Most people with at least a passing interest in literature or science
fiction will have heard of H.G. Wells’ better-known works such as The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds (does anyone remember the prog-rock album inspired by it?). While I enjoyed both, the Wells story that really “got” me was the short story, The Door in the Wall.
(The “Door in the Wall” link leads to the full text of the short story. Go ahead and look — it’s a pretty quick read.)
In The Door in the Wall, Lionel Wallace is an Englishman of high standing — “A Cabinet Minister, the
responsible head of that most vital of all departments”, as he describes himself. Redmond, the narrator, describes Wallace:
successes. He left me behind him long ago; he soared up over my
head, and cut a figure in the world that I couldn’t cut–anyhow.
He was still a year short of forty, and they say now that he would
have been in office and very probably in the new Cabinet if he had
lived. At school he always beat me without effort–as it were by
nature. We were at school together at Saint Athelstan’s College in
West Kensington for almost all our school time. He came into the
school as my co-equal, but he left far above me, in a blaze of
scholarships and brilliant performance.
In spite of all this, Wallace is not a happy man. He is a haunted man, consumed with regret.
When he was a child, he wandered away from home and got lost in West
Kensington, where he chanced upon a green door set into a white wall.
He felt strangely compelled to pass through the door, which led him to
a magical garden filled with friendly panthers, happy playmates and
wonderful games. After playing for some time, he was appraoched by a
woman who showed him an unusual book:
her, ready to look at her book as she opened it upon her knee. The
pages fell open. She pointed, and I looked, marvelling, for in the
living pages of that book I saw myself; it was a story about
myself, and in it were all the things that had happened to me since
ever I was born . . . .”
“It was wonderful to me, because the pages of that book were
not pictures, you understand, but realities.”
The page immediately after the one that showed him wondering whether
to go through the green door did not show him playing in the garden.
Instead, it transported him back to the grey streets of West Kensington.
He tells Redmond that he has seen the door a number of times
throughout his life, but never went through it again. Each time he had
seen the door, he had some kind of pressing appointment: school, a
lady, an important vote in parliament. Each time, to his eternal
regret, he chose ignore the door. After telling his story to Redmond,
he vowed that the next time he saw the door, he would not ignore it.
He is found dead in a tubeway construction site the day after he saw
Redmond. He had apparently gone through a door set in a wall
surrounding the site and plunged into the excavation to his death.
Was the door and the garden just the product of a bright but stifled
child’s imagination, or did Wallace actually discover some kind of
gateway to another world? I don’t think it matters. Regardless of
whether it was a magical portal or ordinary door, if he had tried the
door at least once after his
first encounter, he wouldn’t have lived a life of hollow victories, of
“if only” and “what could have been”, and he might not have fallen to
his death as a result of desperation.
Do you keep walking past your door in the wall?