Finding Hidden Portals and Other Worlds by Eleanor Crewes
When I was little I wished more than anything to be a witch. I dressed in black, wore silver jewellery from the market, learned the magical symbols that appeared in the comic books my Dad left around the house, and begged my parents for a black cat who I named Lulu and loved for eighteen years. My family always encouraged my quirks, my Dad would buy me any comic or book that had a red haired witch or superhero in the lead, and my Mum would indulge most of my gothic fancies when out shopping for new clothes.
On a trip over from Italy, my Auntie, who is not too dissimilar to Zia Piera in Lilla the Accidental Witch, presented me with a book of everyday spells that I could perform with a mixture of household ingredients and common or garden plants. A sprig of rosemary, a pinch of salt and a button from my Mum’s sewing basket, would be combined in a small cloth bag and placed under my brother’s pillow to stop his bad dreams. A friend’s Mum made me my very own chakra necklace out of a small stone of rose quartz, encased in thin wire and attached to a leather strap. I hid it under the neckline of my school uniform for years.
Growing up, I was lucky to have not one, or two, but three best friends and a favorite game of ours during playtime at school was to look for hidden portals that would lead us into other worlds. One summer we collected rusty keys that we found in old drawers, cupboards and garden sheds and attempted to fit them into the holes that appeared in the external brickwork of our Edwardian school building. Not one of us ever found a doorway, but I would often dream of the exhilarating relief I would feel in the moments after my key finally clicked into place, I saw the bricks begin to shift and I stepped out of my world and into another. In my mind I was confident that it would be me who found the doorway and was allowed to escape, because I was certain that I was the odd one out.
In Lilla the Accidental Witch, Lilla is thirteen years old and gets to experience all the things my childhood self dreamed of (becoming a witch, the offer of a new and magical land, a talking cat), although if you have read the book you will know that she is a little more scared and apprehensive at first than I believe my childhood self would have admitted to being. Like I did, Lilla also feels like the strange one. She’s shy and easily flustered, she isn’t sure if she wants to be looked after like a child or left to make her own decisions as an adult. When confronted with the truth that she comes from a long line of witches, there’s a part of her that isn’t surprised because she knew there was something she wasn’t quite ‘getting’ about herself. These feelings hang over Lilla throughout her summer and often stop her from enjoying herself. She feels awkward when speaking with her older sister’s boyfriend and definitely isn’t interested in having one of her own! When Lilla meets Ludo and her girlfriend Serena, things become even more confusing and the prospect of being a witch gets entangled with other choices she will have to confront sooner or later.
In the first edit of this book, Lilla was a far more fanciful character, easily carried away with the idea of becoming a witch. But as I developed the drawings I realized that she needed to be less naive, because the story I wanted to tell wasn’t of a child running away from her problems, but learning to face them head on. Becoming a witch is really only the beginning of Lilla’s story: in the days where I filled my head with my witchy dreams and other worlds, I always saw the unveiling of this fantasy to be the end. I would be told that I was a witch and–like the portal I hoped to find–I could leave not only this world, but big decisions and changes behind me as I stepped through the doorway and became someone else. I was never fussy about who the person was that I would discover myself to really be, as long as she was different and powerful, important and strong. As long as I was able to keep my long red hair, was allowed to return every night to be with my family and Lulu, eat my Mum’s cooking, and was given the ability to fly, then I knew I’d be happy.
As an adult, I no longer wish for another world, because I’ve been able to build the one that I dreamed of.
Eleanor Crewes is a London-based illustrator. Her debut graphic novel The Times I Knew I Was Gay was featured in an exhibit at Toronto Comic Arts Festival and received review from The Quietus and Broken Frontier, and will be published in the US by Scribner in October 2020. She specializes in graphic storytelling and enjoys mixing autobiography into her projects wherever she can. You can find more about her and her work at https://www.eleanorcrewesillustration.co.uk