What a peculiar time we are living through. Remember that time when there wasn’t a new “Breaking News!” story Every. Day.? No? That’s ok, I hardly do either. Right now I’m betting many of us, world-wide, would love to turn the clocks to ANY other time. Whether that’s back to a time when Democracy reigned unthreatened or perhaps forward to find out how this all ends- I can tell you I’d love to turn to a time when my daily to-do list isn’t topped by “scream into pillow, now face another day.”I’ve been thinking about the concept of how one place can drastically change over time ever since finishing Ransom Riggs’ Peculiar Children series. -I know, I know. It’s almost hard to believe now that there was a time when the most pressing issue of the day was whether I would get my hands on, and finish, a book before the film adaptation release! Anyway, when getting my hands on a physical copy of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children before the movie arrived in theaters proved impossible, I reluctantly bought a digital copy and pressed my e-reader into service (Imagine if we didn’t have e-readers! What did people do before them?). Settling on the couch, I started to read…and read…and…about 3 days later I looked up in a daze from the last page of the third and final book in the series. I’m not kidding, I couldn’t put them down! They just kept getting better. The first two are must reads, but mostly because they set up the last book, Library of Souls. (I admit there mayyyy be some bias on this librarian’s part toward the last book.) Not to give too much away, the last book uses travel through different time periods in London, and this got me thinking.
Riggs’ characters pass through a portal and find themselves on dirt streets with horse drawn carriages trundling by and smog swirling round, limiting their vision. This is the time we readers recognize as that of Sherlock Holmes or maybe the London of Dickens. Later the characters pass through another portal and although in the same place physically, this time there are motorized vehicles and underground stations. They are carried with the crowd down into a station as citizens hunker down to await the end of the nightly bombing raids. Today readers associate this time in London with books such as The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe or Bedknobs and Broomsticks. This was war time during which parents sent their children to live with other families in the countryside in the hopes that they’d be safer away from the city. Finally, and somewhat miraculously, Riggs’ characters find a final portal which returns them to the current day.
I’ll be visiting London myself this summer, but I realized, with some dismay, that although I’ll be visiting the literary location of so many of my favorite books…I wouldn’t REALLY be experiencing the same place. London no longer has dirt roads, or horse drawn carriages, or steam engine trains with compartments. So how could I experience London at its different periods? After much mulling over, I’ve only been able to conclude that I might, with a little imagination, be able to walk through the centuries briefly with visits to museums.
At 221B Baker Street, if you ignore the pavement and metal monstrosities on the street outside, you can step into the boarding house-turned museum where you’ll find Sherlock’s study. Try on his hat, pick up his pipe, and take a seat on the couch. He’s only just stepped out. He should be back soon.
From there perhaps I’ll go to the Dickens House Museum, and then maybe visit Churchill’s War Rooms. Perhaps underground in the preserved WW2 Bunker, surrounded by the technology and furniture of 1944, I’ll be able to experience another time. And when I return to the surface, perhaps I’ll be glad to live in the time I do. (Though if we could learn from history and stop lurching towards what’s beginning to look like WW3, that’d be great too!)
Lastly, if portals to other times are not just museum front doors, but do in fact reside elsewhere in the city, I know where I’d look first. The T.A.R.D.I.S. in the entrance of the BBC News building. You coming? To when should we go?
What time period would you visit? In which location? What type of portal or machine would take you there? And more seriously, have you had the chance to experience life in a time period you’ve read about? Perhaps at a historic-village? Can you recommend a time (and place) where we can go to get out of the current day-if only for a little while?
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