…The last red leaf is whirl’d away,/The rooks are blown about the skies;”
In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 15
BY ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON
From: Landmarks (2015), by Robert Macfarlane:
What we bloodlessly call ‘place’ is to young children a wild compound of dream, spell and substance: place is somewhere they are always in, never on.
The best children’s literature understands this different order of affordance. This is why so many of the greatest children’s stories involve thresholds, place-warps, time-slips and doorways: access points that lead to experience and danger, in defiance of standard geometries, and often beyond the guardianship of adults. Virginia Woolf once observed that the most difficult task for a novelist was getting a character out of one room and into another. Children’s literature feels no such awkwardness: characters can step out of one room and find themselves – without explanation – in a different epoch, continent or universe. Thus the wardrobe that opens into Narnia, or the flickering border through which Will passes in Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife (1997) to reach the shadowlands. Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising (1973), the eeriest novel I know, begins in a Buckinghamshire village on Midwinter Eve, four days short of Christmas and one short of the birthday of a boy named Will Stanton. Far to the north a blizzard is brewing, and things are not as they ‘normally’ are in the land around. Animals are restless, and rooks clatter from the treetops to swirl blackly above the fields. The blizzard strikes in the evening…
…“Every time I read the *Guide, I am amazed again. For to open it is to see again through young eyes, and to hear Childish spoken. The Guide offers a map to the park’s doorways and portals, but also to how all landscapes might be seen childishly, such that a wood – or a field, or a garden, or a house – can ‘hold infinite possibilities in a single unfolding place’, and to enter a place is – as one of the children put it – to go looking ‘for a secret tree, and an invisible door’.
Shortly after first reading the Guide, I found myself recalling the story of the T’ang Dynasty artist Wu Tao-Tzu, who is said one day to have gathered his friends to show them his most recent painting. The friends huddled round it in admiration: it was a vertical scroll painting of a mountainous landscape with a footpath that led along the bank of a stream, and then through a grove of trees to a small cottage or hut.
But when the friends turned to congratulate Wu Tao-Tzu, they realised he had vanished. Then they saw that he had stepped into the landscape of the painting, and was walking along the path and through the grove. He reached the entrance to the hut, and on its threshold he paused, turned, smiled, and then passed through the narrow doorway.”
*Fantastical Guide for the Wildly Curious: Ways into Hinchingbrooke Country Park (2013), by Deb Wilenski and Caroline Wendling