When I was a child, one of my favourite day dreams was building my own home. It was usually underground, inside a tree or under water, and often featured wall-sized fish tanks. I’ve gathered together a number of fictional homes and rooms that inspired my day-dreams then and now.
First off – the familiar classics, starting with Bilbo Baggins’s own Bag End:
“…it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort. It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass know in the exact middle.
The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel, without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats – the hobbit was fond of visitors.”
Here is a wonderful illustration of it by John Howe. Just how I always imagined it:
I wonder if Bilbo would have approved of Mr Badger’s home, nestled in the middle of the Wild Wood:
“One of these, Badger flung open, and at once they found themselves in all the glow and warmth of a large fire lit kitchen.
The floor was well-worn brick, and on the wide hearth burnt a fire of logs, between two attractive chimney corners tucked away in the wall, well out of any suspicion of draught. A couple of high backed settles, facing each other on either side of the fire, gave further sitting accommodation for the sociably disposed. In the middle of the room stood a long table of plain boards placed on trestles, with benches down each side. At one end of it, where an arm-chair stood pushed back, were spread the remains of Badger’s plain but ample supper.
Rows of spotless plates winked from the shelves of the dresser at the far end of the room, and from the rafters overhead hung hams, bundles of dried herbs, nets of onions, and baskets of eggs.”
Not as well appointed as Bag End, maybe, but every bit as comfortable. Now I come to think of it, Bilbo and Moley would have got on well together. A pity they never met. Here is Badger letting Mole and Ratty in from the cold – an illustration by Ernest H Shepherd:
Not nearly as comfortable, but every bit as home-like, is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s log cabin in the middle of the vast, lonely, wild prairie. It has walls of logs, and a stretched roof made of the canvas covering of their wagon. Here it is by day:
“It was a pleasant house. A soft light came through the canvas roof, wind and sunshine came through the window holes, and every crack in the four walls glowed a little because the sun was overhead.”
And by night:
“Mary and Laura lay in their little bed on the ground inside the new house, and watched the sky through the window hole to the east. The edge of the big, bright moon glittered at the bottom of the window space, and Laura sat up. She looked at the great moon, sailing silently higher in the clear sky.
Its light made silvery lines in all the cracks on that side of the house. The light poured through the window hole and made a square of soft radiance on the floor. It was so bright that Laura saw Ma plainly when she lifted the quilt at the door and came in.”
Here is an illustration by Garth Williams, of the girls being tucked into bed in the half finished home:
My imaginary homes usually had a library or a museum of natural history. This was because of Jules Verne’s 20 000 Leagues Under the Sea. I love Captain Nemo’s submarine the Nautilus, particularly the Drawing Room:
“I passed into an immense drawing-room splendidly lighted. It was a vast, four sided room, thirty feet long, eighteen wide and fifteen high. A luminous ceiling, decorated with light arabesques, shed a soft clear light over all the marvels accumulated in this museum. For it was in face a museum, in which an intelligent and prodigal hand had gathered all the treasures of nature and art, with the artistic confusion which distinguishes a painter’s studio.”
It also had windows out into the ocean – the ultimate wall-size fish tank, in fact.
Another watery home is that of Kunohara, a character in Tad William’s Otherland: Sea of Silver Light. A bit of background is needed here to make sense of this house, if you can call it that.
Otherland deals with computer generated virtual worlds. A mysterious and possibly dangerous method is used to create these worlds, which allows you to experience the virtual space exactly as you do real life – with no lag for processing graphics, and access to all senses including smell and touch.
Kunohara, an entomologist, has created virtual space in which the visitor can experience the world as though they were smaller than an ant. In the middle of this is his home – a bubble floating in an endless eddy in a small river. Here Paul Jonas finds himself standing inside the bubble home:
” The sky curved over him like a weirdly gleaming bowl, and the towering trees which had stretched upwards like pillars holding the heavens now bent over him like bystanders examining and accident victim. Paul felt a solid floor beneath his feet, and turned slowly to discover an entire room behind him, multilevelled, furnished sparsely but attractively with screens and low furniture.
Beyond the furnishings, the stairs, and the different levels of flooring, the world seemed to distort again, but instead of trees and sky, the other half of the wide space seemed to cower beneath a curved wall of foaming water.”
Kunohara’s home bobs in the eddying water, and you can look through its lower floor at the stream bed beneath where tiny fish and insects appear like subterranean monsters.
I can think of many appealing homes in children’s literature, but not so many in the adult books. So I will end where I began – Bilbo peacefully at home – an illustration by Alan Lee:
- A Rivalry of Wizards – a collection of my favourite wizards, with pictures and quotes.
- How the tale grew in the telling: The unexpected sprouting of The Lord of the Rings
- Writer/illustrator Elizabeth Enright