Ask the Trope Fairy: The Other Side of the Wardrobe
Dear Trope Fairy,
Years ago, my siblings and I discovered a wardrobe that led to a magical world. We crossed through it together, and we helped free the people on the other side from the control of an evil witch. We grew to adulthood in that world, kings and queens together; ruling our people, fighting battles to protect them, and building up the civilization. Then we found ourselves back home, as children again. We went back and forth a few more times, though always for a shorter time. But it remained always a part of us. Well, for me and my brothers it did. My sister acts like she has forgotten everything!
When we bring it up, she brushes us off immediately, laughing about it as if we were all playing make believe games the whole time. We were the fulfillment of a sacred prophecy and she acts like we were playing dress up! She won’t come to the dinners where we talk about our memories, she won’t discuss how to help the land now or advise the new Chosen children (since we have aged out ourselves). We’ve begged her to come with us to see them off this Saturday, but she told us we need to let it go!
I don’t understand her. Does she actually find nylons and lipstick more interesting than our adventures? She always loved fashion even in the old land, but she never cared for beauty and popularity more than she loved statecraft! Now she is always worrying over making herself beautiful, as if she doesn’t remember when she was the most beautiful and sought after queen in a magical realm — without having to chase all these ridiculous trends or the many invitations they win her. But every time I tell her that, she only tells me to stop talking make believe or to stop comparing this life to old fantasies.
How can she turn her back on our land? On our people? How could she just forget the most amazing and important thing that ever happened to us? How can I bring her back into the family…before it’s too late?
Dear Wardrobe Queen,
There is a lot of alarming stuff happening in this letter. And I don’t just mean with your sister.
One of the most difficult but least acknowledged parts of being a Chosen One in a land not your own is returning to normal life on the other side. It is extremely common to feel yourself a stranger in what should be a familiar place, and there is not only one right way to deal with the return home. That is the core assumption that I see in your letter: you are responding the right way to losing “your” people and your sister is responding the wrong way.
Your letter is full of these false assumptions. The saddest, and the one I most encourage you to challenge, is the idea that you have already done the only important thing you will ever do. It’s likely that you have much more still to accomplish, Your Majesty! And perhaps that is exactly what your sister wants for herself. Clearly, she feels that the best way to get it is to stop talking about the land in the wardrobe. Perhaps she is wrong about that, but then, perhaps she is not, given the way you talk about “your” land in this letter. Perhaps she fears that you are stuck as much as you fear her denial.
To be frank, I do not believe that your sister has actually forgotten the other world and the other lives you led. If she thought her siblings were having regular dinners and planning rescue missions for imaginary friends in a childhood game, her reaction would not be “Oh look at you, how DO you remember all of our old hide and seek locations?” She would be calling doctors and staging interventions and involving your parents at the very, very least. She would want to talk to you about it, and she would be Very Concerned for you. She remembers “your” land beyond the wardrobe just fine.
So what is she doing? In short, it sounds like your sister is begging you not to make her remember with you. I understand how your way of acknowledging the adventure feels more healthy, but, to be honest, I can also see why she might write a letter to me, worried about you all holding dinners in honor of a vanished past instead of moving on. You can still do good in the world without being the fulfillment of a sacred prophecy.
It also seems strange to say that she cares more about modern fashion and social networks than statecraft.
First of all, she is not a part of the current statecraft of the world beyond your wardrobe. Neither are you. I’m sorry to be blunt, but if you are devoting most of your life to planning how to prepare the next guardians, I worry that you have not recovered from losing “your” land as well as you think you have. Certainly it is extreme that your sister is pretending the land does not exist, and I know that must be frustrating, but she is not leaving the politics of that world high and dry — she couldn’t help them even if she wanted to!
The second reason your comparison is strange is that social networking is usually the closest that a private citizen can get to statecraft. You mention being kings and queens in the wardrobe, but you don’t sound like a queen in your home realm. Navigating social climbing — which includes paying attention to trends and fashion, especially for young women — could be the closest your sister gets to the old thrills of castle intrigue, foreign state visits, and treaty negotiations. If your sister has found a way to channel this old passion, she is more likely to see the old land as a distraction rather than a place she longs to return to, as you clearly see it.
I don’t know the situation well enough to say this is the case, but part of me wonders if she is planning to go into politics. She would need the social connections you scorn. It would be a natural use of the lessons she learned in the land beyond the wardrobe. And she is very worried about her family having a respectable public appearance rather than being known as the local crackpots who insist there are fairies in the cupboard (your home dimension takes a rather severe line about my kind, sadly). It sounds to me like your sister is worried that her “eccentric” siblings will eventually make her look “crazy” in the eyes of the non-believers she will need to vote for her!
I can’t say definitively that she is planning a run for government office, of course, even if that is the sense I get from your letter. It’s possible she finds the memories too painful and is trying to push them away — and that is why she is pushing you away when you try to remind her of them.
But if you want to get to the cause of your sister’s denial and ambitions, you will get much further by not assuming that she has actually forgotten/stopped caring about you and the people she once served or that she has given her life over to mere cosmetic beauty.
After all, for a trained stateswoman, a pretty face and a fashionable gown is as much armor as any you might have worn into battle against an evil witch.
Transcribed and annotated by Katy Mulvaney with permission from the League of Fairy Surrogates and Interdimensional Meta—Fantasy Council. The Trope Fairy can be reached by handing your message off to any member of your dimension’s Illuminati, though I encourage you to seal it well and hurry, since negotiations are always already ongoing between all branches of the Illuminati and the League of Fairy Surrogates and conditions are subject to rapid changes.
This column was originally published on July 9, 2021 on Medium.