A mysterious limbo realm in C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew, one of The Chronicles of Narnia. The Wood between the Worlds is an endless forest where nothing happens and no animal lives (except for an old guinea pig once transported there). Among the trees are many pools of water just a couple of inches deep. When wearing the proper magic rings, a person can travel from world to world by emerging from and descending into the pools. When a world dies, as Charn did, its pool dries up. Professor Digory Kirke and Polly Plummer discovered the land of Narnia when they were children by visiting the Wood.

Every once in a while, while reading a fiction book (usually a fantasy book), I come across a place where I realize the author is not making stuff up. There is a rich trove of fantasy tropes to include from previous works, and normal creativity and imagination can provide for some nice pyrotechnics. But every once in a while something works its way into a work that shows that the author really, truly, had a direct experience of something, rather than thinking it would be a nice thing to entertain his readers with. This is what I thought of, for example, when I read about the pendulum and the Hour Lillies in Michael Ende's Momo.

C.S Lewis has a mixed reputation amongst geeks. On one hand, we all grew up reading Narnia, and they provide a cornerstone for fantasy authors and readers. On the other hand, his books were Christian allegories that many find pedantic to the point of propaganda. As for his imagery, most of it seems to be lifted from other sources and presented for narrative effect. His cosmology seems to be cribbed from The Bible and Neo-Platonism.

Which is why the Wood Between the Worlds, the dreamy, never-ending forest featured in the series sixth book (by external chronology, the first by internal chronology) jumps out at me. All the other cosmological locations in the book, such as Aslan's Country, seem to have been constructed as allegories first, and then worked out narratively second. The Wood Between the Worlds strikes me as something that was actually experienced---I wouldn't claim as an actual full on hallucination, but was seen as a creative vision, as an actual way the universe(s) might work, and included in the work because it seems real. Of course, I don't have any proof of this, other than the fact that the idea of floating far above the world, where not just this universe but all universes tend to blur together far below, is one I have heard before in people's visions, especially those inspired by truly bizarre substances. The other reason it comes across as real is just how well described the setting and character's reactions to it are. It seems that Lewis was actually enjoying writing this scene in a way that he wasn't with other scenes in the books.

Of course, none of this is proof, and it might just reflect my own memories and interpretations of the book. The lassitude and dreaminess of the Wood reminds me of endless afternoons in my father's garret, reading fantasy books and sketching on scrap paper. Even those who don't believe that the Wood was a rare intrustion of mysticism into Lewis' Cambridge rationalism will probably agree that the scene and setting does stand out.

I largely agree with glowing fish. I obsessed over The Magician's Nephew like no other book when I read it in 3rd grade. Much more so than the other Narnia books. It appears that The Wood Between the Worlds does indeed represent a profound concept of a Multiverse, and possibly derives from a real mystical experience. Quoting CSL:

"as in the sinless world beyond the horrors of animal and human life;
in the behaviour of stars and trees and water, in sunrise and
wind. may there be here (in my heart) a like beauty"

the novel "The Wood Beyond the World" may have offered inspiration. he expresses a lot of interest and thought about mystic travel. This quote from Letters to Malcolm:

"I do not at all regard mystical experience as illusion. I think it shows
that there is a way to go, before death, out of what may be called
"this world"--out of the stage set."

"The lawfulness, safety, and utility of the mystical voyage depends not
at all on its being mystical — that is, on its being a departure — but
on the motives, skill, and constancy of the voyager, and on the grace
of God."

Now, glowing fish mentioned that this type of experience is not atypical of what one might experience on drugs. I have been told by a friend that after smoking Salvia Divinorum he had felt like he was in The Wood linking to all worlds from the Narnia book. My best efforts have been unsuccessful to recreate this experience myself. My experimentation with Ketamine was far more enlightening. Take this last quote from Lewis himself:

"I shouldn't be at all disturbed if it could be shown that a
diabolical mysticism, or drugs, produced experiences indistinguishable
(by introspection) from those of the great mystics. Departures are all
alike; it is the landfall that crowns the voyage."

Lewis goes on a bit about his desire to look behind the scenes of the stage set of our world. Whether or not "The Wood Between the Worlds" stems
from a real experience or merely a fictional construct, it has left a mark on my view of reality.

Walking through the forest, light slanting through the trees
the sound of birds around you puts your mind oddly at ease
you wander deep in thought knowing no one is around
you squander time just walking far from any human sound
as you stroll the light begins to take on a greenish cast
you’re far too gone to notice, your mind’s stuck in the past
trapped by memories of a painful bleak cold world
you scarcely even notice as the leaves, they start to swirl
in perfect spiral patterns across the forest floor
a sound comes softly through the trees like waves against a shore
you’re unaware now where you are,
the boundary’s crossed, you’ve gone too far
you take your first steps, fingers curled
you’re in the wood between the worlds.

Here between the lines of reality’s book
here beneath the strings of life’s grand symphony that shook
a silence deeper than the black of nothingness resounds
from tree to tree a lack of life makes strident leaps and bounds
towards making you aware of the strange place where you have stumbled
your understanding of the world, soon decayed and crumbled
but for the sake of brevity, and kindness to the eyes
in consideration of the long forgotten echoes of your cries
we will end here the tale of a lost man who lost his life
unable to escape, to see again his son and wife
because it’s here, behind the scenes
of life and death and worlds so green
that you were lost to life itself
a toy upon a broken shelf.

From this place there’s no escape
for the sullen and the dull
the nature of the land is shaped
by the nature of the fool.
For those who wish to see new lands
there are passages aplenty
and those who cannot dream or bend
apathy’s true cognoscenti,
they slowly starve themselves to death
as in life they starved their minds
in this place they take their last breath
as their existence, it unwinds

For those lucky few who stumble here
with open mind and dreams to spare
the world-wet pools of space and tears
can take you any when or where
for those whose minds are sharpened tools
between the neverending trees
a trillion shallow perfect pools
stretch as far as eyes can see

within each pond a secret lurks
a pathway to another space
a world beneath the mist and murk
a different time, a different place

dive into one and you may see
a world of dust, planets destroyed
enter another and you may be
trapped in an endless light-sick void

some of these portals, however, aren’t with danger always fraught
it may turn out that your deliverance to this wood was not for naught
you may stumble upon one such a world, with talking beasts and princes true
a world of magical occurrence, perhaps a lamppost tree or two
maybe a world of wands and wizards, hidden from the public eye
one of alien races, brave hearts, blue boxes, lords of time
or something not quite unlike a fluffy heaven in the clouds
there are no limits to the lands that lie beneath the water's shroud

Perhaps you will sink into a world beyond description
a dreamlike madness composed only of things I cannot mention
a land where beasts the size of mountains slowly creep and crawl
a place where you see the sun is slightly big or far too small
before it moves across the sky and looks at you, then blinks
a world where everything you eat can talk to you in shrieks

but if you think it’s worth the risk
of finding worlds lost, warped, and sick
somewhere out there, in those wavering woods
lies the life you’ve always thought was good
all the things you want and more
everything behind your mind’s locked door
beneath one of these pools it dwells
so if you ever have to choose; choose well.

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