In Every Heart a Doorway, the first novella in the stellar Wayward Children series, author Seanan McGuire explores what happens when children who disappeared into magical worlds returned to the real world. Its prequel story Down Among the Sticks and Bones explores one of these worlds in detail, telling the story of how Jacqueline and Jillian became Jack and Jill. The consequences of leaving your home world for the real one come to roost in the third novella, Beneath the Sugar Sky, a theme explored from a different angle in the fourth novella, In An Absent Dream.
Maguire’s portal worlds are connected to our own through magic doors. Not just any child can cross the threshold; something innate in their being or in the other world draws them in. What follows is an account of every single portal world mentioned, even in passing. Most of the worlds we have only scattershot information, but they’re listed here anyway alongside those we know a substantial amount about. I’ve kept spoilers out as much as possible.
Before we get into it, here’s what you need to know about McGuire’s portal worlds. First, most can be organized on a Compass (shown below) with four cardinal “directions”: Nonsense, Logic, Wickedness, and Virtue. The rules defining these directions aren’t hard and fast. For examples, Kade and Eleanor disagree on the level of Earth’s Logic, and, as Nancy realizes in Every Heart a Doorway, how a person defines wicked and virtuous depends on their cultural perspectives and individual experiences.
Moreover, some worlds are Neutral, in that they are neither Wicked nor Virtuous. Most portal worlds are either Logic and Wicked or Nonsense and Virtue, and there are also several minor directions, including Wild, Whimsy, Reason, Rhyme, Linearity, Vitus, Mortis. A world may have a minor direction in addition to Wickedness or Virtue, or may have only minor directions.
There are also two further defining categories. Regardless of where on the Compass a world falls, it can usually be categorized as an Underworld, Netherworld, Afterlife, Fairyland or Goblin Market (a subtype of Fairyland that selects its children ahead of time), Mirror, Lake, or Drowned World.
Every portal world is also either a To or a From. In other words, a world either tends to attract children to it or children tend to leave it for others better suited to their needs; most worlds are To and are connected to a From but may border other Tos. Children do leave from To worlds (we know of one each from the Goblin Market and Confection), but Earth is the only world we know of that is both a To and From.
Alright, let’s get started. First up, worlds with known names and named travelers.
Alignment and type: High Logic, Nonsense; “Real”
Traveler: Onishi Rini, introduced in Sugar Sky
Important Residents: The stranded or banished travelers at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
Skills, Habits, or Magical Tokens of Returned Children: None—Earth has no magic of its own
Description: Look out your window.
Worth a visit? I mean, since we all live here already… To find out what Rini thinks of our world, pick up Beneath the Sugar Sky.
Halls of the Dead
Alignment and type: Nonsense and Wicked; Underworld
Traveler: Nancy Whitman, introduced in Every Heart and featured in Sugar Sky
Important Residents: Lord and Lady of the Dead. The first book also mentions the Lady of Shadows, but this may be an alternate name for the Lady of the Dead.
Skills, Habits, or Magical Tokens of Returned Children: Nancy has the ability to become as still as a statue, including stopping her heartbeat and slowing the aging process.
Description: “a long hall, the sort that belonged in a palace or a museum, its walls lined with statues. No, not statues—people.”
Worth a visit? I am a world-renowned fidgeter, even fussing around in my sleep, so there is not enough money in the world to make me want to go there. Wouldn’t mind having drinks with the Lady of the Dead though. She seems cool.
Alignment and type: High Nonsense and Virtue (additionally, it’s either near the border of another Logic world or with a secondary trait of Reason); Mirror
Traveler: Onishi Sumi, introduced in Every Heart and featured in Sugar Sky
Important Residents: Queen of Cakes, Countess of Candy Floss, Fondant Wizard, the candy corn farmer Sumi plans to marry
Skills, Habits, or Magical Tokens of Returned Children: Sumi cannot sit still and is disorder incarnate. She makes cat’s-cradles endlessly.
Description: “the sea below her was pink and the air around her smelled of sugar and strawberry syrup.”
Worth a visit? Not much of a sweets person, but the weird candy animals utterly fascinate me.
Alignment and type: High Logic and High Wicked; type not mentioned but maybe a Mirror?
Traveler: Jack and Jill Wolcott, introduced in Every Heart and featured in Sticks and Bones
Important Residents: The Master, Dr. Bleak, Mary, the Chopper family
Skills, Habits, or Magical Tokens of Returned Children: Jack is analytical, hates being dirty, and has no qualms about corpses. Jill is spiteful, stubborn, and eats mostly iron-rich foods.
Description: “a place of endless scientific experimentation, of monstrous beauty, and of terrible consequences.”
Worth a visit? Vampires. Mad Scientists. Werewolves. Gargoyles. Drowned Gods. Torch-wielding villagers. Of course I’d go! Like, for a vacation, maybe, not to stay. Unless Dr. Bleak is looking for a very squeamish and incredibly lazy apprentice.
Mariposa, aka Country of the Bones
Alignment and type: Logic, Rhyme, and Neutral; Underworld
Traveler: Christopher, introduced in Every Heart
Important Residents: Skeleton Girl
Skills, Habits, or Magical Tokens of Returned Children: He carries around a carved ulna on which he can play music only the dead can hear.
Description: “A country of happy, dancing skeletons… sort of sunshine by way of Día de los Muertos.”
Worth a visit?
Alignment and type: High Logic and Virtue (or as Sumi puts it, High Logic that is “pretending to be High Nonsense”); a Goblin Market Fairyland
Traveler: Kade Bronson, introduced in Every Heart
Important Residents: Goblin King of the Goblin Empire, Rainbow Princess of the Fairy Court
Skills, Habits, or Magical Tokens of Returned Children: Kade is an ace tailor.
Description: A place with a secondary communication system using musical pipes and rigid gender rules—Kade is kicked out when he realizes he is not a girl but a boy.
Worth a visit? The pipes are intriguing, but just say no to gender stereotyping.
The Goblin Market
Alignment and type: This is a hard world to categorize, for reasons that become obvious in In an Absent Dream. The Market would probably call itself Nonsense, Reason, and Neutral, but some of its current and former denizens might put it more on either the Virtuous or Wicked ends; Fairyland
Traveler: Katherine Lundy, introduced in Every Heart a Doorway
Important Residents: Moon, Mockery, the Archivist, Vincent the pie-making unicorn centaur
Skills, Habits, or Magical Tokens of Returned Children: Lundy is a rule-follower, but only because people leave her alone when she does. She is quiet but not shy, thoughtful but not pensive, and careful with her choice of words.
Description: Buy In an Absent Dream and find out. (You can read the first two chapters here!)
Worth a visit? Since the Goblin Market allows multiple return journeys until a child’s 18th birthday, I wouldn’t mind exploring it a few times.
Alignment and type: Reason, possibly Wicked; possibly Fairyland
Traveler: Cora, introduced in Sugar Sky
Important Residents: Serpent of Frozen Tears
Skills, Habits, or Magical Tokens of Returned Children: She’s a strong swimmer and still has blue-green hair leftover from her time in her water world.
Description: Bitterly cold and deep water.
Worth a visit? Color me intrigued.
Alignment and type: High Logic, High Rhyme, and High Linearity; Fairyland
Traveler: Loriel Youngers, introduced in Every Heart
Important Residents: Queen of Dust, Prince of Wasps
Skills, Habits, or Magical Tokens of Returned Children: Loriel can see such small things she now has to wear glasses to compensate.
Description: A teensy world populated by insects and arachnids
Worth a visit?
Belyyreka, aka the Drowned World and the Land Beneath the Lake
Alignment and type: Logic, possibly Wicked; Lakes or a Drowned World
Traveler: Nadya the Drowned Girl, introduced in Sugar Sky
Important Residents: Burian the turtle
Skills, Habits, or Magical Tokens of Returned Children: She can talk to turtles, and they have an affinity for her.
Description: None given, other than there are a ton of turtles.
Worth a visit? Well, I do like turtles, so sure, why not.
In a few cases we know the name of the traveler but few details (so far) of the world they went to.
Unnamed Nonsense World #1
Alignment and type: Nonsense, High Virtue, and Moderate Rhyme; type unknown
Traveler: Eleanor West, introduced in Every Heart
Important Residents: None mentioned
Skills, Habits, or Magical Tokens of Returned Children: Traveled to and from her other world six times before she was sixteen, so her age is out of whack with realityñshe looks like she’s in her sixties but she’s really almost a hundred years old.
Description: None provided
Worth a visit? Reminded me a little of Narnia. If the world is more like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, then thanks but no thanks. If it’s closer to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, then sign me up.
Unnamed World of Rainbows
Alignment and type: Alignment unknown; Fairyland
Traveler: Angela, introduced in Every Heart
Important Residents: None mentioned
Skills, Habits, or Magical Tokens of Returned Children: She is an excellent long-distance runner and has magical sneakers that allow her to run on rainbows.
Description: Basically a world of rainbows. Unknown what was below the rainbows.
Worth a visit? Running is. The. Worst.
Unnamed World of Beauty
Alignment and type: Nonsense, High Wicked, and High Rhyme; type unknown
Traveler: Seraphina, introduced in Every Heart
Important Residents: Possibly Helen of Troy
Skills, Habits, or Magical Tokens of Returned Children: “Pretty as a sunrise, mean as a snake.”
Description: None provided
Unnamed Nonsense World #2
Alignment and type: High Nonsense; Underworld
Traveler: Unnamed mother and daughter, introduced in Every Heart
Description: A generational portal world that can only be accessed through a special mirror under the light of a full moon.
Unnamed Logic World
Alignment and type: High Logic; Fairyland
Traveler: Unnamed child, introduced in Every Heart
Description: None provided
Alignment and type: Unknown alignment and type
Traveler: Unnamed girl, introduced in Every Heart
Description: Like something out of “a Hammer film.”
There are other worlds mentioned throughout the series, as well; we know nothing of their alignments, types, or the names of the visiting children, just a line here and there telling us the world exists.
Unnamed worlds where children…
- had cooling silver bells that kept them from burning alive.
- possessed crystal statues that magically cured their diseases until shattered.
- had magic shoes that they would die without
- had balls made of gold that they would die without
- lived alongside mole people
- lived in perpetual winter
- lived in perpetual summer
- lived in light
- lived in darkness
- lived in atop rain
- made homes in of “pure mathematics, where every number chimes like crystal as it rolls into reality”
- used diamonds as currency
- used snakeskins as currency
- used salt as currency
And the very last world I can’t forget to mention is wherever the boy from Confection who hated chocolate went when he found his door….
Originally published in November 2017.
Alex Brown is a YA librarian by day, local historian by night, pop culture critic/reviewer by passion, and an ace/aro Black woman all the time. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, check out her endless barrage of cute rat pics on Instagram, or follow along with her reading adventures on her blog.