The Green Door, by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

The Green Door, by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman (1910), is, as far as I know, the first American time travel story for children.  At this point, Nesbit had published her wild and wonderful time travel books (like The Story of the Amulet), but the genre was still in its infancy.  The Green Door is nowhere near as fantastical as Nesbit's books; it's  a very early 20th century American sort of book, written when "colonial times" were romanticized and respected, and as such it's a product of its time (there are savage "injuns"), but it's a solid story that's not without charm.

Letitia Hopkins lives in the old family home with her Great-Aunt.  She's not a very appealing child; rather entitled and lazy; she has lots of books, for instance, but prefers daydreaming of wealth and possessions to reading.  In her aunt's house there's a little green door, that's always locked.  It's a strange door, set in an outside wall, but with no sign of it on the outside.  Her Aunt refused to answer any questions about it--"It is not best for you to know" she says, which naturally makes Letitia even more curious.  Then one day when Letitia is left alone, she rummages through her aunt's things, and finds the key.

The door opens, and Letitia finds herself in a cold night-time woods.  "And suddenly Letitia heard again those strange sounds she had heard before coming out, and she knew that they were savage whoops of Indians, just as she had read about them in her history-book, and she saw also dark forms skulking about behind the trees, as she had read." She's rescued by an early colonial family, who take her in to their log house.

To her amazement, she's not the only Letitia Hopkins; the mother and the oldest girl are named that too, and she realizes that these are her ancestors.  There's no sign of the door at first, and she resigns herself to colonial, Puritan life, eating food she doesn't like, learning domestic tasks she's never had any patience for back home, and going to boring Puritan church.  When she does find the green door back in the past, she's scared to go through it again, lest she find herself somewhere worse. Then she meets a boy with a story similar to her own, who she remembers actually meeting in her own time.  He came into the past through a book, and like her, he's afraid to go through again...

But Letitia finally screws her courage up to go through, and finds herself home again, with no time having passed.  She's been improved by her visit to the past, and is a much better child.  The boy makes it back safely too.

It's very short, and I really am not fond of the cliché of savage Indians, but it's full of lovely details of the past that are brought vividly to life.  The door itself is a lovely portal, beautifully described.  I liked it well enough so that I'll keep Freeman's name in mind for future library book sales; I read this online through google books, and wouldn't mind at all having a copy of my own for my time travel collection.  She was very well known during her lifetime, and was the first recipient of the William Dean Howells Medal for Distinction in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1926.

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