Traveling through the forest I came upon a sign that read "CHILDREN'S LITERATURE" in huge red letters. It was either a warning or an invitation, and from the doorway over which it hung I gathered it was the former. There were no walls to speak of, but the other side of the doorframe was black like lost memories.
Having nowhere else to turn I walked through. On the other side was a hallway, and along it on both sides were rows of doors that were as colorful as the doors in an Irish coastal village. Each door had a sign over it. The hall stretched on seemingly forever, the far end not even a hope or a tiny speck of light or even a black spot. There was no end to the hallway.
I tried to leave, but there was no going back. So I began the long walk down the corridor, reading each sign over each door as I came to it. One door was painted like a rainbow and its sign read "The Works of Roald Dahl" in a cheery if weird script. The next was soft pink and labeled "The Works of Frances Hodgson Burnett." Further down was a door of red, black and green, with a sign that declared "The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson Are Housed Within."
There were many doors. Too many doors, in fact. Without even entering the rooms, there were too many doors. One door was painted a sickly green and labeled "The Works of R. L. Stine." Another was very small and crooked; its sign said simply "Twilight" in letters the color of nothing I ever want to see.
After a long time I came to a door that was a simple brown with a sign over it that said "The Newbery Medal Winners." I'd heard a lot about the Newbery books, especially in grade school, and had always been curious about them. Also, I was getting tired of reading signs, so I turned the knob and walked into a room of moderate size with one large bookshelf in the center.
It was filled with books (as you might imagine). Some I'd heard of, some I'd read, and some were unfamiliar. Many titles I expected to find weren't there, and some I was suprised to see on the shelf. There was a comfy chair and a lamp in the room, and beside it a table with black coffee in a pot and a coffee mug. I sat down and began reading the first book.
The title was The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon, a sort of humorous history of the whole world till the 20th century for kids. Parts of it were amusing, but there was a lot wrong with the book, including a number of historical errors that anyone could expose with access to a good encyclopedia (preferably not one with "wiki" in its name).
Next was The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting. This was a book I'd read many times before and loved, and reading it again was an enjoyable and nostalgic experience. After that I read The Dark Frigate by Charles Hawes, which was a pirate story with lots of swordfights and adventure. It was pretty good, but it wasn't Treasure Island.
I read and read. The black coffee proved very useful, sustaining me through exciting passages and boring parts alike. Much of what I read was surprisingly bland, like cookies with little sugar and no vanilla extract; some of it was just plain nasty, like soup made from melted ice cream and Worcestershire sauce; some (but less) was delicious, like pancakes or fried chicken.
By the time I'd read the last page of the last book in the shelf I was ready to be done (though the last book was very good and very funny). There had been a lot of good material, but there'd also been so many historical inaccuracies, so many flat characters, so many pointless stories, and so much blatant propaganda that I felt weak and unsure if I could make it back down the hallway outside.
Fortunately, the air in the corridor was cooler and fresher. I walked back the way I'd come (noticing for the first time an ugly door labeled "Derivative and Plagiarized Works" with what looked like a mockingjay or some other bird emblazoned just above the knob), but not all the way to the door leading back into the forest (I hoped).
Instead, I opened the door that read "The Works of Roald Dahl." I found the interior much like that of the room I'd just been in, except that the chair was a pile of pillows and the drink was Double-Bubble-Burple-Cola instead of coffee. I read each book in the shelf as fast as I could, and enjoyed every second.
However, I found the air getting pretty warm and stuffy by the end of my sojourn. It wasn't as bad as the quality of the air after reading all the Newbery Medal Winners, but it was bad enough. I vowed that, should I ever enter one of these rooms again, I wouldn't stay till I'd finished every book. I'd go from one room to another, and not give the air a chance to suffocate me.
After all that reading I was ready to resume my journey in the forest outside. I went to the entrance and walked through the doorway into the darkening woods, looking over my shoulder to make sure the entrance was still there—it was. I vowed to return someday. But presently I had a journey to finish, and now I was a little better prepared to do so. I marked the spot on my map (thinking oddly that I'd been there years before) and lost myself in the trees.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.