Portals! Doors! Holes! Windows! And on!
April 25, 2018 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Give me your favorite stories about portals to other realities / worlds / places, etc!

I am working on a writing project I’m really excited about and want to encorporate a sense of being transported to another reality via some physical door or opening. Think Bridge to Teribitha, Alice in Wonderland, Lion, Witch and the Wordrobe, etc. I’m looking for more of these kinds of stories, the more archaic the better (religious stories that play with this idea?) Also looking for more lose interpretations of this idea that might not seem so obvious. I am open to all forms of media—plays, movies, books, poems, TV shows, whatever.
posted by allymusiqua to Writing & Language (58 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy does this brilliantly (especially the second book).
posted by Jellybean_Slybun at 6:09 PM on April 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Ursula Vernon's (as T. Kingfisher) Summer in Orcus is free online and great. She also has a great piece of fiction about what it was like to be Susan from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series is about what happens to kids when they return from portal adventures. The second one is a prequel to the first, but read them in order.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman also. Both the book and the movie and both are excellent.
posted by Hactar at 6:14 PM on April 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Swiftly Tilting Planet.”
posted by Melismata at 6:16 PM on April 25, 2018

I really like Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. It has an alternate reality side by side with ours, the initial transition isn't via anything physical but a literal door is used in at least one scene.. There is also character named Door with some applicable fantastic abilities.
posted by mark k at 6:17 PM on April 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Some good short fiction available free online: A. Merc Rustad's "This is Not a Wardrobe Door" and Kelly Barnhill's "Probably Still the Chosen One."
posted by Wobbuffet at 6:20 PM on April 25, 2018

I like these types of stories too! Here are some ideas, some exact, some loose intrpretations

Garden gate portal: The Bone Clocks - David Mitchell
Self-created portals to parallel universes: The Long Earth Series - Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
Giant steel box: Dark Matter - Blake Crouch
Weird interpretation: Gnomon - Nick Harkaway
Hard to explain, but fits: Southern Reach Trilogy - Jeff VanderMeer

Supernatural - season 13 (many episodes) via a rip in space/time, "the french mistake" in season 6 via a window.
Sliders - whole premise of the show, via a portal connected to a timer - but many realities, not just one.
Sliding Doors - I can't remember the details any more, but definitely has an alternate universe
Angel - has an alternate universe accessed via spell
Stranger Things
A lot of science fiction shows have at least one alternate universe episode (Star Trek, Dr Who, Stargate).
posted by snaw at 6:23 PM on April 25, 2018

In The Silver Nutmeg by Palmer Brown a dew pond functions as the portal.
posted by Botanizer at 6:37 PM on April 25, 2018

Nothing you can consult, but as food for thought, a friend of mine has a recurring dream where he finds a subway in NYC that transports him to Boston in the space of riding a single stop. And back.
posted by carmicha at 6:37 PM on April 25, 2018

Seanan McGuire's super excellent Wayward Children series is up to 4 novellas (I think they are all novellas) about portal worlds and what happens when you come back from them.
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:57 PM on April 25, 2018

The Phantom Tollbooth is a children's book, but it is utterly delightful and has some of the best wordplay in existence. The magical land is accessed via a mysterious tollbooth that arrives one day for the hero.
posted by kalimac at 6:59 PM on April 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is not fantasy and yet captures this idea beautifully.
posted by Knicke at 7:08 PM on April 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Edwards (aka Julie Andrews, aka Mary Poppins herself) was a childhood favorite. Super fun, super British. Trio of siblings meet a mad professor type, they all go to a magical world by using their imaginations to manifest a magical tunnel in some bushes.

Not sure if time travel counts, but another children's novel, The Root Cellar by Janet Lunn, has a 12-year-old girl travelling from the 1980's to the Civil War era via the titular root cellar.
posted by adastra at 7:26 PM on April 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Dean Koontz short story Down in the Darkness. I don't remember almost anything about the other stories in this collection but that one has really stuck with me.
posted by cali59 at 7:30 PM on April 25, 2018

The Mordant's Need duology by Stephen R. Donaldson has a lot of fun with mirrors as gateways between worlds. It's a great series, and has a happy ending, which if you know Donaldson is far from the norm. :)
posted by Alensin at 7:32 PM on April 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Time at the Top has an elevator to the past.
Fog Magic has the protagonist traveling to the past through fog. The village is a ruin in her time, but when it is foggy out she can go back to its past.
The Stargate movie/tv franchise has stargates.
posted by gudrun at 7:43 PM on April 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

S.M. Stirling has a bunch of novels that are interesting and Conquistador is one of the ones I remember that has a portal to another time in it.
posted by jessamyn at 7:45 PM on April 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ursula Le Guin wrote a book of short stories called Changing Planes, which is sort of a travel book about visiting different planets via portals that can only be accessed via the mental state induced by international airports.
posted by misfish at 8:06 PM on April 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

There Are Doors by Gene Wolfe
posted by moonmilk at 8:11 PM on April 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is a fascinating modern incarnation of this theme, tangled up with a pretty bleak migration story.
posted by juliapangolin at 8:12 PM on April 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

The tropes Cool Gate, Portal Book, Portal Door, Portal Picture, and Portal Pool have lots of examples.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 8:33 PM on April 25, 2018

Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend is a middle grade book but it's sweeping the awards at the moment and is amazingly lovely. I'd say it has a Lemony Snicket vibe, dark and magical.
posted by Youremyworld at 9:00 PM on April 25, 2018

The Navigator

posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:05 PM on April 25, 2018

Well the Odyssey has the gates of ivory and horn, which get literal enough to step through in the Aeneid. (Aeneas trolls scholars forever by using the bullshit gate.)
posted by fleacircus at 9:34 PM on April 25, 2018

Kinda silly but the first chapter of Hitchhiker’s Guide and how Arthur Dent gets off Earth via the Thumb.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:23 PM on April 25, 2018

Howl's Moving Castle (book and to a lesser-explained extent, the film adaptation) has a magic door that opens to four distinct places: the moving castle itself, a seaside city, the royal capital, and his boyhood home (which is actually in Wales).
posted by lesser weasel at 11:00 PM on April 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'm fond of Pamela Dean's Secret Country Trilogy (The Secret Country, The Hidden Land, and The Whim of the Dragon) in which five cousins/siblings find a magical portal into a fantasy country which they have already very thoroughly imagined.
I'm sure you know it, but some parts of Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series probably fit the description too, although the transition is not always as direct as a portal.
posted by huimangm at 11:06 PM on April 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

films: Donnie Darko, Femme Fatale, Mulholland Drive
posted by j_curiouser at 11:12 PM on April 25, 2018

The Backstagers is a comic about theatre teens who find a portal to a magical world behind the curtain.
posted by terretu at 11:49 PM on April 25, 2018

The Sleeping Dragon from the "Guardians of the Flame" series by Joel Rosenberg.

The Paradise War from the "Song of Albion" series by Stephen Lawhead
posted by alchemist at 12:59 AM on April 26, 2018

In the Mouth of Madness
posted by Desertshore at 3:08 AM on April 26, 2018

House Of Leaves
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:37 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Octavia Butler’s Kindred
posted by childofTethys at 4:39 AM on April 26, 2018

British children's books are full of this kind of stuff.
Charlotte Sometimes is a favorite if time travel counts.
Enid Blyton is out of fashion now but her Magic Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair series are great examples of this.
I would also look into the books of E. Nesbit and Edward Eager.
posted by peacheater at 5:16 AM on April 26, 2018

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows
posted by cooker girl at 5:33 AM on April 26, 2018

Season 2 of the SYFY television series Channel Zero, called No-End House, is very much built around this concept.
posted by ejs at 5:44 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

China Miéville's Un Lun Dun uses this mechanic.

One of Neil Gaiman's works is mentioned above, but Neverwhere is definitely not the only story he uses it in. A portal between our world and a magical one is key to the plot in Stardust (see also), and in American Gods there's travel between realms, though the getting there is not (always) accomplished via a fixed portal (see also).
posted by solotoro at 7:16 AM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series has both actual and metaphorical portals and the world building is very original.
posted by soelo at 7:26 AM on April 26, 2018

There's a bit of this in The Magicians series by Lev Grossman. Everyone I talk to tends to have kind of mixed feelings about the series because the first book features quite a lot of whiny white guy being a big man-baby until he figures out he's not the center of the universe (which was the point, this realization, but it didn't make it any more fun to read) BUT the latter two books are much better, and the TV show is a lot of fun.

Little Nemo Adventures in Slumberland has a bit of a Pandora's Box approach to doors and the opening of them that might scratch this itch.

The TV mini series The 10th Kingdom DEFINITELY fits the bill here. Their portals are magic mirrors! (Note: if you do see this out, try to get the longest possible version you can--they released some heavily edited versions of it in the interest of fitting it onto VHS tapes back in the day, but that version is missing a lot of the best scenes and it's just not as good.)

The book (and movie) John Dies at the End (and I assume its sequel, but I haven't read it yet) definitely has a "go through a door into a different world" segment later on in the book.

Oh! And definitely the first three novels (especially the second one) of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series are very portal-door heavy.

There's also the movie Being John Malkovich, but that's got a bit of a different feel to it than some of these other suggestions. :)
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:28 AM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

"Little Girl Lost" from the Twilight Zone.
posted by mefireader at 7:31 AM on April 26, 2018

OHHh these are all so good can’t wait to dig in. Anyone have specific examples of plays using this device?
posted by allymusiqua at 8:15 AM on April 26, 2018

There's an interactive art exhibit in Santa Fe, NM called The House of Eternal Return. Per the copy on their website "Something has happened inside a mysterious Victorian house that has dissolved the nature of time and space. Venture through the house of The Selig Family and discover secret passageways into fantastic dimensions!"

You walk into a family's home and then through their refrigerator and other portals and discover entirely new spaces. You can try to figure out what happened to the family; there are clues throughout the house. But, it's also fun just to explore, because portals and passageways.
posted by BooneTheCowboyToy at 8:18 AM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh, in a somewhat different vein, portals to alternate worlds show up pretty routinely on the Flash, and occasionally on Arrow and Supergirl (usually in connection to some Flash crossover). Arguably also on Legends of Tomorrow, if you consider the "timestream" to be itself an alternate reality. That show treats time travel as more analogous to traveling through space than using instant portals, though.

For archaic/religious, you've got portals to the underworld in Greek/Roman mythology (eg the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice). You could probably say that Dante's trips in Inferno and the rest of the trilogy use this motif. I don't think there's any this-side-is-our-reality-that-one-is-not portal, but presumably at some point he goes through a mystical transition between the two.
posted by solotoro at 8:20 AM on April 26, 2018

And definitely the first three novels (especially the second one) of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series are very portal-door heavy.

The book The Talisman is even more so. That spends a little more time with the various geographies of the two worlds, and how events in one impact the other, sometimes in unexpected ways (the main character buries an apple core in a field in Ohio, then flips over to the other world and learns that there was a freak earthquake in the Ohio-field-parallel spot).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:43 AM on April 26, 2018

The Beginning Place by LeGuin.
posted by Occula at 8:48 AM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Dead Set doesn't have a door, but transportation to the other world is achieved via a physical record player, which is fun.

A City Dreaming is essentially a collection of connected short stories and many of them involve portals.

The Secret History of Moscow uses reflections as portals.

Vassa in the Night is an incredibly sharp take on Vasilisa the Beautiful and uses this.

The City and the City is probably not exactly what you're looking for, but I think it could definitely provide a lot of inspiration--the whole book is about crossing physical boundaries like doorways or streets and suddenly being in a completely different country.
posted by brook horse at 9:28 AM on April 26, 2018

Sorry, not a play, but I can't help but mention the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde!
posted by Ms. Next at 10:08 AM on April 26, 2018

Since someone already recommended Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, I'm going to throw out a suggestion for another Julie Andrews book, Mandy. It's more in line with Bridge to Terabithia in that it's a separate physical space that a child has imagined into their own fantasyland, rather than an actual fantasyland, but still could be worth a read.

Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynn Jones has a portal from our land into a magic land, but iirc, you only ever see the magic world side. (Still a good book, though.)

Enchanted has Giselle falling through a portal in a wishing well in fairytale land and ending up in the New York sewers.

Once Upon a Time has a buttload of different kinds of portals--see 1x01 and 3x09 for portal via curse, 1x17 and 2x01 for portal via hat, 2x09 for portal via...magic wardrobe dust?, 2x22 for portal via magic bean, 3x19 for portal via strange door in forest, 5x12 for portal via mirror?...honestly there's more, but uh, that's probably already more than you wanted.

If you want to get in touch with your inner toddler, Wee Sing Big Rock Candy Mountain has portal via backyard slide. And Wee Sing Sillyville has portal via coloring book. (The slide portal is better.)

(Sorry, can't think of any plays right now.)
posted by tan_coul at 10:19 AM on April 26, 2018

The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key.

The Daughter of the Moon, by Gregory Maguire.
posted by JanetLand at 10:37 AM on April 26, 2018

This is going off in a different direction, but if you're looking for religious / archaic stories, you might look at Celtic beliefs about lakes, wells, and bogs as entrances to the Otherworld. I don't know any medieval stories about this, but there's lots of evidence in archaeological sites and folk traditions. For instance, holy wells.

Similarly, in British and Irish folk stories, doors in hills (actually Neolithic burial mounds) lead to the land of the fairies. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell plays with this, as I recall, but you'll also find examples in British and Irish fairy tale collections.

I'm sure there are other folk traditions around the world of this kind. "Liminality" is a relevant search term.
posted by toastedcheese at 10:37 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

My niece says that Hattie B, Magical Vet, enters a magical kingdom through her vet's bag.

Also I think HG Wells's The Door in the Wall would qualify.
posted by paduasoy at 10:47 AM on April 26, 2018

How about Rodger Zelazny's Amber series?
posted by BoscosMom at 12:02 PM on April 26, 2018

My Neighbor Totoro (movie) has a door between tree roots that only appears in certain conditions.

I loved looking for subtle windows in the air a la His Dark Materials when I was a kid!

I think Norse mythology has this idea? The bifrost or world tree or something is a hub between all their mythic realms
posted by Warmdarksky at 12:13 PM on April 26, 2018

I highly recommend The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins, where the basic conceit is that there is a vast underground world accessible through the laundry chute of an apartment that a young boy lives in. Forewarning, it does get dark in places (it's by the same author as The Hunger Games), but it's a very worthwhile read IMHO.
posted by Aleyn at 1:59 PM on April 26, 2018

> OHHh these are all so good can’t wait to dig in. Anyone have specific examples of plays using this device?

A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest arguably fit the bill.
posted by desuetude at 2:23 PM on April 26, 2018

OH, cannot believe I did not think of this until now. Monsters Inc.!
posted by lesser weasel at 4:15 PM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

One Step From Earth by Harry Harrison, a short story collection from 1970, has some memorable takes on this theme.
posted by Rash at 8:12 PM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Portals Of London is an SCP-esque blog full of portal stories. The Bike Courier entries are my favorite.
posted by Gortuk at 8:28 AM on April 27, 2018

Maybe I skipped over, but I didn't see anyone mention the movie Little Monsters! A childhood favorite.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 12:25 PM on April 27, 2018

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