A lot of popular fictional stories have, as their primary premise, their protagonists traveling from one world (typically our world) into another, far different, world. Whether this is something like The Forbidden Kingdom (a movie about a white savior transported to ancient China which I nevertheless loved as a child) or the much better Spirited Away (a movie about a young girl who falls into the spirit world and grows up along the way), traveling to new and fantastical worlds is such a part of our fictional tradition that it’s seen dozens of times in new stories every year. But very few of these stories really explore the emotional cost of traveling to these new worlds. That’s where today’s fic comes in. Through the use of an unusually real medium, This American Life, today’s story This American Life episode 141: A Whole New World. (Transcript) discusses the pros and cons of traveling to new worlds.
For those who haven’t listened to This American Life before, it’s an American radio program which is broadcast on many different public radio stations, both American and international. In it, host Ira Glass shares several non-fiction stories based around a theme—babysitting, immigration fears in America, and the like. In this story, the Ira Glass of the fanfic hits upon a theme which could practically be one of our Magical Monday columns:
Ira Glass From WBEZ Chicago, it’s This American Life. I’m Ira Glass. Today on our radio program, we have three stories of people stepping from one world, the only world they’ve ever known, into an entirely new world. What happens when you open that door? What do you do with what you find, and — when you look back — how do you understand what you’ve left behind? Stay with us.
Glass speaks to Captain America‘s Steve Rogers, Harry Potter’s Hermione Granger and Professor McGonagall, and Chronicles of Narnia’s Susan Pevensie. Each shares their experience of moving from one world to the other, whether it’s Steve moving from the past to the present, Hermione moving from the Muggle world to the wizarding world, or Susan going to Narnia and back. Even though we the audience often feel that these sorts of journeys must be incredible (who among us would pass up the opportunity to travel to the future, or have magic, or be Queen?) through Glass’s insightful questioning, we learn that more often than not, there’s a real sense of loss to these journeys. Steve lost everyone and everything he’d ever known, Hermione sacrificed her relationship to her parents, and Susan’s own childhood innocence disappeared.
Author NaomiK juggles a lot of voices from different fandoms throughout this story, and they handle it perfectly. Crossovers often suffer when the author doesn’t know one canon as well as the next, but NaomiK absolutely nails the tone and cadence of each character in the fic. Steve still makes his dry jokes; Hermione is eager and knowledgeable and easily frustrated; Susan is headstrong as ever. And the fictional Ira Glass’s voice was so on point that I could hear his voice in my head, like a radio program, as I read the story. Just like many of the best This American Life episodes, This American Life episode 141: A Whole New World. (Transcript) is an excellent and thought-provoking way in which to spend an hour or two.
You can read This American Life episode 141: A Whole New World. (Transcript) here on the AO3! If the other words above aren’t enough of a recommendation, I’ll leave you with this teaser:
Steve Rogers You want to know what I like better about the future? I like equality. I like civil rights. You know, in 1943, there were black soldiers but they could only eat in canteens for black people. And back home, even in the northern states there were restaurants that wouldn’t serve black people.
Here’s what I like: I like that Sam and I can go out to lunch — Sam’s black — Sam and I can go out to lunch, and we can go into any restaurant we like and sit down and order. Not because I’m Captain America, but because it’s the law of the land.
Ira Glass Do you ever look back and think, “we couldn’t have been friends, back in 1943, because people wouldn’t have let us?”
Steve Rogers All the time.
Ira Glass So now I’m wondering if Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was on one of your lists.
Steve Rogers Yes. Also his Letter from Birmingham Jail. I also read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, and more recently I’ve been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Ira Glass It really wasn’t just the Beatles and the Moon Landings you’re catching up on.
Steve Rogers The Beatles? Do I need to add them to my list? [PAUSE] I’m messing with you, don’t worry, I’ve listened to the Beatles.