by Noemi Arellano-Summer
photography courtesy of Pexels
As a child, how often did you check behind closet doors, or along hiking trails or inside cellars, hunting for something you hadn’t seen before?
I know I did, especially on walking trails, looking for that skinny path that others had not seen, that lead to something fantastical. This is a common plot in children’s novels; it is called portal fantasy, to be specific, according to Best Fantasy Books. An obvious example is the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, when Lucy Pevensie opens a wardrobe and crawls through the back of it into Narnia. A darker version is found in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children novellas.
This series is being adapted to television by SyFy and Legendary Television. Joe Tracz, known for the Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief musical and the Netflix series A Series of Unfortunate Events, will serve as showrunner and adapt the first novella, Every Heart a Doorway.
Wayward Children concerns children who have traveled to other worlds where they fit, places that are home for them—but then they travel back again, to their original homes, only to find that they don’t belong there anymore. Either they are kicked out of the worlds they’ve traveled to, or need to ask their parents permission to stay forever, or they aren’t sure they want to stay until it’s too late; whatever the reason, they are sent back. Parents don’t know how to deal with their returned children who say they went on impossible adventures. So, they are enrolled in Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, where the motto is: No Solicitations, No Visitors, No Quests.
There are four novellas so far, with more to come. The first, Every Heart a Doorway, introduces Eleanor, her school, and the concept of different worlds, though the story itself is set on Earth. Nancy, who visited an underworld, has returned home because she was told to ‘be sure’ about staying in her world. We see the school through her eyes as she is introduced to it. This first novella is the clearest reversal of portal fantasy in the series: what happens to all these children who have come back? Eleanor, her deputy Lundy, and her nephew Kade have created a compass for the different worlds; the directions are Wickedness, Logic, Virtue, and Nonsense. Generally, Wickedness and Logic go together, as do Virtue and Nonsense. The second novella, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, gives us the backstory on Jack and Jill, two characters who were introduced in the first novella, as they grow up with neglectful parents and enter the Moors, a wild land full of strange science, from a staircase in an old trunk. Jack and Jill’s story is akin to a fairytale, though it is not happy in its beginning or ending. In the third novella, Beneath the Sugar Sky, Kade and his friends are forced to break Eleanor’s no quest rule, and travel through different worlds. Finally, the fourth novella, so far, In an Absent Dream, gives Lundy’s backstory as she travels to a Goblin Market, modeled after the Christina Rossetti poem of the same name.
In a way, all these stories are fairytales, though the prequels show that influence the most. The Wayward Children series can instead be considered the darker side of portal fantasy and traditional children’s literature. It wouldn’t be surprising if the television series took it in a darker direction. That’s understandable, though it would also fit the continuing trend of telling darker versions of familiar stories, as seen, for example, in FOX’s Gotham. Overall, hopefully this adaptation will do the story justice, while also being good storytelling in its own right.