Who could ever forget Platform 9¾ at Kings Cross Station? Disappearing through a wall might seem like a weird way to board a train but when the train is the Hogwarts Express and it’s taking Harry Potter into a world of witchcraft and wizardry, then it all seems perfectly normal. Harry’s world is very different from our own. At Hogwarts the students learn how to cast spells and make magical potions; owls carry the mail and Quidditch, which is played whilst racing through the air on a broomstick, is the school sport. J K Rowling created an extraordinary world for Harry Potter, a world filled with unusual creatures and unique characters who bore the most amazing names. And we love them all, don’t we? But she wasn’t the first author to create a unique world; nor the first to invent a curious way of getting into it.
Lewis Carroll, in 1865, wrote a story about a little girl named Alice. One day Alice was sitting with her sister on the bank of a river, feeling bored and restless, when a white rabbit with pink eyes dashed past her. Alice didn’t think this in the least unusual until she heard the rabbit exclaim, ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!’ Not only that, but she realised the rabbit was wearing a waistcoat and a pocket watch. Alice then followed the white rabbit down a large rabbit-hole and found herself in a beautiful, strange and magical world. And in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland she came across very interesting characters: the dormouse, the Mock Turtle, the Gryphon and the Cheshire cat, all of whom could carry on a reasonable conversation. And then there was the tea party starring the Mad Hatter, and Alice’s experiences with the Queen of Hearts and a bunch of playing cards.
C S Lewis wrote my all time favourite children’s book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and it too had a unique entry to a fantastic world. Lucy, who is visiting the home of an old professor in the country with her sister and brothers, finds a wardrobe in one of the rooms and steps inside to investigate. As she wanders through the big fur coats she finds herself walking on snow, in the middle of a forest. And the first creature she meets is a faun who looks startled and says, “Goodness gracious me!” In Narnia, unicorns and centaurs roam, and Aslan the great lion seeks Lucy’s help in defeating the wicked White Witch.
another wonderful ‘other world’ book by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams entitled Tunnels. Fourteen-year-old Will Burrows goes digging with his dad, an archaeologist, but he uncovers a lot more than just ancient artefacts: he discovers a world beneath his own, one that is both fascinating and dangerous. Great story.
All of these books share common themes: they’re all wonderful adventure tales; they all feature incredibly interesting characters and they’re all written by very talented storytellers. But most significantly they take us, the readers, into exciting and sometimes dangerous worlds where we can lose ourselves and pretend to be one of those characters, just for a while.