I guess I’m the idiot, but if you don’t know, you don’t know. So every film-accurate-cloak-wearing Narnia head can scoff at me, but the paperback set of The Chronicles of Narnia that I got said “The Magicians Nephew” was book one. So that’s where I started.
It’s like the recipe on the back of the chocolate chips bag seems like it’d be a reliable source for making chocolate chip cookies, right? Nope. I take my three-inch thick mutant scones to my baker friends and the response is the same everybody-knows-that’s-too-much-flour routine I get from Lewis’s fangirls.
In hindsight, I understand why all the face-palming cos-players think I’m an idiot for not starting “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” series with, you know, the titular volume. But I followed the directions, okay? Some people wonder why I don’t do that very often and, well, it should be pretty obvious by now.
Anyway, because I did it wrong, it took me a year to get through that 41,000-word children’s book and the one thing I remember about that slog is that, at some point, they end up in a forest full of pools of water that can take them to other words.
“The Portal” is a classic story device. Lewis’s wardrobe is given as one of the exemplars but his use of a wardrobe was predated by E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, where the Nutcracker takes Marie (= Tchaikovsky’s Clara) into the Kingdom of Sweets via her wardrobe.
And of course, there’s Carroll’s mirror in Through the Looking Glass, the barn door in The Wizard of Oz, the shrinking hallway in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the Stargate in Stargate, the lion’s mouth in Aladdin, the wishing well in Enchanted, and many people like to think of the (now political) “red pill” in The Matrix, but never seem to remember that Neo looks at a melting mirror, touches it, and it’s the liquid mirror that overtakes him and ultimately sends him out of the Matrix (the Wachowski could not have been any clearer about what Lewis Carol meant to them).
Also worth asking: why is Bibo’s door round?
Architects do this, too, when they make a small entrance into a large space. Last year, I went to Coor’s field for the first time and you could see this portal intent as you passed through a very small opening that than blasts you into a the huge baseball stadium. The effect is amazing.
Movie theaters create the same effect, especially in IMAX. You’ll get a progressively smaller path as you walk from the big, two-story lobby into a one-story, narrow hallway and then through a small door that takes you through a dark, tight passage. Then you round the corner and are greeted by an almost four-story movie screen on one side and hundreds of stadium seats on the other –a clear message from the designer: welcome to a magical world.
Once you start to notice portals, you see them everywhere.
No Diving Allowed
I think about the Magician’s Nephew scene –a forest full of pools of water that can take you to as many worlds as there are pools– because I feel like that’s where a lot of people live: on the banks of more interesting worlds.
I know it’s popular to speak in terms of FOMO –and maybe that’s how it started. But i wonder if there isn’t a sort of comfort found touring around the pools of possibility as opposed to plunging into them.
Like we could dive into a pool and see what’s in the worlds, but isn’t it easier to just tap open YouTube and see what other people do in those pools?
Look! He went sky diving! Look she made a dress! Look she wrote a novel! Look he hated Star Wars…hot take, bro.
But what that means, effectively, is that they experienced the worlds in those pools. I experienced my couched. And my couch is not interesting.
From portholes back to portals
But, comes the serious objection, we’ve all been living through a global quarantine, so how much world-exploring is there to be had?
That’s fair, our present distress (King for a Day Item #3482: Ban the phrase “this time”) has made a lot of us feel like vicarious living is the only kind of living there is. Seeing the world under water makes one feel that your only safe access to it is through your porthole. But I think quarantine, like money, is an amplifier: it just makes you more of who you are.
Are you a doctor who cares deeply for human well-being and lives for moments of healing and change? You’re probably doing that up to eleven. Are you an authoritarian control freak who wants to make everyone do what you say, when you say it, and how you say? You’re probably behaving like an unempathetic, fascistic monster. Are you a failed grad student who passes a lot of time watching YouTube videos instead of pursuing one of your more interesting, creative projects? You’ve probably been doing just that for months.
But now the dam is giving way and people are emerging from their isolation back into a world. A world with many, many pools. And I wonder if our emergence is going to make us better at exploring them.