When I was young and reading the Narnia books, I detested (as I was supposed to detest) Eustace Clarence Scrubb, who did not enter into the spirit of Narnia at all, who was sulky about grand adventures and had to be turned into a dragon in order to learn his lesson.

I bitterly envied him being turned into a dragon. I would have given my eyeteeth to be a dragon.

Years later I read Voyage of the Dawn Treader again and realized that Eustace got a pretty raw deal, although arguably not as raw as Susan, and that you really couldn’t win sometimes. And I had watched The Neverending Story about five hundred times and when I finally read the book, where the child story-teller’s creations are given life and come to him crying “Why have you done this to us?” I was deeply horrified. Artex in the Swamps of Sorrow had nothing on this for sheer awfulness.

But these were adult understandings, and as I am often a children’s book author, I set out to write a portal fantasy for children.

I couldn’t do it.

I couldn’t get out of my own way. Narnia was too important to me. It mattered too much. I could not sanitize it. The terrible, fascinating darkness underneath the fantasy world would not go away. When I put myself in the shoes of my heroine, I knew enough to be afraid.

There is a legacy in children’s books–I blame the Victorians–for books to reassure children that being a kid is just fantastic, that adulthood is nothing but taxes and hair loss, that being a kid is an idyllic innocence and only a very foolish child would want to grow up.

Well, I was skeptical even then, and more skeptical now. And that, too, got in the way of my writing. So eventually I gave up on trying to write a proper children’s portal fantasy and wrote this book instead.

Summer in Orcus is my portal fantasy. It is my response to Narnia and The Phantom Tollbooth and The Neverending Story, which I read (and watched) as a child, and to Abarat and Valente’s Fairyland, which I read as an adult.

Whatever age you are, I hope you find something worth having in Orcus.

Chapter One


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