I’ve always been fascinated by stories of everyday characters getting pulled into extraordinary worlds — be it Alice and her jaunt to Wonderland, the children of Peter Pan ending up in Never Never Land, Bastian reading The Neverending Story or Cornelia Funke’s characters whispering the pages of Inkheart to life. I love to read and often get so swallowed up in a tale that I forget where I am for a while…and the opportunity to actually crawl right into a fantastical story feels like a very tantalizing one.
Sometimes, on the train coming into the city, I’ll close my eyes and wish I could just escape into the pages of a book for a bit. Put off the real world long enough to swim with Basil the dolphin in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light or have a butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. In fact, I’m ridiculously thrilled about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios…though it won’t quite be the same phenomenon. And I’ve always wanted to visit New Zealand, where a few remnants of Hobbiton still remain from the filming of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Of course, not all books and movies depict a universe you might want to be a part of — certainly I’d have no place in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s adventures on the prairie — someone of my ethnic background just wouldn’t fit. And Regency England, and other settings for most romance novels, are closed to me as well. As much as I’d love to attend a ball and ruin my chances at Almack’s by waltzing without permission, I probably wouldn’t even be allowed in the front door. Not with the British rule in India in full swing.
But I’d love to find my way over the rainbow to Oz. And take a tour through Willy Wonka’s famous chocolate factory. Worlds that are less based in reality are easy to lose yourself in full-force. The questions of racial equality and belonging apply more to the treatment of Munchkins and Oompa-Loompas than they do to me…which probably just means I’d start a Munchkin Independence Movement and render the folks in Emerald City seriously invested in booting my butt back home.
Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere has always been one of my favorite books…where Richard Mayhew meets a mysterious girl named Door, who literally opens the way to another London, London Below. It’s not a beautiful place, with yellow brick roads and poppy fields. It’s actually kind of terrible. And, yet, sometimes I’ll step onto the subway and wonder what would happen if, like the Tube, it made stops to a far more mysterious world…and I wonder if I could find the Floating Market if I checked Bloomie’s after dark.
You can book a passage to India, take a Roman holiday, and find your way out of Africa, but reading is a ticket to places we’ll never see, places we can’t go and worlds that don’t even exist.