LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

The Gateway as a Trope

on March 14, 2013 1:58pm

In much of Children’s fiction, the Child is transported to a fantastic land by means of a gateway of some kind.  C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” possesses one of the most literal and iconic of these gateways: the wardrobe.  narnia-wardrobe_1112147726

The rest of the series also possesses such portals or gateways:  a magic ring in “The Magician’s Nephew,” and a portrait in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”   C.S. Lewis was not the first to use this mechanism, though.

In L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz,” the twister transports Dorothy from Kansas to Munchkinland.



Peter Pan and Wendy fly to the second star to the right.  Alice gets to Wonderland through means of the rabbit hole, and even in “The Water Babies,” Tom is transported when he falls in the river.

In modern times, the gateway has become a ubiquitous means of transporting the protagonist into a fantastic world, and has even departed the realm of Children’s Literature.  A machine turns a paraplegic into a nine foot tall blue man with a hair tail.  A girl travels through a tree in the middle of a labyrinth in Spain.  An entire team travels through an alien portal to various other worlds.  A man is transported by a church bell to 1920’s Paris.  Neo takes the red pill.

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Why has the portal to another world become so ubiquitous?  Perhaps it is because it is a simple way to show a distinct change between the real world and the fantastic one.  But perhaps it is because the  portal allows for the suspension of disbelief–once you go through the portal, anything can happen.


2 responses to “The Gateway as a Trope

  1. jklager says:

    I agree that there are many uses of “portals” within children’s literature. In other instances we see Alice going through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole when she goes on her adventures. We also see it constantly throughout the Harry Potter books. There is Platform 9 3/4 which takes the young witches and wizards from the normal area of London into the magical King Cross Station which allows them to board the train and take them to Hogwarts. I take this to be something akin to what happens when children read these stories. Books are the portals, which allow people to enter into another world and it is almost fitting that within these stories the characters use a physical gateway into the realm of the fantastic. I definitely think that a reason why authors have gateways into these fantasy worlds is to show the large differences between real life and the magical. By having something physical divide these worlds shows the stark contrasts and also helps create somewhat of believability. It is easy to fall into the imaginative world of fantasy when it is not set in your backyard but rather in a different world than that we are aware of. I think this tool that authors typically employ is an excellent concept for children’s literature. I agree that once the reader and character have entered through the “door” from reality into fantasy they are prepared for anything to happen.

  2. Firstly, allow me to say that I very much enjoyed your piece as I believe the idea of “the portal” serves as a vital tool for not only Children’s Literature, but for the literary canon in general. Literature serves many purposes, but at its very core it can be defined by a singular term: propaganda. While this term may have a negative connotation, propaganda in the literary sense is simply the imparting of beliefs, values, or arguments upon an audience. Almost every children’s novel imparts a type of moralistic value upon the children who gaze through the novel’s pages, because this is the point in their lives where they are most impressionable. However, often times literature deals with complex, intangible characteristics which are difficult to articulate through the lens of reality. To combat this roadblock, author’s use “the portal” to whisk a child away from the reality he or she is accustomed to. By taking a child out of the realm of reality, the author is providing the child with a new landscape to be influenced by. And in this land of dreams, and fairies, and fantastic nonsense, the children are far more likely to accept new trains of thought. Alice In Wonderland serves as a perfect example of this. When entering Wonderland Alice falls from a height that she recognizes as being tall enough to kill her in the real world. Nonetheless, after learning the new physical laws of Wonderland, she no longer views height as deadly. This is similar to the way the portal suspends reality for a child, and in turn makes that child more susceptible to influence.

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