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374 pages, Hardcover
First published September 10, 2019
When one enters a door, one must be brave enough to see the other side.
My long years of research have taught me that all stories, even the meanest folktales, matter. They are artifacts and palimpsests, riddles and histories. They are the red threads that we may follow out of the labyrinth. It is my hope that this story is your thread, and at the end of it you find a door.
Books can smell of cheap thrills or painstaking scholarship, of literary weight or unsolved mysteries.And then one day January makes the mistake of mentioning Doors to Mr. Locke …
This one smelled unlike any book I’d ever held. Cinnamon and coal smoke, catacombs and loam. Damp seaside evenings and sweat-slick noontimes beneath palm fronds. It smelled as if it had been in the mail for longer than any one parcel could be, circling the world for years and accumulating layers of smells like a tramp wearing too many clothes.
It smelled like adventure itself had been harvested in the wild, distilled to a fine wine, and splashed across each page.
The will to be polite, to maintain civility and normalcy, is fearfully strong. I wonder sometimes how much evil is permitted to run unchecked simply because it would be rude to interrupt it.The entire book is an encouragement to take action. If I have any complaint at all, it’s that sometimes the narrator is overtly preachy where I would have preferred a more subtle approach (footnote 6, I’m looking at you). But the overall message, to have the courage to do what needs to be done, and to “run through every open Door and tell stories when you return,” is an overwhelmingly positive one.
“How fitting, that the most terrifying time in my life should require me to do what I do best: escape into a book.”
“He consumed books as if they were as necessary to his health as bread and water, but they were rarely the books he had been assigned.”
“Books can smell of cheap thrills or painstaking scholarship, of literary weight or unsolved mysteries. This one smelled unlike any book I’d ever held… It smelled like adventure itself had been harvested in the wild, distilled to a fine wine, and splashed across each page.”
“It’s a profoundly strange feeling, to stumble across someone whose desires are shaped so closely to your own, like reaching toward your reflection in a mirror and finding warm flesh under your fingertips. If you should ever be lucky enough to find that magical, fearful symmetry, I hope you’re brave enough to grab it with both hands and not let go.”
“Words and their meanings have weight the world of matter, shaping and reshaping realities through a most ancient alchemy. Even my own writings—so damnably powerless—may have just enough power to reach the right person and tell the right truth, and change the nature of things.”
“Let that be a lesson to you: if you are too good and too quiet for too long, it will cost you. It will always cost, in the end.”
In the summer of 1901, at the age of seven, January Scaller found a Door. You know the kind of door–they lead to Faerie, to Valhalla, to Atlantis, to all the places never found on a map.
“You see, doors are many things: fissures and cracks, ways between, mysteries and borders. But more than anything else, doors are change. When things slip through them, no matter how small or brief, change trails them like porpoises following a ship’s wake.”This is a story about the desire for unknown, the longing for change. It is a story of the dangers of complacency, blind obedience, unquestioning submission to those who proclaim they are the strong ones. This is a story of the need to take action, to rise above what has been determined for you and do what you have to do regardless of the obstacles in your path. It is a story of growing up while holding on to curiosity and adventure which do not need to give way to propriety and stuffiness. It’s a story of family and abandonment. It is a story of how it feels to be the “other”, “an in-between sort of thing.”
“If one follows the stories, one will nearly always find a doorway buried at their roots.”There are doors in the world — or Doors, really — that appear in the places where boundaries between worlds are thin and that can take you through to places that are different and strange. They allow for things unusual and new to flow between worlds, changing status quo, bringing fresh beginning with them.
“Worlds were never meant to be prisons, locked and suffocating and safe. Worlds were supposed to be great rambling houses with all the windows thrown open and the wind and summer rain rushing through them, with magic passages in their closets and secret treasure chests in their attics. […]
I was so very tired of locked doors.”
“There was no room, it turned out, for little girls who wandered off the edge of the map and told the truth about the mad, impossible things they found there.”Then, at the age of seventeen, January runs afoul of those in power who view her either as a nuisance or an irritation to be swatted away. Those who look at her and see a weak colored girl of no consequence — unless she has something that they want. And January, sheltered and naive, raised to be quiet and pliable and proper, has a rude and abrupt awakening.
“The truth is that the powerful come for the weak, whenever and wherever they like. Always have, always will.”
“The will to be polite, to maintain civility and normalcy, is fearfully strong. I wonder sometimes how much evil is permitted to run unchecked simply because it would be rude to interrupt it.”
“I hope you will find the cracks in the world and wedge them wider, so the light of other suns shines through; I hope you will keep the world unruly, messy, full of strange magics; I hope you will run through every open Door and tell stories when you return.”4.5
“Listen, not every story is made for telling. Sometimes just by telling a story you’re stealing it, stealing a little of the mystery away from it.”
“If we address stories as archeological sites, and dust through their layers with meticulous care, we find at some level there is always a doorway. A dividing point between here and there, mundane and magical. It is at the moment when the doors open, when things flow between worlds, that stories happen.”
“You see, doors are many things: fissures and cracks, ways between, mysteries and borders. But more than anything else, doors are change.”
“I escaped outdoors (see how that word slips into even the most mundane of sentences? Sometimes I feel there are doors lurking in the creases of every sentence, with periods for knobs and verbs for hinges).”
“At this point, you’re thinking that this story isn’t really about Doors, but about those more private, altogether more miraculous doors that can open between two hearts. Perhaps it is in the end—I happen to believe that every story is a love story if you catch it at the right moment, slantwise in the light of dusk—but it wasn’t then.”
“If you are wondering why other worlds seem so brimful of magic compared to your own dreary Earth, consider how magical this world seems from another perspective.”
“Worlds are too complex, too beautifully fractured to be named.”
“Doors, he told her, are change, and change is a dangerous necessity. Doors are revolutions and upheavals, uncertainties and mysteries, axis points around which entire worlds can be turned. They are the beginnings and ending of every true story, the passages between that lead to adventures and madness and—here he smiled—even love. Without doors the world’s would grow stagnant, calcified, storyless.”
Worlds were never meant to be prisons, locked and suffocating and safe. Worlds were supposed to be great rambling houses with all the windows thrown open and the wind and summer rain rushing through them, with magic passages in their closets and secret treasure chests in their attics.”
“There are ten thousand stories about ten thousand Doors, and we know them as well as we know our names. They lead to Faerie, Valhalla, Atlantis, and Lemuria, Heaven and Hell, to all the directions a compass would never take you, to elsewhere.”Passageways to other worlds is a popular trope in fantasy stories and I appreciated that Alix Harrow paid homage to many fantasy tales by explicitly referencing those like Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, Jungle Book and Oz. The Doors are not only portals for travellers but often leak items such as magic mirrors, lamps and coins – all very familiar. These references are dropped with perfect placement and do not detract from the focus or momentum of the story but enthuse nerds like me spotting the links.
“They are the red threads that we may follow out of the labyrinth. It is my hope that this story is your thread, and at the end of it you find a door.”A book can open our minds and elicit actions, which is truly the case in this story and gradually the link between the two narrative threads becomes apparent. Of major concern is a sinister and deadly force on their heels that is intent on closing Doors permanently. This is a move to maintain power, in and between worlds, as all opportunities cause change, and some will kill for change to be thwarted, and the status quo to remain.