Gateways to Fictional Lands?
May 14, 2024 10:01 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to compile a list of significant* fictional places with specific "gateways" or portals to access them, like the wardrobe for Narnia, the rabbit hole and looking glass for Alice, Platform 9 3/4 for Hogwarts, etc. I'm thinking more books or stories than TV, films, or games, but all are fine if it's something especially memorable / interesting. Can you help me find the way there?

* By significant, I basically mean, is it a good tale? Something worthwhile to read or watch?
posted by taz to Media & Arts (46 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I think a lot of the work of collecting these has already been done, which should help you a lot. Wikipedia has many categorized under "portal fantasy", and TV Tropes has them under "Trapped in Another World aka: Portal Fantasy"

Seanan McGuire's recent Wayward Children series (about children who return from portal fantasy worlds and have to readjust to ordinary life, with varying levels of success) goes so far as to categorize the portal worlds along two axes—logical to nonsense, and good to wicked.
posted by bcwinters at 10:10 AM on May 14 [5 favorites]

The TV show Once Upon a Time rebooted/remixed several fairy tales all at once (including Alice in Wonderland) and had portals based on (?I think... it's been a minute):
. Magic Beans (Jack & the Beanstalk style)
. The Mad Hatter's hat (Alice)
. Peter-Pan-style "Sailing past the 2nd star on the right"
. Maybe some kind of ocean maelstrom?

There's time travel too, and ... I think you could probably find more than a few examples there.
posted by adekllny at 10:18 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]

Robert A. Heinlein has a novella called, The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag. In the story, mirrors act as a type of portal to another world.
posted by alex1965 at 10:19 AM on May 14

The Magicians trilogy (books and tv)

Also I don't know if you're a Stephen King fan, but this shows up in Fairy Tale

I 'm not a huge fantasy reader but I love these kinds of stories. As a child my two favorite stories were The Wizard of Oz and The 12 Dancing Princess (for it's underground gem forests and enchanted ballrooms).
posted by thivaia at 10:25 AM on May 14

If you're aiming for stories with a fixed point of access between worlds on one or both ends (so not so much The Wizard of Oz, where there's different worlds but not a portal, per se), I don't know that Summer in Orcus by T. Kingfisher exactly fits, but it's otherwise very good and I would recommend it to folks who like these kinds of traveler between worlds stories in general.
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:25 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]

His Dark Materials has multiple worlds with portals between. There's a knife that a skilled wielder can use to cut them open and if they're not closed again afterwards then they just stay put.
posted by flabdablet at 10:35 AM on May 14 [8 favorites]

The portal in Being John Malkovich.
posted by dobbs at 10:53 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]

Books are portals to books in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series.
posted by Dotty at 11:07 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]

Linzi Day's Midlife in Gretna Green series is based around a portal to other worlds, called the Gateway. I found them worthwhile reading.
posted by paduasoy at 11:15 AM on May 14

If you like fantasy, then The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny fits the bill.
posted by Don_K at 11:34 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]

Also in the "books are portals to books" category, Seven-Day Magic by Edward Eager. (Interestingly, one of the "other books" is a different book also written by Eager. Encountering this as a child, before crossovers became commonplace, was exciting and delightful.)
posted by SPrintF at 11:42 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]

Maybe this stretches the concept a bit, but Pellucidar can be accessed through holes in the Earth's crust. Best example: Tarzan at the Earth's Core, in which the Lord of the Great Apes journeys to the center of the Earth by airship!
posted by SPrintF at 11:46 AM on May 14

A gazebo covered in wires, in Julian May's "Pliocene Epoch" series, is the visible portion of a device that takes time-travelers six million years into the past -- where they meet what appear to be elves and dwarves.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:33 PM on May 14

Genevieve Cogman's Invisible Library books posit that there is a portal to the Library from every, you guessed it, library in every world. I like this idea a lot.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:39 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]

The Doors Between Worlds of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.
posted by lydhre at 1:14 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

A bit niche, but I loved this recent Iona Datt Sharma story which interrogates portal fantasy by bringing it into conversation with the idea of diaspora: "All Worlds Left Behind".
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 1:45 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

In the Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, a secret world of books and stories is entered through painted doors or abandoned doors or doors in abandoned buildings or such. Basically doors or paintings of doors that are enchanted by the people who guard /care for that world become gateways down into that world.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:06 PM on May 14

Some additions to this list, all of which I loved:
An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Going way back, The Story of the Amulet by E.E. Nesbit

Nthing His Dark Materials (the best portal fiction ever) and The Magicians!
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 2:19 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

It's not exactly my cup of tea, but there does appear to be a significant fandom for the Stargate franchise of movies, TV series, and books (so I suppose it's interesting/memorable enough for a bunch of people).
posted by mhum at 2:24 PM on May 14

The ring network and ring hub pocket-universe in the Expanse?
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 2:39 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

Iain Pears, Arcadia. One of my favourite books of the last few years!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:42 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]

The Cat Returns, a lovely and funny Miyazaki film.

Gene Wolfe's There Are Doors is probably my favourite book of his and as the title suggests, there are many doors - they can be anywhere and look completely ordinary, or not even like doors at all, but when you really want to find one you might not be able to.
posted by Athanassiel at 2:43 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

Toshikazu Kawaguchi‘S Before the Coffee Gets Cold features a very fun/interesting portal of sorts that allows people to travel to different times and places.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:39 PM on May 14

In Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, portals are a huge part of the story. One of the main characters is actually named Door, and her family's power is to open/create doors anywhere they wish, leading to wherever they choose. Portals galore!
posted by Molasses808 at 4:20 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]

It's background, but Unseen University's library in Pratchett's Discworld series connects through "L-Space" to all other libraries (and some used bookstores) in the multiverse. In Small Gods, UU's Librarian (ook!) is seen to save books from a burning library via L-Space.
posted by humbug at 5:03 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

Susanna Clarke's Piranesi has something like this, too.
posted by adekllny at 6:42 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]

Ursula LeGuin's The Beginning Place. I literally finished re-reading it this morning! It's not a very well known work of hers but it's maybe my favorite. Classic portal fantasy, incredibly lyrical and delicate.
posted by DSime at 9:25 PM on May 14

The Magic Faraway Tree?

(Exciting question, btw - will we get to see the result of your project?)
posted by Hermione Dies at 2:26 AM on May 15

Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism explores various portals into sodality, including language:

We are familiar with the long dispute over the appropriate language (Latin or vernacular) for the mass. … There is no idea here of a world so separated from language that all languages are equidistant (and thus inter-changeable) signs for it. In effect, ontological reality is apprehensible only through a single, privileged system of re-presentation: the truth-language of Church Latin, Qur’anic Arabic, or Examination Chinese.
posted by HearHere at 3:04 AM on May 15

the interior of the House of Leaves
posted by el_presidente at 4:41 AM on May 15

"The Homeward Bounders" by Diana Wynne Jones
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:53 AM on May 15

The central conceit in Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry revolves around connections to another world through specific places. The gate to Faerie in Gaiman's Starlight. The creek and the ways across it in Bridge to Terabithia. The 'portal stones' and pocket dimension 'ways' between them in Jordan's Wheel of Time (which I'm sure I've read other versions of in other fantasy). Cyberdecks and other means of 'jacking in' to the Matrix in various cyberpunk settings. The baseball diamond in Field of Dreams.

TV Tropes:

Portal Door

Portal Pool

Portal Picture

Cool Gate

Portal Network

Magical Land
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:20 AM on May 15

In the story, mirrors act as a type of portal to another world.

Certain characters in Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun seem to use mirrors for this, as well.

But the best portal is in Golden Gate Park, The Portals of the Past, which was the columned entrance that survived while the rest of its mansion was lost in the 1906 earthquake and fire. This doorway was moved to the Park, where it stands today by the side of a small, secluded lake. In her 1994 novel Summer Of Love Lisa Mason has a time traveler from 500 years in the future visit San Francisco in 1967, and the future people use the Portals as the location for their time-portal.
posted by Rash at 8:14 AM on May 15

Diane Duane's So You Want to be a Wizard has one of the most visceral and resonant portal sequences I've ever read (RIP Fred).

Diana Wynne Jones' Chrestomanci series has alternative world travel in several of the books. Portals are a strong thematic element in Howl's Moving Castle, and of course no savvy traveler should be without the Tough Guide to Fantasyland.
posted by radiogreentea at 8:43 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]

Raymond E. Feist is partial to a portal.
posted by flabdablet at 8:48 AM on May 15

Tanith Lee's Black Unicorn is a fantastic portal story, though it is somewhat of a spoiler for me to reveal that. In the context of the question I hope you won't mind!
posted by DSime at 9:15 AM on May 15

Oh, and the Myst series of games shouldn't be left out here either!
posted by DSime at 9:19 AM on May 15

the tornado that leads to Oz.
posted by Sauce Trough at 2:46 PM on May 15

The Left/Right Game, a creepypasta short story/novella where you get to a scary world by alternately turning left and right over and over through a city.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 3:42 PM on May 15

Lin Carter's Callisto series is eight books which involve a jade-lined tunnel with an entrance in Cambodia which characters float through to reach the moon of Jupiter, which its inhabitants call Thanator. Cannot vouch for their 'significance' as I've never managed to get through the first book.
posted by Rash at 4:36 PM on May 15

Andre Norton's Red Hart Magic is a YA novel that shifts the protagonist back in time via the magic from a model, rather than a physical portal.

Neverwhere, like Mievelle's The City & The City, has the gateway to alternate realities element, but mostly through a shift in perspective rather than literal portals. But there are moments where physical locations matter in both. Both are grat.

Heinlein's Glory Road has someone move into an alternate reality by walking, well, the glory road. Pretty good adventure story for a teenage boy in 1980; I'm sure the adventure still works but whether it's enjoyable today depends a lot on the readers' tolerance for poorly aged tropes.
posted by mark k at 8:11 PM on May 15

The portal in Homestuck that gets the main characters (and then some) from Earth to the world of Skaia is a video game (Sburb or Sgrub depending on which group of kids you're following).
posted by creatrixtiara at 8:51 PM on May 15

The Holiday Doors from The Nightmare Before Christmas

The gates of Hell in Dante's Inferno

The featureless black door that appears in the living room wall that leads to the labyrinth in House of Leaves

The tunnel entrance to Toon Town in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
posted by Rhaomi at 3:22 PM on May 16

TV, sorry, so not so literate; but how about the especially memorable portal-magic which allowed Hogan's Heroes to visit Bing Crosby's 1965 Hollywood Palace Christmas special?
posted by Rash at 2:35 PM on May 17

The Eponymous cupboard in The Indian in the Cupboard functions as a portal, although the books themselves have aged poorly
posted by aspersioncast at 5:48 PM on May 17

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