford from post-Golgafrinchen Islington to modern-day Lords via an eddy in the space/time continuum, and which due to its interdimensional presence later(?) ends up unshiftably stuck on Richard MacDuff's stairs?
posted by runincircles at 2:28 PM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Jamie And The Magic Torch. Not only for the torch, but for the under-the-bed other-world access.
posted by Joeruckus at 3:31 PM on November 14, 2013

The phone booth at the Circle K in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
posted by ainsley at 3:36 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

With My Knife, small boy finds old knife in a potato field that lets him cut holes between worlds.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 4:39 PM on November 14, 2013

It's not a common piece of furniture, but Fringe uses a sensory deprivation tank for magical travel (link to episode synopsis).
posted by Margalo Epps at 6:14 PM on November 14, 2013

Kind of a common joke more than a particular reference, but the standard clothes dryer can teleport socks and stockings to another dimension.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:35 PM on November 14, 2013

"The Worst Toilet in Scotland" (youtube, 2:14-- warning: feces everywhere) scene from Trainspotting. For those who don't know, he setup is that Mark Renton (Ewan MacGregor) has a case of the runs just after inserting a heroin suppository, and he recognizes that the former problem will eliminate (ahem) the latter. Nor sure how this played in the Irving Welsh novel on which it was based, but this is a very discomfiting and imaginative scene. You'll never hear that Brian Eno tune the same way again.

I seem to recall a similar scene in "Gravity's Rainbow" by Thomas Pynchon, which was no less scatalogical and filthy.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:43 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sci Fi [sic] Channel had a very good Miniseries called "The Lost Room." (YTL 61 second, pretty terrible trailer) In a nutshell, some kind of supernatural event affected a 1950s New Mexico motel room and all its contents and occupant. All the contents of the room (bus ticket, comb, glasses) have supernatural powers.

The protagonist gets ahold, by accident, of the the room key. Stick the key into any door (even a free-standing door in frame), think of a door anywhere on the planet, turn key, and open, and you will exit the door you thought of. The show is about the objects and people who collect them and use them, for good and evil.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:56 PM on November 14, 2013

The recent Nicholson Baker book House of Holes has a ton of these.
posted by Daily Alice at 7:46 PM on November 14, 2013

An old, black, hairy purse in Kelly Link's The Faery Handbag.
posted by bibliogrrl at 8:03 PM on November 14, 2013

The door in Howl's Moving Castle (Book or Movie version)
The rabbit hole and the mirror from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
The Map in Time Bandits gives a list of these locations, which tend to be things like walls.
The Stargate in both the Movie and the first TV show.
Arguably the Red Pill in the Matrix.
posted by Hactar at 8:37 PM on November 14, 2013

The film "Wristcutters: A Love story" has a portal in a mundane object but I don't want to say what it is and give the film away. Presumably this would also be Etgar Keret short story on which the film is based, but I haven't read that.
posted by rdnnyc at 9:04 PM on November 14, 2013

Response by poster: Ok, so I had an intuitive feeling that this was a good question for the green but you guys are crazy.

A lot of these are unfamiliar to me so it'll take me a while to process all of this and pick my best answers. Also I'm very much at the early stages of my research so I greatly appreciate such a wide variety of material and look forward to perusing it all.

I'm gonna mark this resolved but any other contributions are, of course, welcome.

Thanks guys!
posted by rog at 3:05 AM on November 15, 2013

The hallway in House of Leaves
posted by crocomancer at 4:37 AM on November 15, 2013

The doors in "The Adjustment Bureau." Mostly they were a sort of cryptotransit system for the Adjusters, where entry through one door exited a door across town (a function that only worked for the Adjusters equipped with a certain prop), but doors could also be used to enter their own atemporal dimension from whence they controlled the destinies of Important People.

I haven't yet read the PKD short story, "Adjustment Team," on which the movie was based, so I'm not sure if they were in that work.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:52 AM on November 15, 2013

The Dragon in the Clock Box is sadly out of print now.
posted by BibiRose at 8:32 AM on November 15, 2013

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