Portal Fantasies Galore
Have you read any portal fantasies lately? I have. One by an author who primarily writes detective fiction, and another by a writer who often has his characters walking through doorways into different lands—take his The Dark Tower series for instance.
A Fairy Tale about fairytales?
Recently, I read Stephen King’s novel Fairy Tale. A splendid book; I recommend it for fans of The King or fantasy stories in general. In this yarn, as usual, Mr. King masterfully builds suspense that keeps the reader flipping pages.
Like many of King’s stories, at least most I’ve read, Fairy Tale doesn’t kick off as a fantasy or horror or sci-fi or mash-up of all three. Instead, the reader is introduced to Charlie Reade, a run-of-the-mill high schooler, albeit one with above-average athletic gifts and a goodly interest in literature. He has a tragic and dark backstory, but he is still an affable and sympathetic character.
After Charlie’s love of a decrepit canine leads him to befriend the elderly neighborhood curmudgeon, the speculative fiction aspects of the book begin to emerge. This is about a quarter of the way through the book, give or take, and this is a doorstop of a tome at six hundred plus pages. It's a slow burn from there until Charlie finally sets foot in a fantasyland where fairytales and cosmic horrors live.
Once Charlie entered the magical land, Fairy Tale struck me as very much like a book I had read and truly enjoyed only a few months ago.
Lost your fairytales? Read this.
What book did Mr. King's tale remind me of, you ask? That would be The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. It is an utterly enchanting story about a young boy dealing with the untimely death of his mother. Charlie Reade’s backstory includes the death of his mother in an auto accident on an icy bridge. This is just the first of many parallels between the stories. Both boys have father issues that are ultimately resolved. Charlie’s problems with his father are part of his backstory, but cast a pall over thier relationship that isn't truly resolved until the novel’s conclusion. David, the extremely young and ultimately plucky protagonist, in The Book of Lost Things cannot accept his father remarrying and having a second child. Only in the story’s denouement is David’s anger toward his father finally put to rest.
The Book of Lost Things is another slow burner where the fantastical aspects of the tale only appear after the real-world tragedies and characters are thoroughly established. David befriends and battles numerous characters torn from the pages of ancient fairytales. Hands down, The Book of Lost Things is one of the best books I've read this year.
What’s the difference?
You're probably wondering what sets these novels apart from each other, right? Honestly, not much. At the core, these novels tell the same story of lads dealing with the trauma of loss and growing up, and only traveling to fantasy worlds lead to the maturity required to move on in life. If nothing else, these yarns prove the adage that there are no original stories, only the seven basic plots with new window dressing. This is not to say these novels don't have differences.
One aspect of Fairy Tale that sets it apart from The Book of Lost Things is the central role the dog Radar plays in the story. Without Radar there is no story because it's the love for this dog that brings Charlie and the neighborhood curmudgeon together. Ultimately, Charlie’s love for the canine drives him to enter the fantasyland in the first place.
While King’s book is firmly for an adult audience, Connolly’s will appeal to fans of young adult fare. The Book of Lost Things is an innocent tale with a tween protagonist. Also, the real-world backdrop is England during The Blitz, in stark contrast to King’s contemporary setting.
Portals are a time honored trope in fantasy novels. Narnia anyone? Heck, the Slipstream in my work, The Allison Lee Chronicles, is a magical passage. If you hear the honeyed call of magic gateways, you can't go wrong with Fairy Tale and The Book of Lost Things.