I came to a realization recently after an incredibly dorky double feature of TRON: Legacy and The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, two very different movies with similar themes. Firstly in TRON (both the original and the sequel) a human being (User) is transported into a computer system known as The Grid where they must combat programs that look like their User counterparts and search for a way home. More complex plot lines exist in the Legacy version, but I’m not here to recount the story of TRON. Of course, despite the characters being trapped where they are and knowing they need to get back home before they can’t anymore they discover that there is a lot to like about being in a place where human beings are not meant to be and no one else will ever see.
But it was really with Narnia that this idea came crashing over me with a sense of stark realization. At the end of the previous Narnia film, or second book have you, the two eldest Pensevie children, Susan and Peter, will exit into the real world never to set foot in Narnia again. I remember reading this, as a child and thinking it horribly unfair, but never have read past Voyage of the Dawn Treader I had forgotten that the third visit is Lucy and Edmund’s final time as well. And at the end of the film when they were transported back to World War II laden England, no time having passed, they look at each other knowing that the memories they now share are the only things left of Narnia for Lucy and Edmund, and I felt a great sense of loss for them. I was startled and enlightened that this feeling felt familiar.
There is a scene at the end of Peter Pan that breaks my heart. Wendy has promised to come back to Neverland every year for spring cleaning. Every year she waits for Peter patiently until one day when he returns to find a young girl sleeping in her bed, but that girl is not Wendy, it’s her daughter, Jane. Wendy has grown up. Jane is as excited to go to the magical land as Wendy was years before and the two dance heartily around the room. Apparently making enough noise to rouse her mother because when Wendy comes into the room she is joyous to see her old friend and wants to go back to Neverland as well. But she can’t. She’s done the one thing that will bar her entrance, something completely involuntary, she’s grown up.
Of course we know what J.M. Barrie had in mind when he wrote about the boy who will never grow old, the spirit of youth, and the magical land where he resides. He was equating Neverland to youth. How until a certain age you don’t need to see far off kingdoms for real because they exist as fully in your mind as in reality. And similarly it’s easy to say that Narnia is faith. But I think magical lands can better be equated to something else; love.
In real life there is only one way to travel to another realm, only one way to elate oneself to a state of being that closely resembles being transported to another world, and that’s falling in love. Suddenly everything seems new. Things look different, romantic movies aren’t as silly as they once seemed, and the songs start to make sense. Like walking through a wardrobe and ending up in Narnia; everything is just sort of different, new, and very exciting.
When you’re in love the world is uncharted territory. You get to experience everything as if it’s for the first time by thinking things like “I wonder if he would like this painting” or “this is definitely something I’d like to discuss with him”. You look at the world through eyes that aren’t just your own anymore because everything is now connected and wrapped up in what someone else is thinking or feeling. Mundane things become extraordinary. Eventually, I presume, this feeling fades into something a lot less intense, something a lot more like everyday life, but it can’t disappear completely. Sharing thoughts and feelings with someone else just becomes the norm.
But then, inevitably, something changes. The magic starts to wear off. It’s rarely voluntary but then suddenly you can’t be in that magical realm anymore. Perhaps you’ve learned what you needed to learn or perhaps you’re homesick, or perhaps you’ve just grown up. You’re no longer welcome. And sometimes this is okay; you’re complacent because you know you’ve grown and no longer need the place. And sometimes you’re expelled violently and against your will. The place has grown without you, and it’s the thing that doesn’t need you anymore. Either way it hurts.
And then you must learn how to live without it. The real world is still there, as beautiful as ever. You appreciate what you see around you and you’re happy with the way you know you’ve grown, but nothing seems new anymore. What was once shiny is now dull. Nothing can quite compare to that magical land. This world is what you’re used to, but somehow it no longer feels like enough because you miss what you have seen.
This, I think, it one of the troubles (and greatnesses) of Doctor Who. For those who are unaware of the plot to this show it’s basically this; an alien, known as a Time Lord, called the Doctor travels around time and space with a companion continually getting in trouble while trying to fix things. It’s like what might happen if a plumber traveled the world to a bunch of places with leaky faucets. Like… outer space tourism. It’s completely brilliant because it can literally go forever. But one of it’s staples is change. The companion changes all the time and even the Doctor changes given the point that when he’s dying he can regenerate into a different person with all the same skills and memories; he’s the same, but different. But, when this show first began to air in 1963 you didn’t quite feel the sting of losing characters. They came and went jovially and every once in awhile you might have felt a tug on your heartstrings because a character you liked had departed, but it was hardly earth shattering. New Who is a little different. It asks the questions that make it painful sometimes, like what happen to the people who get left behind? They have wonderful exciting lives perhaps, but once you’ve seen time and space and battled against hostile foes… how do you go back to normal life? How does anything else compare? Love is exactly like this.
Which is why, when I say that scene from Peter Pan breaks my heart I mean just that; it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart because being denied entrance to a magical world you once loved dearly, the one that made you feel special because you were chosen to travel there, the one where you learned things about yourself, the one where you had adventures impossible in the real world feels exactly like the most real of realities. A broken heart, I think, is a broken heart. It doesn’t matter what it’s applied to.