When Pagans talk about otherworlds, it’s usually in a shamanic sense. You make a deliberate journey to an otherworld for a purpose – a spiritual, learning or healing purpose usually – and then you journey back. The otherworlds associated with various spiritual traditions have defined characters and there are specific reasons for visiting them. This is not something I really do.
Every now and then I find a book, or a series (and just occasionally, a film) that takes over my thoughts. A piece of creativity where the world is so complex, rich and involving that the act of reading the book is a journey into it and emerging takes a while. I finished the second Matlock the Hare book about a week ago, and am only just leaving the dales now. I’m not sure what happened to me while I was there – the journey created by a book and the aftermath of a book is not one I have full conscious control over. Certainly it has facilitated changes for me. I have seen other perspectives, thought new (to me) thoughts. I have wondered, and felt and dreamed and been carried to places of other people’s imagining.
Really good, imaginative fiction (of which Matlock the Hare is a fine example) takes the reader somewhere else. Out of your own life, out of your everyday concerns and into another place, one that may or may not shed light on things for you, and where the experience itself is a blessing. Really good, imaginative fiction can create worlds for you that are like nothing you have ever encountered before. Landscapes and challenges, characters and possibilities can blow you away. These worlds can be utterly surprising and yet wholly pertinent to life lived.
Which leaves me wondering why our descriptions of otherworlds in the mainstream of non-fiction books often seem so samey. The idea that we would all experience roughly the same things in comparable ways seems to underlie most of the shamanic books I’ve read. All too often, the otherworld of non-fiction is not presented as likely to startle, overwhelm, radically change or otherwise upheave a person. It’s a fairly safe place. You go in, you find your spirit guide, or animal guide or whatever your tradition dictates, they take you sightseeing. So long as you have them, you are safe. There are some basic rules to follow – precise etiquette varies with tradition. You go in, you get what you need, you come out. There’s no room for the place to radically change you – in fact I wonder if the methods and setups are very much about avoiding that happening.
Step into the world of a fictional novel, and if it’s any good, the lives and fates of imaginary people start to matter to you, and the world itself is able to seep into your mind. Not a world you control, or choose, or get to direct. Not a world that exists necessarily to heal you and answer your questions. It may be going to challenge you, break your heart, throw your own world into chaos, demand you rethink your personal philosophy. It may leave you grieving or shocked. The worlds inside books are not safe places – not in terms of the power they have to act on your emotions.
I thought about trying to review Matlock the Hare: The Puzzle of the Tillian Wand in a normal way, but it’s the second book of the series and assumes you’ve read the first one. It is too plotty and complex to start here. Get a copy of the Trefflepugga Path first. Find out more about them on www.matlockthehare.com
And question why it is that so many authors present the otherworlds of magical tradition as safer, more predictable and less awe inspiring than the magical worlds available to us in books. Step onto the Trefflepugga path and anything can happen to you. Your life is no longer in your control. It’s very difficult to have wild change beyond your imagining if you also insist on staying safely in control of the experience.