Yesterday, I noticed a kid, probably about 11 or 12 reading The Silver Chair on the subway. I was tempted to give him a thumbs up but given that he was traveling alone on a NYC subway I kept my well-wishes to myself. I was about the same age when I first launched into the Chronicles of Narnia. Those wonderful books ignited a spark of imagination that remains lit to this day.
One minute you’re conducting the most mundane tasks, and the next, you’ve tumbled headfirst into a fantastical dimension. A realm where anthropomorphic animals rule, witches plot nefarious schemes, and every new day presents a fresh adventure. Welcome to the intriguing genre of portal fantasy, a world beautifully mirrored in the timeless classic, “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
C.S. Lewis took a daring leap into the abyss of imagination when he penned “The Chronicles of Narnia”. With a simple wardrobe acting as the portal, we were whisked into the land of Narnia where the lives of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie intertwined with the Great Lion Aslan’s destiny. It’s a tale as enticing as Turkish Delight and as enduring as Aslan himself.
The genius of Lewis lies not just in creating an enchanting alternate reality, but in his ability to make it as tangible as our own. Narnia becomes a place where allegories come to life and faith takes the form of a roaring lion. And, of course, who can forget the wardrobe? That illustrious portal that ferried us into this new realm? It’s as if every closet door since has held a twinge of unexplored potential.
But why are we so enthralled by portal fantasies? The reason lies in the duality of escapism and exploration they offer. We escape our lives momentarily, delving into new worlds, yet we also explore themes central to our existence. The crossover between the mundane and the magical ignites our imagination, providing a thrilling and, dare I say, magical experience.
Lewis was certainly not the only author to engage this compelling device. His contemporary, J.R.R. Tolkien, was another master of portal fantasy. “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” took us from the humble Shire into the grandeur of Middle-earth. His intricate lore and mythical languages serve as a gold standard in world-building, juxtaposing the comfort of the hobbits’ round doors with the epic battles against Sauron.
In more recent years, we’ve seen a resurgence of portal fantasies. “The Wayward Children” series by Seanan McGuire dives into the genre, with its portals found in cornfields and beneath beds, each leading to a uniquely breathtaking universe. And Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” gave us Brakebills and Fillory, a magical college and a Narnia-esque realm that, much like Lewis’s creation, forces its young protagonists to grapple with a world not as innocent as it first appears.
Portal fantasy is a love letter to our enduring sense of curiosity, invoking a nostalgia that comes with each dusty wardrobe or mystical door. C.S. Lewis created a classic with his Chronicles, one that redefined not only children’s literature but an entire genre. The beauty of Narnia, though, is that its relevance extends beyond its pages. Every new journey through a portal carries an echo of the wardrobe, a reminder of the adventures that began with four children, a snowy forest, and a lion.
It seems we never outgrow the desire for those unexpected detours into magic. That’s the beauty of portal fantasies – the mundane world is never enough for us, and there’s always a new wardrobe, a new rabbit hole, a new adventure waiting. For in the end, aren’t we all just a bit like Lucy Pevensie, longing for a glimpse of a faun under a lamppost in a winter wood?