Books are like windows, allowing us to glimpse into times long past or onto settings where we’ve never laid worldly eye. For some, these destinations, whether real or imagined, captivate the heart so completely that we wish the book were a door rather than a window—allowing us to wander through its realm, interacting with its characters, and exploring the place in full.
When I was a child, I was enchanted by the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. The description of Lucy stepping into the wardrobe, rubbing her face into the fur coats and discovering there was no back to the furniture piece but, rather, a forest of trees on a carpet of snow, fascinated me. I longed to join Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy in the world of Narnia and to meet its delightful inhabitants. I wanted to enjoy tea with Mr. Tumnus in his cozy cave and listen to his tales of life in the forest. I was also intrigued by the beautiful but evil White Witch—with her sled drawn by white reindeer the size of Shetland ponies and her supply of Turkish delight—who had placed a spell on Narnia to make it always winter and never Christmas.
When the spell began to break, I longed to see the winter wonderland melting, heralding the return of spring, sunshine, and flowers, and to hear the birdsong. And, last but not least, to meet the magnificent Aslan.
In her bedroom, my grandmother had a very large, wooden wardrobe that resembled the illustration of the one in my book. I would gaze at it, open the door, and, of course, see nothing but dresses, coats, and shoes. There was a back to this wardrobe, and it did not lead me to a magical, snow-covered forest. But as I read the book over and over again, I could always dream that one day I would be transported to Narnia.
Hoboken, New Jersey
Little Women has always been my favorite book. Even now, after fifty-five years, I vividly remember the loveable characters and the Victorian setting so beautifully described by Louisa May Alcott. Oh, how I loved the March family. They were familiar to me; a sacrificial, loving mother who nurtured the very unique dreams of her girls and a veteran father, who, like mine, suffered scars from the war that remained with him long after his honored service. Their story comforted me as I turned each page on a worn lime-green rocker in our humble “apple pie order” home just north of Pittsburgh. Our own large family lived in a small abode, making it hard to find a place of peace and quiet in those days. The rocker in the corner provided such a space for me. My mother was often nearby playing the piano, and the soothing melancholic melodies of Tony Bennett and Nat King Cole were the perfect background to Little Women.
As a quiet, awkward pre-teen girl, I often quipped that I was born at the wrong time. Little Women provided a wonderful place where I fit in. Old-fashioned values of enduring love and perseverance, despite hardship, were a part of every chapter. I have identified with these values throughout the sequential challenges of my own life. For I, too, lost a sister long before her time and recall the shadow of darkness it left in our home. When the darkness lifted, my love of piano and art grew, much like Beth and Amy. I’d also like to think I was like Meg. Her kindness and contentment were mirrored in my own sweet mother. I thought of her often while raising our own treasured children. Still, I related most to Jo. I knew the pain and beauty of lying beside my dearest friend as she passed from this world to the next. I, too, found my own “Professor” who accepted, supported, and encouraged my dreams for forty-three years. And I also recognize that, like Jo, I still have a yearning to write my story with more time these days to do so.
Maybe traveling back in time and sharing a cup of tea with Jo would provide me with just the right amount of desire and inspiration to write my story. The very thought of it gives me abundant joy! We would sit and share the details of our lives, the joys, sorrows, and grief of loving well. More than anything, I would thank her again and again for the gift of her story. I would tell her that the love she expressed in the pages she penned so long ago continues on in the lives of others, most especially mine!
Although we are blessed to have many talented and thought-provoking authors in the United States, I have always gravitated towards the English novelists of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Charles Dickens had the ability to bring the plight of the working poor of London to the attention of the English upper classes and the aristocracy. However, as much as I enjoyed reading Great Expectations and Hard Times, I would not want to find myself in situations with his colorful protagonists. Instead, I would love to find myself as a confidante of one of Jane Austen’s heroines.
Oh, to be friends with Elizabeth Bennet! I am sure I could have convinced her much sooner that Mr. Darcy was the perfect match for her. I am also positive we would enjoy a good laugh over Mr. Collins’s many faux pas! Having read Pride and Prejudice at least five times in as many decades, I could easily find myself immersed in the life of the Bennet family. I was fortunate to spend time in England many years ago, but thanks to the beautiful pictures of the English countryside featured in many issues of Victoria in the nearly thirty years I have been a devotee, I only have to close my eyes and I am quickly transported to gardens filled with flowers, lush meadows, walking paths, manor houses, and lovely lakes. The combination of a good novelist and a wonderful magazine makes it quite simple to visualize myself in the lifestyle of a bygone age!
When I was in third or fourth grade, my grandmother gave me the book A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. From the moment I first read the title, I was drawn into the book. What could be better than being a little princess? For the next few days as I read, I lived an enchanted life. The description of Sara’s lavish birthday party had me licking my lips over the fancy treats. When tragedy struck and Sara was banished to the attic, I was angry at the unfairness of it all and heartbroken for the little girl. When blazing fires and delicious meals appeared in the attic, I was delighted along with Sara. When I came to the end of the story, it was with a sigh of relief that the ending was happy, but with a sigh of regret that I must return to my real life.
I learned to read using Beatrix Potter’s stories: The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, in particular. As I child, I poked around the fields near my house, hoping to be invited into the hedgehog’s cottage for tea, just like the little girl in the story, Lucie. A part of me still yearns for this today. It is this story that is most likely responsible for my love affair with hosting afternoon tea parties, collecting miniatures, and carrying a handkerchief to this day. Although, I must admit, I do prefer the modern washing machine to Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle’s washing board.
Stratford, Ontario, Canada
I remember sitting down to read the very first of many Mitford books, At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon. The first page swept me in, and I couldn’t get enough. The enduring story focuses on the life of Father Tim and this wonderful town filled with so many winsome characters. They all came to life, page by page. At the beginning of the book is a map of Mitford, but in my mind’s eye, I knew what all the buildings in this charming town looked like simply by reading. The map just confirmed it!
When Father Tim would walk into his favorite restaurant, Main Street Grill, he would sit with the same friends each day. Every character had his or her own complete life story, and the interaction between them all is what made for such fun reading. I could imagine myself sitting at the counter and enjoying those daily companions as well.
The most cherished part of the book for me—and there are many—is when Father Tim meets his future wife, Cynthia. Seeing how his life changes for the better because of her presence adds to the richness of this story. I am so happy that the tales don’t end with the first book but continue into a series, a cookbook, and small gift volumes.
When I ask someone if they have ever read At Home in Mitford, their eyes might light up, knowing that we could chat on and on about the funny dog named Barnabas or the orange marmalade cake that makes one drool just thinking about it.
From the church and rectory to all the shops that had a character all their own in these books, I was captivated by many a place and couldn’t put the pages down. I fell in love with the town, the characters, and the magical way the story transported me to another place called Mitford.
San Jose, California
To read more Reader-to-Reader letters, see “Worlds of Ink and Paper” in the January/February 2023 issue, available on newsstands and at victoriamag.com. If you would like to see your own words published in an issue of Victoria or on our website, submit your thoughts to our latest Calling All Readers prompt. Plus, join the Victoria Classics Book Club in reading and discussion our latest selection—and its beautiful setting—on our Facebook discussion forum.