Last Updated on January 20, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 998
In H. G. Wells’s “The Door in the Wall,” a man called Redmond recounts a story told to him a few months ago by his old friend Lionel Wallace. When listening to the story, Redmond says, he believed it. The next morning, however, he decided it was nothing more than a fantastic tale well-told; he marveled at how earnest his friend had appeared and how real the story had seemed. Looking back on that night now, Redmond is convinced that either Wallace’s story was true or that Wallace, at least, believed it was true.
Wallace and Redmond attended St. Athelstan’s College in London together, and while Redmond describes himself as having been an average student, Wallace was extremely successful in school. He was also successful in politics, becoming a prominent cabinet member. Yet Wallace always had a strangely detached quality and, as it turns out, harbored a secret that haunted him all his life.
Wallace grew up a precocious child in London’s West Kensington neighborhood. One day when he was five years old, he wandered away from his distant father and rather lax governess (his mother died when he was born) and came upon a green door in a white wall. He immediately felt a deep desire to walk through the door and a simultaneous conviction that to do so would be some kind of transgression, one that would anger his father. After idling at some dingy shops nearby, Wallace ran passionately back to the door and went through.
The boy emerged into an indescribably beautiful garden in which he immediately felt a sense of joy and well-being. West Kensington had vanished; he forgot about the duties and fears of his former life. He had the sensation that he had come home and that everything in this place was right and good. Wallace remains convinced this magical garden was an entirely different world. He encountered two tame panthers there, along with other friendly animals, and a girl who led him down a tree-lined path. All the people he saw in the vast garden with its fountains and palaces were beautiful, kind, and radiated love and happiness. He played wonderful games with other children but could never afterward remember what the games were, much to his frustration. Then a solemn woman took him from his play and began to read him a book that contained everything that had ever happened to him. But when they came to the page that showed him standing outside the green door, Wallace was unable to turn the page, and he found himself back on the dismal street in West Kensington. Wallace was returned to his father’s house by a policeman, where, for telling lies, he received his first corporal punishment and had his books of fairy tales taken away for encouraging his overly active imagination.
The next time Wallace saw the green door was as a schoolboy. While late for class one morning, he found himself passing by the door but ignored it, eager to get to school and assuming it would still be there later. Returning to the garden seemed like a “jolly” thing but not something he was desperate to do. Still, he thought about it all the time and even told another boy his secret. That boy told some of the older students, who accused Wallace of lying. Wallace insisted his story was true and, regretting having told the secret, tried to lead the boys to the door, but he couldn’t find it. He was disappointed and ashamed and did poorly in school for the next two years. Wallace didn’t see the door again until he was seventeen, when he was in a hansom cab on his way to accept a scholarship at Oxford. He almost told the driver to stop but changed his mind. Later as he received his father’s praise, he decided he had made the right decision: to choose his career and his life in this world over the magical world beyond the door.
Wallace reflects that he has done very well in his career and that for a long time, his life was exciting and meaningful enough to distract him from his memories of the garden. Years ago he saw the door once more on his way to the house of someone he was in love with, but he ignored it again, even though he knew it would be gone if he tried to find it again. He later regretted this.
Now approaching forty, Wallace has become disillusioned with life and work. The world no longer seems to hold any pleasure or promise for him, and he yearns to return to the garden. At the next opportunity, he says, he will walk through the door and never return to this mundane reality. He says he has seen the door three times over the past year: once while on his way to an important political event, once while on his way to his father’s deathbed, and once while pursuing his political ambitions in a conversation with another colleague. He greatly regrets not returning to the door and opening it this last time. Though he has achieved great success in his career, these accomplishments have become meaningless to him. He has stopped putting in any real effort at work and wanders the streets alone at night, grieving for the lost garden.
A few months after hearing his old friend’s story, Redmond reads in the paper that Wallace has been found dead at the bottom of a deep pit, apparently after having walked through a mistakenly unfastened door in a construction site. Redmond says he sometimes believes Wallace’s story may have been true and proposes that the unhappy cabinet minister may have had a gift for seeing beyond our everyday reality. Perhaps the door in the construction site was, for Wallace, really the door to an enchanted garden. The author leaves it up to the reader to decide.