I’m rather a big fan of long-distance travel in most of its forms. Personally, if I’m on a bus or a train, I usually see it as a 2+ hour vacation from life, where I’m left to nothing but my own devices (literally) to keep entertained or relaxed. Whether it’s music, podcasts, a book, or some combination of these, being on some sort of long-distance trip feels like a moment to either catch up or decompress. I rather look forward to the part of my life when I find myself aboard one of them thar newfangled “aeroplanes” as I go from Con to Con.
But, instantaneous travel is just as interesting to me, particularly if we’re talking between worlds. Enter the Magical Gate, an artifact of either precursor make or a state-of-the-art invention put together by the most brilliant scientific minds of the age. In this article, we’ll be focusing on Gates that appear mostly in fantasy, as opposed to science fiction, and we must define a “gate.”
A Gate – a doorway, a gateway – though sometimes a tear/rip in the space-time continuum, and sometimes an archway is constructed around said portal, stabilizing it. An object of artificial construction (whether by god-like beings or wizards or what have you), but I wouldn’t say the that an object that transports you to another location or state of being on contact – such as the One Ring (arguably) or a Portkey or the Master Sword – counts. Also not to be confused with hyperspace jumps, light speed or wormholes, all of which are generally in the realm of Science Fiction. That’s all well and good, but not the focus of today.
The Gates of which I speak (and possibly their own networks), are more along the lines of unexplained power and origin, rather than scientific ingenuity. So, let’s get to some examples.
The Riftwar Saga books by Raymond E. Faust are centered around the sudden appearance of such a phenomena. As it turns out, there are some things in common with the next example, where the “normal world” is breached by invaders who created the rift and poured through. Faust’s are some of my favorites, since he deals with concepts I find immensely fun and fascinating – like culture clashes and comparisons of magic systems between worlds.
Blizzard’s Warcraft series is also centered entirely around cultural misunderstandings and the opening of a gate – known as the Dark Portal – where your world full of orcs comes swarming and swinging and screaming into the “human world” of Azeroth. I spent a lot of time in this universe, having had four years of my life offered up as a sacrifice to the power that is the MMO. I’ve long since thankfully cut that drug, but the lore – one of the most enjoyable facets of the game for me – remains. The games in the Warcraft universe is full of gates and portals, in fact…
There’s Time Bandits (thanks to that map of the universe), the Neverending Story (a mirror), even Beetlejuice (though the “door” was drawn with a piece of chalk). But a third and slightly different take on this is the portal pool trope – when the the portal sorta takes on the appearance of a pool of liquid, as seen in The Magician’s Nephew (Chronicles of Narnia 1st book).
Gates and portals are a mainstay for quick (and possibly quite risky) travel, making them great plot devices in a fantasy story. What happens if two people pass through and land at once? Telefragging. What if the portal closes before the traveler makes it wholly through? Possibly severance. What does it take to open a portal, maintain a rift, or built a gate around it? These are all elements that could make for some interesting stuff.
Just the very concept of such a thing – interstellar travel when one”s cultural technology level is less than modern! If you got it, I dig it.
But actual “gates” seem much more infrequent in fantasy, compared to science fiction. Therefore, I challenge fantasy writers everywhere to balance this out!
I’ll be there when you do.