Lamp Posts Are Misleading: The Otherworld as a “What” not a “Where”

Lighting the steps down to Grassmarket Street

I’ve made it quite clear that coming to Scotland was about seeking dragons and Otherworld portals as much as it was about getting another masters degree, but the two goals can occasionally coincide, and to the benefit of both, I believe.

As I walk the streets of Edinburgh, I am often struck by the beautiful lamp posts scattered throughout the city, especially when those lamps are lit at night.  Nothing makes an old city quite as eerie or gives it as much potential for mystery, magic, and adventure as when it is cast in the light of incandescent lamps.

Of course, the first thing I think of when I see these lamps is that they must be signs that Narnia is close.  Admittedly, I see those signs everywhere. I have smacked my head more than once against the back of the wardrobe in my bedroom.  I have peeked through gates, sneaked around corners in the hedges, wandered through misty woods, and scrambled about under old castle walls – all to no avail.  Aslan has not seen fit to let me in.  The Otherworld remains undiscovered.

Behind St Columba's Church.

Do not consider me defeated by any means.  I am, after all, here for a whole year and that gives me plenty of time to keep looking.

It did occur to me, though, that I might be looking in the wrong way.  In fact, looking at all might be the problem.

I was working on my dissertation over the weekend and one of my projects was to spend five minutes simply writing my thoughts about what exactly my questions and ideas were.   Writing things down without form or organization or research, just writing, can sometimes provide rewarding results.  I sat back from my notebook and looked at the words I had scribbled down and thought “Wow, maybe there’s something to this, after all!”  Of course, I might be completely wrong as well, but that’s where the research comes in over the next year.

Here’s what I wrote:

“It seems quite often that the Otherworld is not just a place, but an event.  Perhaps this is why the ‘where’ aspect of the Otherworld is so inconclusive – or at least one reason (scholars can go on for chapters on the development of the Otherworld, but I have not the time).  The heroes happen upon the Otherworld – or it happens upon them – not just in a place, but through events employing elements of time, distance, and wonderful signs.  What role, then does the Otherworld play, not just as a place, but as an entity? Sometimes the hero’s goal is to seek it out and stay, and leaving is a tragedy.  Other tales make it a goal, but not a final destination.  It also acts as a plot-mover – to encounter the Otherworld will bring danger and adventure not always in it, but through it.”

What does all that mean?  Okay, honestly, I don’t really know, but there is a basic idea formulating there.

Outside of St Giles Cathedral

Finding the Otherworld is not a matter of finding a place, which is why you don’t ever find Narnia the same way twice (drat you, wardrobe!).  It is an event that affects the hero’s life.  The event is signalled by shifts in time and place and also by wondrous and fantastic happenings (a magical mist, for example).

So my research is about how the Otherworld interacts with the hero, not just where it is or how to get there.  And I guess that means I should change my perspective on finding it for myself.  I just need to let it find me and stop chasing mysterious gateways and beautiful lamp posts.

So… now that I’ve learned my lesson, Aslan, any chance…?

I’ll take that as a maybe.


4 thoughts on “Lamp Posts Are Misleading: The Otherworld as a “What” not a “Where”

    1. Well, I guess you will just have to go back and tour Scotland with a whole new mindset! It’s for educational purposes, of course. I call that as good an excuse as any. 🙂

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