Posted by: kshayes513 | April 10, 2011

Doorway to Middle Earth

Peter Jackson on the Bag End set just before the start of filming The Hobbit. Image: Warner

A couple of weeks ago, Warner released this photo of Peter Jackson at the door of “Bag End.” The image and the details of the set are of course, captivating to Hobbit film fans. What captivated me, though, was the view beyond the open door. This is not just a doorway on a set in New Zealand. It’s an opening to another world. If I could just get into this photo, I’m sure I could walk right past PJ out the door and into The Shire. That footpath out there leads to Hobbiton, Bywater, and the Road that goes ever on, past Rivendell, the Lonely Mountain, Moria and Minas Tirith.

Literature has always been full of important and magical doorways. You never know what might be on the other side of a door, who might come through it into your space, or where–or when?– a doorway might lead you.

In science fiction and in urban fantasy, doorways are often wormholes, black holes, rifts in space-time, interdimensional portals, or whatever other ways our current physics can explain how different universes might connect. In more traditional fantasy, doorways are simply magic.

A doorway can be a big deal, requiring spells or technology, and creating spectacular visual and physical effects (the kawhoosh of the stargate). Or it can simply be a matter of walking from one side to the other, crossing a threshold and finding yourself somewhere else.

Can your world have doors to elsewhere? What makes them open or close? Who made them, and why? Where do they lead?

Some favorite fictional doors:

The Wardrobe, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

Portals of a sidhe (fairy hill), any Irish fairy legend. Lakes, caves, wells and springs can also lead to the faery realm.

The gap in the Wall, Stardust

The front door of Howl’s Moving Castle.

Door, the girl who can open them, Neverwhere

The stargate, Stargate: SG-1, SG Atlantis, SG Universe

The Hellmouth, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Aladdin’s lamp and ring. Surely these are just doorways to the djinn world, and the djinni have to come through when called.

You probably have your own favorites. Tell us a few!

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Responses

  1. Very interesting, I’m sure there are lots, but the only ones I can think of right of the top of my head are the rabbit hole and the door in Alice in Wonderland and the looking glass in Alice through the Looking Glass.

  2. There! I knew I was overlooking something really obvious! Thanks, Cynthia!

  3. Farah Mendlesohn’s book Rhetorics of Fantasy – stick with me here, I know it sounds and is an academic text – has a whole chapter on what she calls “portal/quest” fantasies. Basically, she describes the ways in which fantasies centered around doors tend to be structured in similar ways, and how skilled authors work with – or against – these common patterns. The book is a bit like … I’m thinking of the Bone Room at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, where you look at the manatee and camel and human and bat skeletons and realize how they vary the same underlying pattern. I’d recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy.

    While it’s not technically a door, I’d also mention the cyclone in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, along with a variety of ways of reaching Oz in the later books. Oz is surrounded by the Deadly Desert, so you can’t just set out for it, but an earthquake plunging you into an underground country, or a flying sofa, or a magically unrolling carpet can all get you there just fine …

    There’s also the door in H. G. Wells’s “The Door In The Wall”, which leads into an enchanted garden … when you can find it.

  4. Thanks for posting, Tracy. I’m certainly familiar with Farah Mendelsohn’s work, but haven’t seen this title. Sounds well worth checking out.

    And you win a Golden Drafting Compass (official WorldBuildingRules award- I just invented it for the occasion!) for making your Oz reference from the BOOKS instead of the movie.

  5. Whoops – didn’t mean to imply that you were anti-academia, or anti-Mendelsohn! I seem to keep running into fans with an instinctive aversion to academic takes on SF and fantasy, and I think I might be getting into the habit of assuming that aversion is even more common than it actually is.

    I have a fondness for Doorman, from the Marvel Universe, though he was just a Class 10 teleporter who could get you into the next room. He roamed the Great Lakes area rescuing pets locked in cars, and letting homeowners (and the occasional smooth-talking burglar) into homes.

  6. I missed Doorman in my comics reading, but the name reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s heroine, Door, in Neverwhere, who has a similar gift.

    “Whoops – didn’t mean to imply that you were anti-academia, or anti-Mendelsohn!”

    Never thought you mean to suggest any such thing, so no worries. As for an aversion to academic takes on the genre, when I was growing up there were no academic takes on SF/F, comics, or anything similar. The fantastic of any kind was dismissed as “kid stuff” unworthy of serious study. Fans now should be delighted that our genre and our media (especially comics) are recognized as literature by scholars and by all but the most narrowminded critics. I’ve even met an academic whose specialization is fandom itself.


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