“I’m off to Narnia!” With my own audacious words echoing in my ears, I huddled under a shelf in the bathroom closet, knees tucked under my chin, eyes clamped shut so I wouldn’t see the strip of yellow light under the door. It was so clearly artificial, so clearly from this world of electricity and cars and witless beasts and not the world of waking trees and singing streams and animals that could talk, the world I longed to visit, that I was sure one glimpse would shatter the magic and ruin my chances of traveling.
Those chances were slim enough, given my unconventional use of a closet in place of a wardrobe. I could admit that without losing hope. After all, friends of Narnia had traveled by less customary means before, and magic thrives in small, neglected, oft-forgotten places. Compared to rings, pools, and picture frames, surely a closet was not beyond the bounds of the already impossible?
So I clung to hope as Susan and Lucy clung to Aslan’s mane on their wild ride after the long night at the Stone Table, and I refused to let go.
Only … how long would I have to wait?
Between counting my breaths and the droplets of sweat trickling down my neck, five minutes passed. Then ten. Then twenty. I should look. No, I should wait. Maybe ten more whispered wishes would do the trick. Maybe the hum of my heart pulsing Narnia, Narnia, Narnia with each beat would echo across the worlds and carry me with it on the stream of a song.
I cracked one eye … and saw the raw slash of yellow under the door.
Heart sinking, I fumbled the latch open and fell out onto the cool tile floor. Over the pages of her book, my sister’s expression had already settled into disappointment. She did not ask if it had worked. She knew as well as I that if it had I would have come out again the moment I entered, grinning with excitement and brimming with adventurous tales.
I slumped against the wall. “Your turn.”
She tossed me the book and crawled into the closet. The latch clicked shut. The seconds tripped past. And I knew the portal had not opened for her either. Still, I hoped. And still, I waited, cracking open the book and letting the story swallow me to pass the time.
It was The Silver Chair, one of my favorites. After all, Jill and Eustace had stumbled across the strangest of all the portals: a locked door mysteriously unlocked, leading unexpectedly to a place it had never led before.
I lowered the book. Maybe … I could try the gate to our backyard instead!
Once sparked, the hope that kept me searching never died. Unanswered wishes dampened it but could not destroy it. Still, it was years before I realized that the portal to Narnia would not be found through my closet, the backyard gate, or even the picture of a ship hanging on my wall. (Although, I liked to think that it was quite a Narnian ship.)
The portal had been on my shelf all along. A portal fashioned from ink and glue, and like the wardrobe itself, from the discarded hearts of trees. A portal to a world that could fit in your hand even though it was large enough to envelop you whole. One portal among the many standing in rows on my bookcase, stacked in a precarious mountain range on my desk, and stored lovingly within reach on my bedside table.
Books, I realized are portals. Readers are world-walkers.
And what are writers, if not portal keepers? Gifted with imaginations from the Author of all, heartstrings attuned to words that are somehow paint and clay and fire all at once, fueled by the spark of creativity and the desire to open doorways so others might pass through into adventures, into worlds, into stories that sing of truth.
So that they might be drawn by the hope that search awakens to the only firm anchor for that hope: the one who spoke to His followers in stories, who is known to us as the Word.
As a writer, I grasp my pen and splash ink across the page, watching as worlds take shape and characters form, and I imagine that somewhere, someday, there may be a child dreaming of diving through the portal that it opens.
And as a lover of stories, I have never wearied of searching for portals myself, whether in the pages of books or in this beautiful world where the Author of all has placed me. Nowadays, that search rarely involves crouching under a shelf in my closet or repeatedly opening and shutting the backyard gate. (Though I cannot say what might happen if I ever stumbled across an honest-to-goodness wardrobe.) But I still hold my breath in anticipation as I wander new paths through the woods, and as I round unexpected bends, I close my eyes and hum the old walking song from The Return of the King to myself.
“Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate
And though I oft have passed them by
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.”