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This children’s fantasy is written to encourage the imagination of preadolescents. “Imagination is the key to this world. It is the key that only very few people are able to hold on to for a lifetime. […] This land is found through the eyes of a child.”
Teddy Roberts and his older brother Henry have moved with their mother to the small town in Michigan where she grew up. They are city boys, not used to the countryside. Henry, at 14 years old, has presumably grown out of the imagination of a child. While exploring their new countryside, they find a path into the woods. Henry is too grown-up to take it (“Theodore Roberts, where do you think you’re going? We’re not allowed back here! I have better things to do with my time than to search for you! Stop!”), but Teddy ignores him and runs down the path. It leads to a huge impenetrable green hedge with a gate that opens for Teddy and immediately slams shut, locking Henry out.
Teddy finds that beyond the gate is a wondrous fairyland similar to Alice’s Wonderland, inhabited by Essence the tiny pixie, the wise Great Crystal, Una the talking turtle, and many other marvels that he meets on his journeys. Teddy learns that he has only been able to enter because he is not grown-up yet. “The gate only allows those in who are worthy of the land to enter. You hold a great imagination, Theodore. You have not been tainted with grown-up disbelief yet.” His parents visited this fairyland when they were children, but when they grew up they forgot all about it.
Teddy is told that he is not an ordinary child who has not yet lost his imagination. “Your imagination is a power that most can’t even find past the age that you are now. You are here, Theodore, to save our world.” He and Essence must find and save her missing brother, Prince Eden of the fairies.
Teddy sees wonders, but he is immediately plunged into the politics and dangers of this magical world. “Teddy, don’t drink the water! It is cursed by dark magic! Any creature who drinks from the water will forget everything. You will forget your family, your home, your world, and even who you are.”
Needless to say, Teddy succeeds after many dangerous magical adventures in saving this world and all in it. He returns home at the end with the assurance that he is one of the rare humans who will not lose his imagination upon entering adulthood. He will keep his dreams and fantasies to guide him throughout his life, and he will return to this magical world someday.
“Theodore Roberts & the Key to The Imaginary Door” (224 pages; paperback $16.95) states that Henry has lost his imagination and become an adult at 14, but never says how old Teddy is to still be an imaginative child. The fairylike world with its enchanted forests, dark castles, City of Birds, and magic mirrors make it an adventure for children, not Young Adults. But there are emotional inconsistencies. Teddy seems sometimes too immature, the type of careless child who would ignore warnings and run out into the street without looking for traffic, and at other times too mature for an “imaginative child”. Some comments –“Within his dreamlike state Teddy saw himself as a young boy, around the age of six, running around his front yard with his red cape draped over his shoulders. He could see Henry watching him from the porch steps with a look of confusion at why Teddy would be doing such a thing.” – imply that even as a child, Henry had no imagination. There are a map and thirteen fine full-page drawings by Richa Kinra that introduce each chapter, but they are all of objects rather than the characters – the rusted gate, the forest, a grand staircase, the castle, the mirror, the Tree of Life – which makes the adventure more impersonal. There is never a feeling that Teddy, despite all the magical menaces, is really in peril.
“Theodore Roberts & the Key to The Imaginary Door” constantly champions imagination – you feel that it should be Imagination with a capital I – but it is never as imaginative as, for example, the Chronicles of Narnia or the Land of Oz.