“What about Oculus?” wonders the Narrator. “My nephews acquired an Oculus as a ‘family gift’ from Santa this past Christmas,” he explains. VR is here: available for those who can afford it. Off-worlding, world building: that’s what rich people do, rapturing themselves away like rocket scientists. “‘When in Rome…,’” mutters the Narrator, with scare quotes and a shrug.
“I could smoke weed and try it, setting out as Uncle Matt on a new adventure. A portal fantasy inspired by Fraggle Rock.”
Indeed, he could, notes the Author — but does he?
‘Tis a story as much about perception’s limits as about its doors. Writing is the site where an ongoing bodying forth occurs: where forms and objects arrive into the realms of the audible and the visible.
Let imagination have a crack at it, thinks the Narrator. Let us immerse ourselves in fantasies. Let us adopt together the practice of reading works of fantastic literature and watching works of fantastic cinema.
Our approach will be by way of “portal fantasies”: works that involve acts of portage, passage, portation, as through a door or gate connecting previously distinct worlds. The OED defines a portal as “A door, gate, doorway or gateway, of stately or elaborate construction.” The term enters English by way of French and Latin with the Pearl Poet’s use of it in the late-fourteenth century. Henry Lovelich uses it soon thereafter in a Middle-English metrical version of a French romance about the Arthurian wizard Merlin. And Milton uses the term in a remarkable passage in Paradise Lost:
Op’n, ye everlasting Gates, they sung,
Op’n, ye Heav’ns, your living dores; let in
The great Creator from his work returnd
Magnificent, his Six Days work, a World;
Op’n, and henceforth oft; for God will deigne
To visit oft the dwellings of just Men
Delighted, and with frequent intercourse
Thither will send his winged Messengers
On errands of supernal Grace. So sung
The glorious Train ascending: He through Heav’n,
That op’nd wide her blazing Portals, led
To Gods Eternal house direct the way,
A broad and ample rode, whose dust is Gold
And pavement Starrs, as Starrs to thee appear,
Seen in the Galaxie, that Milkie way
Which nightly as a circling Zone thou seest
Pouderd with Starrs.
Note how Heaven’s gates are “blazing,” as is the world in the first of our readings this semester, Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World. Cavendish and Milton were contemporaries. Cavendish published The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World in 1666. Paradise Lost appeared one year later.