In my novel The Girl Giant, the main character Ruth loves her rubber boots because they take her through puddles to the shores of a distant land, where trees talk, and flowers grow taller than she does. It’s a make-believe place – an escape from the hardships of being an outcast. I’ve been thinking about the many imaginary worlds of children’s literature, and what an adventure it would be to travel to them.
In Roald Dahl’s The BFG, Dream Country is a flat, treeless, colourless land of “swirling mists and ghostly vapours.” Here, the Big Friendly Giant collects dreams with a butterfly net, bottles them, and doles them out to sleeping children. From golden phizzwizards to trogglehumpers, “This is where all dreams is beginning.”
In JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, Neverland is two stars to the right and straight on til morning. “Of all the delectable islands the Neverland is the snuggest and most compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed.”
In Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, the Other World is just through the drawing room door: an identical flat right next door to Coraline’s, with an “Other Mother” and an “Other Father” who have button eyes and evil intentions.
In Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Wonderland is “down, down, down,” by way of a rabbit hole, and easier to get into than out of. The Cheshire Cat grins and tells Alice, “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad…. You must be, or you wouldn’t have come here.”
In JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the Wizarding World exists right alongside the Muggle World, with a complex transportation system: you can catch the Hogwarts Express by penetrating a brick wall on platform 9 ¾, but there’s also the Knight Bus, the Floo network, and apparition – plus handy tools like the Marauder’s Map and the Invisibility Cloak that make traveling all the more wizardly.
In Frank L Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Emerald City is at the end of the yellow brick road, in the centre of Oz. “I thought,” the wizard confesses, “as the country was so green and beautiful, I would call it the Emerald City, and to make the name fit better I put green spectacles on all the people, so that everything they saw was green.”
In CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Narnia is covered with snow when Lucy first reaches it from the wardrobe, because the White Witch has got the land “under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas.” (Remember you can also get to Narnia through the worn brown tile in N’s room.)
In PL Travers’ Mary Poppins, Fairyland is inside one of Bert’s pavement pictures, and he and Mary Poppins simply step in. “How green it was there, and how quiet, and what soft crisp grass under their feet!” But if Cinderella wasn’t there, it couldn’t have been Fairyland, the children later tell Mary. “Don’t you know?” Mary sniffs, “that everybody’s got a Fairyland of their own?”
In Dr Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who, Whoville is a floating dust speck planet teeming with minuscule Whos discovered by Horton the Elephant, the only one who can hear the creatures’ tiny voices. “I know,” called the voice, “I’m too small to be seen. But I’m mayor of a town that is friendly and clean. Our buildings, to you, would seem terribly small, but to us, who aren’t big, they are wonderfully tall.”
Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, is reachable by private boat, through night and day, in and out of weeks, and over a year. A boy once wrote to Sendak to ask: “How much does it cost to get to where the wild things are? If it is not expensive, my sister and I would like to spend the summer there.”
Those are just some … anyone know of others to add to the list?