“The Door in the Wall” is a short story by H. G. Wells, first published in the Daily Chronicle on 14 July 1906 and subsequently reprinted in The Country of the Blind and Other Stories (1911) and The Door in the Wall and Other Stories (1911).
The story recounts the death of a prominent member of the British government, Lionel Wallace, as he is looking to rediscover an enchanted garden he had encountered as a child, the memory of which has haunted him ever since. It is narrated by an old school friend identified only as Redmond, telling of a “confidential evening” he and Wallace had spent together three months previously.
Wallace and Redmond have been good friends since they were at school together at St Athelstan’s College in West Kensington, London. One evening, the normally reticent Wallace confesses to a preoccupation he has with something “that rather takes the light out of things, that fills me with longings”.
Wallace reveals that when he was five or six years old he had slipped out of the family home unnoticed, and while wandering around the streets of West Kensington he had come across a green door. Somehow he knew that the door was unlocked, and he could go through it if he chose, but he hesitated until a “gust of emotion” overcame him and he plunged through into “the garden that was to haunt all his life”. Everything in the garden is beautiful.
One of the first things Wallace sees is two great panthers, one of which comes towards him purring, as if to welcome him home. Then a tall, fair girl appears, and leads him by the hand to a place where he finds some other children with whom he plays for several hours, before a tall dark woman takes him away to a gallery above a hall. There she shows Wallace a book containing the story of his life, until at last she comes to the page where he is hesitating outside the green door. The woman is reluctant to go on, but Wallace is insistent; she kisses him on the brow and then lets him turn the page. But what it shows is a long grey street in West Kensington, “on that chill hour of afternoon before the lamps are lit”, and a little boy weeping aloud because he has lost his playmates. A kindly old gentleman asks if he is lost, and calls a policeman to take Wallace home.
It is some time before Wallace attempts to find the door again, but it does appear to him spontaneously in different places from time to time, always when he is preoccupied with what seem like more important matters, and so he passes it by. But eventually his grieving for the lost garden becomes too much for him, and he determines to try and find the green door again:
Yes. I wonder what people would think of that if they knew. A Cabinet Minister, the responsible head of that most vital departments, wandering alone – grieving – sometimes near audibly lamenting – for a door, for a garden!
The story ends with an account of Wallace’s death as reported in the Westminster Gazette. He had fallen into a deep excavation near East Kensington station, after passing through a small doorway in the surrounding hoarding put there for the convenience of the workmen.
“The Door in the Wall” is centred on a theme to which Wells returned throughout his career, as in his earlier short story “Mr. Skelmersdale in Fairyland”A short story by H. G. Wells first published in 1901, about a young man who falls asleep one midsummer's night and wakes to find himself in Fairyland., first published in 1901; a man visits a wonderful place, leaves it, and then searches in vain “for the promise the vision seems to embody”. Wells described such stories, in which wanderers find themselves adrift in strange worlds, as exploration fantasies.
The influence of “The Door in the Wall” can be seen in the work of later writers such as James Hilton in his novel Lost Horizon (1933), and John Fowles’s Daniel Martin (1977).