Thursday, 13 September 2012

Between Worlds

When a character moves between worlds, how does the author describe the transition? Sometimes, the character imagines another world, then enters it - and later wonders whether it was real - but usually the other world is unequivocally real. I will mention only a few examples from the works of three fantasy writers, CS Lewis, Poul Anderson and Neil Gaiman.

Lewis' most famous entrance to another world is a wardrobe but there is a better example in a later book. The characters look at a painting of the ship the Dawn Treader until it seems that the waves are moving, then they fall into the sea and are rescued by the ship's crew. Lewis never explains how a painting of a contemporary Narnian ship came to hang in an English house.

The hero of Poul Anderson's Three Hearts And Three Lions, fighting Nazis on a Danish beach, finds himself in the Carolingian mythological universe. Later, mission accomplished in that universe, he returns to the Danish beach with no loss of time, like a returned ruler of Narnia.

In Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest (London, 1975), Puck tells Prince Rupert of the Rhine's companion, Will Fairweather:

"' speak of inns and such - My friend, if sorely pressed for shelter, think of this. There is a tavern known as the old Phoenix, which none may see nor enter who're not touched by magic in some way. It flits about, but maybe you can use his ring to find it, or even draw a door towards yourselves...'" (pp. 55-56) (Oberon and Titania have given Rupert a magic ring.)

Sure enough, the ring lights the way to the inn which appears before Rupert and Will although it remains invisible to their Puritan pursuers. A regular of the Old Phoenix tells us:

"Look for it anywhere, anytime, by day, by dusk, by night, up an ancient alley or in a forest where hunters whose eyes no spoor can escape nonetheless pass it by must be alert for its fleeting presence..." (Anderson, "House Rule" IN Anderson, Fantasy (New York, 1981), p. 9).

This regular finds it many times, once unbelievably on ship at sea, another time more reasonably on a country road after dark where he knows that:

"The inn might waver from sight at any instant." (Anderson, "Losers' Night" IN Anderson, All One Universe (New York, 1996), p. 107)

It sounds like Neil Gaiman's Inn of the Worlds' End:

"Up the lane aways is the Inn. You just have to be SURE it's there, though. If you AREN'T sure, then fizzlywinks, it's only goin to be fireflies and treeses" (Gaiman, Neil, The Sandman: Worlds' End (New York, 1994), p. 22.

One Worlds' End guest enters it in stages. Brant Tucker is driving to Chicago at night on the interstate. So far then he is travelling though not as yet between worlds. (However, his Earth is that of the DC Universe where anything not only can happen but routinely does happen.) Then:

he was very tired, so did he dream everything that followed?;
he didn't think it was weird when it started to snow in June;
a large, strange animal ran in front of the car (we see this because we are reading graphic fiction);
the car went off the road, across a field, down a hill and into an oak tree;
"Everything was dreamlike; everything felt unreal..." (p. 21);
Brant, carrying his unconscious co-driver, Charlene Mooney, could not find the road;
he wondered when the hallucinations began (p. 22);
he was directed to the Inn by an apparently disembodied voice (see above - the reader realises that the speaker is a hedgehog; regular readers recognize the speaking hedgehog from Gaiman's The Books of Magic);
Brant finds a country road;
at the end of the road, is a light;
first it is fireflies in a hedge, then it is the Inn.

I think that the transition between realities began with the apparent snow storm which, we learn, was a reality storm, stranding travellers from many realms in the Inn. A sailor's account is different:

"Y'see, there was a storm, come up out of nowhere at midnight - - we were swept onto the rocks where there shouldn't've been rocks neither, nohow." (p. 67)

Brant and the sailor then disagree about whether the date is June, 1993, or September, 1914.

And a Necropolitan says:

" 'A dark thunderstorm arose suddenly, and the brougham in which my companions and I were travelling was washed into a river.' " (p. 42)

Making an ordinary journey seems to be the beginning of the process. 

The landlady explains:

"This place is the Inn at the end of all worlds. None of you were BROUGHT here. Each of you was travelling, and was caught in an unseasonable storm of some kind. You made your way here by luck, and took refuge and advantage of the hospitality offered. And you WILL leave here, when the storm is over." (p. 139)

However, Charlene is allowed to stay to work in the Inn and we see her there in a later series, The Furies by Mike Carey. The characters offer different theories about what causes a reality storm. A common feature of the Old Phoenix and the Worlds' End is the telling of stories and some of these stories offer other routes between worlds:

"...the silver road...glittered and glimmered away beyond a street market." (Gaiman, p. 29)

The man who sees the silver road works in an office in a modern city where gravestones can have "...letters from forgotten alphabets..." (p. 28). That odd touch, if taken literally, means that the modern city is certainly not on any Earth like ours. The narrator of this story asks:

"Is there any person in the world who does not dream? Who does not contain within them worlds unimagined?" (p. 28)

And that is where the other worlds are.

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