I have a few feelings about this novel, both good and bad, so let’s start with the good and go from there. Full disclosure, I will be discussing the ending, so there will be spoilers. The Light Between Worlds (by Laura E. Weymouth) is a very clear and unapologetic homage to The Chronicles of Narnia, though it is primarily about the time spent once cast outside of the magical world that the book sets its focus on.
First and foremost, the concept is brilliant. When someone stumbles into a beautiful and magical world, and then is unceremoniously sent back to the real world, where no time has past, there’s bound to be some internal conflict. For one thing, as probably anyone who’s read a really good fantasy book will know, it feels like something of a loss to go from something so impossible and magical and beautiful (I think the author also wants me to add “pure” to that, but I can’t, and I’ll get there in a second), to a place that seems to tear magical moments apart and thrive on mundanity.
For another, an element that I think leaves a surprisingly minimal mark on the Pevensie children is that they were at least into their forties in Narnia before they were sent back to their childrens’ bodies on Earth. All of those years are practically erased because you have to live them over again. Any scars you earned was on a different body, something that ends up hitting our Light Between Worlds Lucy-equivalent Evelyn pretty hard.
And here is where Weymouth stumbles a little. A little background on the structure of the novel: It’s overall divided into two major sections–Evelyn for the first half, and Phillippa for the second. In each girl’s section are chapters of the present and chapters of the past. For Evelyn, the past-chapters are all of the Woodlands (aka Narnia), led by Cervus the stag (Aslan’s counterpart) who brought them to the Woodlands as per Evelyn’s call. Apparently she has a Woodlands heart, which means she feels immediately at home in this magical place. Where Weymouth stumbles is in the explanation. There are centaurs and tree spirits and a people called stonewardens who are never ever described so good luck guessing what they look like. Anyway, it’s very Narnia-esque, clearly. But if there’s a particular element that draws Ev to the Woodlands, we have no idea what it is.
To me, Ev in the Woodlands came off almost like a child who was given something shiny. There was just a whole bunch of inexplicable things that caught her eye that she just couldn’t get enough of it. And even having an evil fire-bending tyrant trying to take over the Woodlands, complete with battles talked about but only once shown, Ev sees nothing wrong with the place. That no one took advantage of this blind faith is absolutely unbelievable. I mean honestly, a thing with faults can still be loved, and I think the Woodlands would have come off better for it.
Either way, it’s made abundantly clear that Ev felt far more at home in the Woodlands than she ever did on Earth. I wish we could have seen just a little bit in those past-chapters of Earth before they went to the Woodlands, because Evelyn constantly says she felt homeless, shunted from place to place for safety during WWII. Having such a chapter or two to show that would have helped with the contrast of the beauty of the Woodlands, I think. Or perhaps it was just that the Woodlands had some magical inexplicable allure to it, but when she returns to Earth, the loss hits her far harder than it ever hit Lucy after Narnia.
Which brings me to something that needs to be said: The Light Between Worlds is very much about depression, and to a lesser extent, about self-harm. Ev is very touchy about certain things–any time she sees a stag, she loses it, for example, and wintertime is always worse for her, I think because that’s when she killed the tyrant-character? or perhaps that was when they initially went to the Woodlands. It’s not particularly clear. In addition, when she dates Tom Harper, she breaks it off with him because she’s afraid of being happy after feeling lost for so long.
Yet Tom Harper’s character provides another stumbling block for Weymouth. Every character that interacts with Philippa and Evelyn do so as if they’re walking on eggshells. Ev says that what she loves about her best friend, Georgie, and what she loves about Tom is that they both don’t pressure her into talking. With Philippa, after Ev goes missing, their parents let Phil move out and leave her be so as to not interfere with her grief. Jack Summerfield, too, is very careful with Phil and making sure not to make her upset. I don’t doubt that some people would have been willing to tip-toe around these characters, especially since most of them simply attribute it to WWII, but to do so is really doing a disservice to these characters.
On the other hand, what I will give Weymouth is that you can tell the mental state that Evelynn and Philippa are in just by looking at the amount of time both of these characters spend in the past or present. I thought it was quite clever on Weymouth’s part for Ev’s narrative to be split to every-other-chapter because it shows where she stands: stuck on earth, dreaming of the Woodlands. That there is one present-day chapter with a single line of text, sandwiched between two Woodlands chapters, just proves my point further: Ev hit a low point, at which time she is desiring the Woodlands more than ever, and wishes for nothing more than to escape from earth.
Philippa’s are just as deftly planned out, though I think her chapters show how very little is actually happening in the real world. (Ev’s chapters are just her going to school, though woven in, she’s trying to figure out how to love someone in spite of herself. In Phil’s, she honestly just gets a job, and makes a half-hearted attempt to figure out what happened to her sister.) Still, Phil never really felt like she belonged in the Woodlands, and all but one, I think, of her past chapters were about the time after they returned to earth, during and after the war. In addition, her chapters do not follow the same every-other pattern that Ev’s half did, which helps show that Phil means what she says: she can’t forget her past, but she refuses to dwell on it either.
But then what about the big question? How does the story end? Did Ev’s obsession with the Woodlands pull her under, or did she finally find what she was looking for?
I’m going to make what could quite possibly be a controversial opinion. The ending was far too perfect in nature, and likewise did not really acknowledge the full extent of the consequences of Ev’s decision. For the former, it felt like a bit of a cop-out, especially when we the readers are told that the characters can’t go back to the Woodlands. Cervus the magic stag cannot call them again. So, loophole, somehow both Ev and Phil find a way to magically transport themselves there, and independent from one another. Whatever trick Evelynn pulls to reach the Woodlands again, obviously it’s not when Philippa’s present, yet Philippa manages to follow on her heels eventually.
For the latter, there are a lot of people who are distraught by Ev’s disappearance. Her parents, her friends, her sort-of-boyfriend. Of course, Jamie, her brother, but Philippa can tell Jamie where Ev is. Yet the narrative suggests that Phil will be able to come up with some lie or another that will put everyone else at ease about where Ev went to. How is Phil supposed to tell any one of them that Ev is happy when, by doing so, it would imply to them that Ev is alive but just unable to ever, ever, ever come see them? The alternative, to put the earth-dwelling characters at peace, would be to admit Ev’s dead (because she is, effectively, dead to them now), but without a body or anything to prove that’s the case.
Overall, however awful it would have been to write it this way, I do think it would have wrapped up much neater if Ev had not found her way back to the Woodlands. I think that everyone involved would have gotten closure because they would have known exactly what happened to her. Additionally, for the reader, it would have served as a bit of a warning about falling too hard for a fictional world, and the importance of focusing your time and energy on what you can do in the real world, about not wasting your life on dreams (by which I mean the daydream kind, not the aspirations kind), and instead actually using this time you have on earth to do something big and important. I think, in the end, that such an ending would have packed a bigger punch, and given the reader a far better message than its current ending does.