Parallel universes are not an uncommon idea, both in the past and in more modern examples of literature and film. These stories tell of worlds that are more fair, just, and interesting than our own. Worlds where animals can speak and have levels of intelligence similar to or equal to those of humans. In stories where the main character doesn’t find the strange world they wandered into as just and fair, they often hear stories themselves of how it used to be that way, and how it could be again. Regardless of how the story is framed, parallel universes are often written with threads of wishful thinking woven throughout.
One clear example of this idea is Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World. The Blazing World is a story about a young woman, described as being purely good, who accidentally finds her way into a parallel universe called the Blazing World. In this story, the young woman is automatically cared for with reverence by animal people who walk upright like humans, very quickly being taken to the ruler of this new place and made the empress. She is given full control over the world that she is in, making changes as she pleases. She is also told, when she first takes command of the Blazing World, that it is a place with only one religion, one ruler, and one governing system. A place where everyone gets along, and there is even a cure for old age.
In all ways, the blazing world is portrayed as being superior to the world in which the Empress came from originally, Earth, at least in the fact that everyone is happy with the way things are. Where the Empress can see improvements that can be made, she makes them, making the society that she wandered into her perfect interpretation of a utopia. This interpretation of utopia, though, is not just a fictional character’s interpretation, it is the author’s interpretation. Margaret Cavendish was a woman scientist, philosopher, and writer that lived in the seventeenth century, a time when these professions were not widely accepted for a woman to hold. As such, she made ways to practice her chosen professions on her own, by talking and debating with herself in her writing. In The Blazing Word, the two pieces of Margaret’s “brain”, or her two opposing arguments, took the form of the characters of the Empress and the spirit of the Duchess of Newcastle. An article written by Peter West states that “First, she calls for Galileo, Descartes or Hobbes, among others. However, she is informed that while these men are ‘fine ingenious Writers’ they are also ‘so self-conceited, that they would scorn to be Scribes to a Woman.’ So, instead, the Empress summons a woman: the Duchess of Newcastle – that is, Margaret Cavendish herself!” (West, 2022) When introducing the second character that would bring her debates to life in her short novel, Cavendish first talks of famous male scientists, but then ends up bringing herself into the novel as she actually is, just in spirit form.
In this parallel universe she has created, she gives herself the power to summon any spirit that she might choose, but chooses to make herself the most virtuous of the options, calling the others too “self-conceited”. This might symbolize her desire to be the greatest mind in science of the time, or simply a desire to put down her male counterparts. Either way, the parallel universe that she created showed exactly what she might have wished to change in the society she was born into. A place where everyone got along, where a woman could be in a position of great power and have influence over subjects that were considered to be for men, and where women could have positions in the church and congregations built just for them. Above all else though, the parallel universe that she created was a place where she could debate issues of philosophy and science in peace, with no one to contest her.
Another parallel universe can be found in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. John Milton did not create the parallel universe that was the Garden of Eden, but neither is it exactly the same as it was in the Bible, where it was first written about. In John Milton’s interpretation of the Garden of Eden, the Garden was a place of perfection, as it was of God. A true paradise. It was a place where everything lived in harmony with each other, where humans could live in peace and perfect happiness, as long as they followed God and his command not to eat of the fruit of a specific tree. “To whom thus Eve yet sinless. Of the Fruit Of each Tree in the Garden we may eate, But of the Fruit of this fair Tree amidst The Garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eate Thereof, nor shall ye touch it, least ye die” (Milton, 1667). Milton made the Garden of Eden out to be the perfect paradise, as it was written of in the Bible. Milton’s wishful thinking in the writing of this parallel universe comes from his religious belief. But, it wasn’t wishful thinking about the world itself, it was wishful thinking about what happened in that world.
For example, in book 4 of Paradise Lost, God puts a sign into the sky to show Satan that he cannot win a fight against the angel Gabriel. “Satan, I know thy strength, and thou know’st mine, Neither our own but giv’n; what follie then To boast what Arms can doe, since thine no more Then Heav’n permits, nor mine, though doubld now To trample thee as mire: for proof look up, And read thy Lot in yon celestial Sign Where thou art weigh’d, and shown how light, how weak, If thou resist. The Fiend lookt up and knew His mounted scale aloft: nor more; but fled Murmuring, and with him fled the shades of night.” (Milton, 1667) This event was not actually stated as having happened in the Bible, but Milton likely hoped that God would have done something about Satan trying to fight his way into the Garden of Eden, so he included the scene. There were also several other examples of this in the story, such as when Adam decided to eat the fruit as well. In Milton’s story, Adam does this out of love for his wife, and not because he was deceived as well. As such, it can be seen that Milton had wishful thinking in regard to what happened in the history of his religion, and he showcased it in the interpretation of the parallel universe he created in Paradise Lost.
In other examples of parallel universes as wishful thinking, it is a character’s influence or experience in the world that is wishful thinking, and not the world itself. One example of this kind of wishful thinking is Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The parallel universe that Carroll created in his novel, Wonderland, wasn’t written as if it was a better or more fair place than the real world, though it certainly was more interesting. Instead, Wonderland is supposed to be a satire of victorian era England. Carroll makes fun of the nonsensical rules and expectations of the society that he lived in through his creation, but the wishful thinking comes in the form of Alice herself. Carroll wrote Alice as a character, who, despite the strange world she was dropped into, was able to survive it using her good judgment. Carroll also wrote Alice to challenge the belief that children born into victorian era society have to adapt to and accept the adult society as it was to be able to survive it as children and as they grew into adults. A small example of this comes from a quote from the novel: “The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: “No room! No room!” they cried out when they saw Alice coming. “There’s plenty of room!” said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.” (Carroll, 1865) The character Alice does not adapt but goes into the world recognizing it for what it was without trying to excuse its shortcomings and challenges it as she goes. This is the wishful thinking in the parallel universe that Carroll created, that the children in his world would challenge the nonsense rules and expectations of the society that they were growing up in.
One final example of wishful thinking in the form of parallel universes is Narnia in the movie, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. The wishful thinking in this example comes in both the form of character experience and influence and the form of the world itself. The world of Narnia is a fantastical place where mythical creatures exist and animals and trees have human-level consciousness, and in the case of the animals, the ability to speak. In the story, four siblings escape their dreary life of boredom by themselves, having been sent away from their home due to war, and travel through a wardrobe to the kingdom of Narnia where they realize they have a great destiny. In regard to the characters’ experiences and influence on the parallel universe, wishful thinking can be seen in the fact that four ordinary children were tranformed into heros that saved the kingdom and brought back just and fair leadership, through the one that they pledged service to. This is meant to resemble biblical ideology, as in Christ and the apostles. He was demonstrating his thinking that people, despite being ordinary in our society, can be extraordinary through faith.
In the original book series that C.S Lewis wrote, there was also deeper symbolism embeded in the world itself. The world seems very random, having all sorts of creatures coexisting in one place. Many people have wondered why this might be. In one article written by Kristine Hoyt, talking about the symbolism in Narnia, she shares a theory of a C.S Lewis scholar who said, “Lewis knows what he’s up to in all these seemingly random details. Likewise, God, in the real world, is working his purposes out (Hoyt, 2019).” If this theory is true, then it can be infered that C.S Lewis was hoping to create Narnia to be as complex and full of hidden meaning as he believed God did in the real world. Even so, the world of Narnia itself was created as a representation of the life of Christ and other Christian ideologies. Much like Milton’s Paradise Lost, Lewis’ wishful thinking came from what he believed and hoped his religion to be. The parallel universe that he created wasn’t strictly biblical, he guessed at things and changed things based on his interpretation to fit what he believed.
In conclusion, wishful thinking can often be found in the motivations behind parallel universes in multiple forms. Sometimes the author shapes the parallel universe into what they wish the world they live in was like. Other times, the wishful thinking comes in the form of the character’s experiences in that parallel universe, showing what they wish people in the real world could experience or accomplish. Still other times, both could be true. It is often about comparison. What the world is really like vs. what the author wishes it could be. That is why parallel universes are often created with wishful thinking woven throughout.
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West, Peter. “Margaret Cavendish and the Power of Debating With Yourself: Psyche Ideas.” Psyche, Psyche, 10 Dec. 2022, https://psyche.co/ideas/margaret-cavendish-and-the-power-of-debating-with-yourself.