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Journey to the Land of Books? Rain Check!

“If you could travel to any fictional book world, where would you go and what would you do there?” I have thought a lot about the Land of Books, and used to dream about jumping into one, like Mary Poppins and Bert with the sidewalk chalk paintings.

How cool would it be – just imagine – being friends with Nancy Drew, or the Hardy Boys, or Jupiter Jones and his Three Investigators and helping them solve a case!

Meeting Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, one of my all-time favorite books, and putting down her snotball sister, Elizabeth.

Watching D’Artagnan insult Athos, Porthos, and Aramis and make appointments with each for a duel to avenge his honor in The Three Musketeers.

Who wouldn’t want to know Heidi? If I could be there at Herr Sesemann’s house in Frankfurt, where Heidi is taken to be a companion for Clara, I would stand up to the awful Fraulein Rottenmeier. Rottinhell would be a better name.

I would help Mr. Rochester get some legal counseling, so he could divorce his nutso wife and marry Jane Eyre, and not have to go through the terrible fire.

Speaking of fires, I would tell the second Mrs. De Winter – give that poor woman a first name! – about the psycho Mrs. Danvers and spill the beans about his huge bitch of a first wife, Rebecca. I’m a big fan of open communication.

I would bask in the brilliant engineering glory of Cyrus Smith on Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island. Cyrus was so smart, he smelted iron out of the land, and made all kinds of tools and a great stone home, with some help from an old friend from another Jules Verne book.  I don’t want to spoil it.  The stuff he crafted was so sophisticated, he made Robinsin Crusoe look like a putz. Hey, I made a pot out of clay! Big deal, Crusoe: Cyrus made a telegraph!

I would be friends with Jane from Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen, whose humor and spunk I just loved. Speaking of spunk, Caddie Woodlawn! Enough said. And anything by Rebecca Caudill or Jean Fritz.

But really go into the Land of Books? This is literally, pardon the pun, a tough question.   How real are we talking about here? Could I just be an observer, like the UN people who monitor elections, or the doctors who do telemedicine in prisons – seeing hardened criminals from the comfort of their home computer?   Could I have an Avatar do it for me? Or would I actually get swept up into the fictional world and maybe have unpleasant things happen?

For example: A Tale of Two Cities. I could get guillotined!

Pride and Prejudice: That society was brutal! I wouldn’t have the right clothes, much less suitable connections. Except for playing the piano, I would strike out on most of Mr. Darcy’s list of talents an accomplished lady should have. Also, I am so nearsighted, they probably didn’t even have the technology back then to make the kind of high-powered spectacles I would need, and if they did, it would be the early 1800s equivalent of Coke bottles.

Little House on the Prairie: You know I love the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. So maybe I could do this for a brief period, assuming the technical issue with the glasses could be worked out. But the parents worked like dogs all day long. Also, they bathed once a week, maybe, and did not change the bath water in between, so guess where the new person would be in the bathtub lineup? Gross.

And then there are some other considerations, which are not trivial:

Sudafed. Could I bring some? They’re very small pills.

Toilet paper. I’m flexible here. If I couldn’t bring my Charmin Sensitive with aloe, I would be willing to bring my Charmin Fresh Mates wipes for delicate situations. If we’re in an outhouse situation, the Sears catalog is not going to cut it. Much less a corn cob. Ouch, just thinking about it…

Also: OUTHOUSES HAVE SPIDERS!

But what if we were in a medieval setting, as in some wonderful books: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Red Keep, Catherine, Called Birdy, the Midwife’s Apprentice, any of your Robin Hood or King Arthur books, pretty much all of Shakespeare, including Julius Caesar (let’s face it, that was not ancient Rome – they had a clock!).

Yes, nitpickers, the Bard was more Renaissance/Elizabethan than Medieval, but speaking of nitpicking, even royalty had fleas and lice! Sewage ran through the streets! The Thames was disgusting, except when it froze solid in the winter and people cooked boars right on the ice. People emptied chamber pots onto the street below without so much as a courtesy “Look out below!”

Teeth were rotten. THERE WAS NO SPANDEX!  No Poopourri!

What about The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio, a series of Chaucer-like tales, many of which are quite funny? They were written to take people’s minds off THE BLACK DEATH. Yes, the bubonic plague, which killed 20 million people in the 14th century.  No, thanks!

I could go back to Roman-occupied Britain, except for the wacko Druid/Caledonian tribe that would try to kill me in Rosemary Sutcliff’s gripper, The Eagle of the Ninth.

Gone With the Wind? The South was devastated after the Civil War. People starved for years. The slaves were freed after the war, but the Klan was there, and so were Carpetbaggers. And, of course, the lack of hygiene products discussed above.

All of Zane Gray. I would be at an enormous disadvantage, because unlike most of his female heroines, I do not have enormous gray/blue/green eyes with lustrous lashes, although I think my mascara does a fine job, and again, there is the issue with my glasses. Also, after hours in the saddle, I would just get off and moan incoherently, rather than be brave and shoot thievin’ lowlife rustlers.

I have barely tapped the surface here. Don’t even get me started on the Grimm Fairy Tales, which truly live up to the authors’ names. Even the Bible: what if I came in as a Hittite, or an Egyptian when Moses and the Pharaoh were having that large disagreement and God was unleashing the plagues?

The problem is, the Land of Books is not safe. Now, you might say, and I would agree, that books aren’t supposed to be safe. They’re supposed to make you think, and challenge your ideas, and inspire your creativity. Yeah, sure. But it’s one thing to be snug in your bed or a comfy chair or a hammock or an airplane or the backseat of a car on a long road trip, and read about exciting and maybe scary things. It’s another to think about actually being there. Note to self: Don’t put any Stephen King books on your bucket list of literary places to visit. Or Edgar Allan Poe, although it would be cool to meet Poe’s August “Purloined Letter” Dupin, the world’s first literary detective. And Sherlock Holmes, although actually I think I like Dr. Watson better.

I love Agatha Christie, and Ngaio Marsh, and Marjorie Cunningham, and Dashiell Hammett. But I don’t want to be poisoned, shot, or stabbed. Also, everybody smoked back then. I’d be coughing and my hair and clothes would constantly smell like cigarettes.

Maybe the safest way to go would be an illustrated book, like Where the Wild Things Are. At least there’s a guaranteed way off the island: Max’s private boat. It might take time, over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day, but at least I could get back to the starting point, Max’s bedroom, where there might be a hot supper waiting for me.

© Janet Farrar Worthington

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