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The Portal to Forever Review by Josiah Wright

By Bonnie Raymond
1663 Liberty Drive, Suite 200
Bloomington, IN 47403

I'll admit it--I'm a Tolkien and Lewis junkie. That's why I was so pleased to find The Portal to Forever, an easily digestible fantasy book for middle schoolers. The Portal to Forever is a fantasy book along the lines of "classic" mytho-fantasy works such as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia--but in a very short, fast-paced format. The book (which is presumably a stand-alone novel) operates on the premise that there exists an alternate reality populated with elves, dragons, dwarves, trolls, wizards, and everything else you might expect. This world (naturally) has a link to ours--and all others like it--through something called the "Portal to Forever."

The story is about a prince among the elves who is whisked away from his home and family in our world just in time to avoid stepping onto Flight 93 on 9/11. (The other passengers are rescued but presumed dead on Earth.) The basic gist of the story is that this prince (Leerec or "Lee") finds himself faced with the takeover of the kingdom of Ashmirl by an evil wizard who is holding his father (the king) hostage. Several years after being brought back to Ashmirl (and leading the resistance forces of the elves), Leerec's wife and half-human children--named Josh and Silfa--are brought to Ashmirl by a good witch named Hecate in order to keep Soldrin the wizard and his sister Brinel from getting the Elven Chronicles, which means that they need the help of a dragon named Falon. Are you confused yet? Don't worry, there's a handy "who's who" at the back of the book to help keep things straight.

This book, though interesting, is plagued by an unfortunate calamity: the punctuation is rather irregular. Confident readers will have no problem dealing with this aspect, but younger readers might be confused, especially if they are just mastering the rules of grammar. This difficulty can be easily overcome, however, by making use of a tried-and-true homeschool tradition--reading aloud! Though this book was not written specifically for homeschoolers, it is well suited to family read-aloud time. The chapters are relatively short, extremely fast-paced, and easily digestible, and there are even sketches at the back of the book to inspire young imaginations. For parents who grew up reading Lewis and Tolkien, this would be a great way to introduce your elementary/middle school children to the world of fantasy. Toward the end of the book, there is one use of the "D-word," but it can be easily skipped or replaced by some suitable euphemism by a parent reading aloud.

The only thing that really could be improved in this book, in my opinion, is the writing style. The book reads rather like a very old fairy tale in that the characters are primarily plot devices--one-dimensional, serving to further the action more than anything else. But this is perfectly all right for an elementary/middle schooler. There is one other thing, though, that really bugs me, even though it is barely a blip on "The Scale of Review-ery." The author never defines what she means by the word "elf"! The words "elfin features" and such are used with the assumption that the reader intuitively grasps the overarching concept of "elfishness." So be prepared to answer when curious minds ask, "Mommy, what's an elf?"

I know that some Christian parents might be put off by the strong presence of magic, witches, wizards, "demons" (so-called--more like ogres than anything else), and other elements that are commonly found in fantasy. To this I can only respond that others have argued both sides of the issue far more eloquently than I can possibly do. While I (as a Christian teenager) believe that "magic" in fantasy can serve a God-honoring purpose if used correctly--as in the case of C.S. Lewis's "Deeper Magic" in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" such matters are entirely left to the parents' discretion. On the whole, The Portal to Forever has some excellent moral lessons, such as showing courage in the face of adversity and doing your duty even when it's difficult. And, of course, there's poetic justice when the villains all meet some unfortunate end or punishment.

The discerning reader will have noticed that I referenced C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien often in this review--for good reason. This book is HEAVILY influenced by their works, to the extent that walking trees make up their minds to overthrow an evil wizard (in addition to some other familiar scenarios). With that said, The Portal to Forever is an interesting, fast-paced book that will serve your family well as a read-aloud, particularly as an introduction to fantasy as a genre.

Product review by Josiah Wright, son of Dr. Anne Margaret Wright, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, November 2009