I received an email from the folks at Goodreads asking for me to answer the following question: “If you could travel to any fictional book world, where would you go and what would you do there?”
What a great question! And one you should ask yourself as well. Here’s how I answered it:
I started by sorting through the fictional worlds of my favorite novels, and soon realized that I had no interest in spending any length of time in any of those worlds. Moby Dick may be the Great American Novel, but life on the Pequod under the rule of the obsessed Captain Ahab was not my idea of a great time. As for Huckleberry Finn, a day or two floating down the Mississippi River aboard the raft with Huck and Jim would be fun, but once that steamboat destroys the raft and forces Huck (and, if I don’t drown, me) onshore, the fun would end. The Roaring 20s version of Long Island with Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway? Nope. The corrupt L.A. of Raymond Chandler’s mystery novels? Nope. The English countryside of Jane Austen’s 18th Century novels? Maybe for a few days, but that would get old pretty fast. The Deep South of William Faulker’s amazing novels? Are you kidding? The Greek siege of the ancient City of Troy in the Iliad? No way–though I’d love to hang with Odysseus for a few days. The 19th Century Russia of Anna Karenina? Not for me. As for roaming the countryside of Spain in the 1600s, I concede that it has a certain appeal, especially while sharing a full wineskin with Sancho Panza, However, trying to cope with Don Quixote would drive me crazy. Moreover, given that the Alhambra Decree had expelled all Jews from Spain in 1492, a picaresque adventure with the Man of La Mancha might end unhappily for yours truly.
I flipped through the rest of my list of favorites. Blood Meridian? Catch-22? The Scarlet Letter? For Whom the Bell Tolls? Nope, nope, nope, nope.
Try it yourself. Run through your own list of favorite works of literature and you will likely discover what I discovered, namely, to borrow that old saying about New York City: it might be a nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.
As I was about to give up, I had my epiphany: Shakespeare!
No, not the Denmark of Hamlet or the Scotland of Macbeth or the Venice of poor Shylock.
Instead, I selected that fairyland forest on the outskirts of Athens in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Can there be any better place to travel than a magical forest inhabited by fairies, lovers, and those six hilarious amateur actors, including Peter Quince, Nick Bottom and Tom Snout, who comprise Shakespeare’s version of the Marx Brothers. As for what I would do on that moonlit evening? Well, if I couldn’t convince Peter Quince to find a role for me in the play they plan to present for the wedding of the Duke and the Queen, I’d just find a comfortable spot near that stage, fill a tall glass with wine, and enjoy the evening.