My parents orchestrated Christmas Eve and the following morning with skill, making it a time of magic and expectation even though the gifts beneath the gifts beneath the tree were saturated with love rather than money. More often that not, one or more of the carefully wrapped packages beneath the spruce tree contained a book.
More often than not, each book was inscribed with my name, the date, and the name of the person who found the book and thought I might like the story. Pirates, space ships, wild animals and detectives waited between the covers for me to turn the page and enter an alternate universe. I didn’t see stories as alternate universes at the time, but now when I think of books, I smile at the concept of being in two places at one time.
There I was following the Hardy Boys in their latest attempt to help their police detective father crack a dangerous case AND there I was sitting in a comfortable chair in the living room next to a lamp. According to reports, I often didn’t respond when my parents called me to dinner when I was more there than here within the pages of a book like The Twisted Claw.
Portals, Portkeys and Magic Carpets
Caroline Gordon saw books as magic carpets. Ever fascinated with portals, I see books as doorways to faraway lands like the famous wardrobe in C. S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia. In today’s Harry Potter series terms, readers might well see a book as a portkey that whisks them away the minute they touch it.
While looking at the Amazon page for Mark Helprin’s upcoming novel In Sun Light and Shadow, I found the novel’s stunning 489-word prologue included there as part of the book’s description. The constraints of fair use don’t allow me to cut and paste the entire prologue into this blog as a shining example of an author’s invitation to his readers asking them to step through the door, touch the portkey or settle themselves onto a flying carpet. But, here’s a taste. . .
Helprin’s prologue begins with the line: If you were a spirit, and could fly and alight as you wished, and time did not bind you, and patience and love were all you knew, then you might rise to enter an open window high above the park, in the New York of almost a lifetime ago, early in November of 1947.
The prologue goes on to describe the view from that window, and then the room itself: full bookshelves, the Manet seascape above the fireplace, a telephone, a desk drawer containing a loaded pistol, and a “bracelet waiting for a wrist.” Then the prologue concludes with: And if you were a spirit, and time did not bind you, and patience and love were all you knew, then there you would wait for someone to return, and the story to unfold.
Even though I was, from the viewpoint of my three cats who were hovering around the den door waiting to be fed, sitting here at my desk, I had in fact stepped through a portal to an apartment in New York 65 years ago. I tell you this: I wasn’t ready to return when Katy, our large calico, rubbed against my leg with a no-nonsense purr because I was thoroughly enchanted by the magic between the covers.
Even though a small percentage of the books I read each year come into my hands as gifts, I approach every book with an interesting premise and a cover splashed with promises as a gift. Years ago, I watched a TV western called “Have Gun, Will Travel.” Today, I gravitate more toward Have Book, Will Travel. Each book is an invitation to adventure, lives hanging in the balance, twisted claws lurking in the dark, castles set high above green valleys, and frightened travelers walking down roads in sunlight and in shadow.
Books cast spells and carry us away and while we are gone, we are changed, writ larger by the experiences now living within our consciousness, and ready to see the word of here with the visions we had while we were there.