Here is a post I wrote about a year or so ago for a different blog, but it was on my mind today so I figured I’d repost it.
I’ve told people this before. But I’ll say again and I’ll put it here in writing so that it’ll live on after me. If I manage to find a secret door to someplace fantastic or happen to walk into 1920’s Paris randomly after midnight, I won’t be coming back. I know somewhere it says that the true mark of the hero’s journey is that he/they return to tell people about it and the wisdom that they learned…and that not doing so is sometimes seen as cowardice or a failed hero etc…
I’m okay with that actually.
It always bothered me when people got to be kings and queens and then tripped over something and got shoved back home, back to the bodies they’d had at the beginning of the story before their Adventures. Because that just wasn’t fair at all. They lived those years, they earned those wrinkles and scars and it was in essence being stolen from them in the worst kind of way. Where they retained the minds and the memories, but not the physical trappings that went with those changes. Because it’s cheating and it’s not right. Narnia is the biggest example of this and probably one of the most used examples, I’d wager, because of Susan.
Susan is seen as falling away from the elite number of Earthbound Narnians. That she tells them it’s all in their heads and the silly fantasies and games that they used to play as children etc. This is seen as a Bad Thing and not to emulated and as a little kid, I couldn’t wrap my brain around why she would do that. It wasn’t until I got older that I started to understand it more and more. The cruelest thing in the world is to have your heart’s desire and then have it taken away and you never being able to get it back. Queen Susan the Gentle was the most beautiful Daughter of Eve in all of Narnia and a good many of the surrounding lands. To have grown up there with that kind of stature and influence and then be shoved straight back into your preteen/teen body that you’d started in back in the place you’d been shoved because you couldn’t stay with your parents because there was a war and London was constantly being bombed. To have healed from a lot of that and then get rudely shoved back, and yet not returned to the same exact mindset. The Pevensies retained all their memories of their time in Narnia. To go from being a woman grown and in control and used to having that power and influence to the awkward preteen/teen years where you are no one special and no one has to give you the time of day, much less anything more than that.
It’s one hell of an adjustment.
Then it gets worse. They’re able to go back. Except it’s not the same Narnia as the one they left. It hasn’t been that long in Earth time but it’s been hundreds of years in Narnia. The time differential there is extreme. Still. They’re able to go back and it’s glorious until it isn’t. Until they go through all the trials and troubles of this new adventure and then the worst news of all happens. This will be the last time Susan and Peter can come to Narnia and they’re not allowed to stay behind and just not leave.
Again she has to go back. Again she has to adjust. There’s a whole mess of gender issues here with these adjustments, because where being older than your years, clever, ambitious, and forthright is becoming in men, the same cannot be said of girls. Peter and Edward will go farther than their peers might because of some of this. Any of those qualities in women are frowned upon. Susan held the title of Gentle and beautiful, but those hands were not milk-soft. She had archer’s hands and was never one to suffer fools gladly.
She had a much much harder climb back to “normal” than her siblings did. Lucy had some of it but she was younger and flights of fantasy are acceptable in younger girls and not as acceptable when you are approaching womanhood. There was an age gap there between the two female siblings that probably seemed like a huge gulf at times. Because context, as women know and know well, context is everything. So yes, the fact that “Susan fell away” is completely understandable once you see the context of the time she lived in, the stark realities of what was done to her, not once but twice, and you have some basic concept of trauma recovery.
Bear with me, there’s a reason why this came up.
So I finished Every Heart A Doorway. And it’s the sort of book that is amazing and grand and painful like glass shards in your heart. Where you are grateful for the bleeding wounds because it tells you you are still alive. Cause I’m 30 and I’ve been reading for 27 years and this is the first book where someone like me was prominently featured and they used our terms and our language and it was just nice to see that. But I’m also the kid who has never ever stopped opening every single wardrobe and linen closet and cupboard in the hopes of eventually finding a door to somewhere else. To this day, I still do that and that was a thing that made this book simultaneously grand and also like mirror shards in my heart.
This book has a prominent character who is asexual. Who uses that term specifically and it isn’t played for laughs or shock value. It’s there and it’s normalized. It’s not something to be fixed, Nancy’s not considered broken because she doesn’t want sex. Words cannot describe how much just that alone meant to me.
And then there’s the setting. A home, a therapy home for kids who fell through cupboards and wardrobes to wondrous, terrifying, amazing places and then came back to Earth. Got shoved back to Earth and just like Susan, either cannot go back at all or just haven’t found the door back yet. A home where it’s okay to be as you are, it’s okay to have feelings about your Adventure, a place where you won’t be called liar for telling your story, where you went, who you saw. It’s incredible and breathtaking and so bittersweet, like sampling good gourmet semi-dark chocolate where it takes you a long moment to sort through all the flavors blended into it.
This story is real in ways that a lot of books aren’t, it has a truth behind it and it doesn’t shirk away from difficult subjects. It calls to mind what Sherman Alexie said, about how the best kids’ books are written in blood. This book is something I wish I had had twenty years ago. Ten year old me would have benefited a lot from this book, maybe the years after wouldn’t have been quite so rocky and fraught, maybe it would have just been rocky and fraught in different ways. No way of knowing now. Unless you have a time machine, and really if you do, we have MUCH bigger issues to solve than my weird sort of traumatic upbringing. Having this now gives me a little balm, a little hope, relief that someone understands. This book is proof that someone else understands what it’s like.
As it comforts me in some ways, it makes me bleed in others. The line about the Door that was still waiting in the corner of a bedroom that would eventually fade away because its’ human had died…I had to stop there for a moment and remind myself that people need to breathe. And my roomie was a little startled at my “Oh no, it’s [x]” well before we ever find out who actually “dun” it.
Oh and Kade’s story shatters me because I hadn’t thought of it like that, that the Faeries might not want a prince when they’d snatched a princess. I am surprised that they didn’t murder him because Fae historically have very bad reactions to being “cheated” and this is the sort of thing that they would classify as that.
Weirdly, also the cocoa scene was harder on me than some of the others.
But I’d love to talk about this, hear what ya’ll who’ve read it have thought of it. Who you love and why? What was hard and why if you feel like sharing.