What with this talk of gnosticism, and John Crowley’s linking of it to the tropes of fairy tales and fantasy, I wanted to put in a plug for my favorite two books of mine as a child that display a metaphysical conception close to that of the gnostics, that of there being a “world behind the world,” or rather, something more real than the physical.
Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy From Mars, by Daniel Pinkwater. Not only does Pinkwater leave the whole Mars business mostly unexplained, but the central device in the book is that famous “lost” places like Atlantas and Mu exist in the same physical space as our world, and through various techniques, the two fat Jewish teenagers who are the stars of the book can travel between them by tuning out our world and tuning in the other. There’s a wildly psychedelic scene where they’re halfway between one and the other and everything in our world becomes transparent and permeable.
Figgs and Phantoms, by Ellen Raskin. This one went completely over my head when I read it as a kid. Raskin did the far more normal Westing Game, but this one, about a family of eccentrics who have had their own personal afterlife (Capri, they call it) for hundreds of years, bears little similarity to it, or to anything else I read as a child. You do get to see Capri–sort of–but the ultimate message is that we make our own afterlife. Haunting.
Needless to say, these both read well at any age, and they’re far easier than Finnegans Wake.