A short while ago, I set a course for home, following from memory – and the smell of hot soup – the route that Max took away from the Wild Things. I have taken over the navigation: the safety of this ship and the care of the crew are my responsibility as Captain and, frankly, I was afraid if I left our final journey to Satnav Steve, we might give a new resonance to the ship’s name and wander the Universe of Stories for ever after. A tad more training is in order for him, I think, before the next voyage. I am beginning to suspect that the characters who gave him references were a little too steeped in fiction.
The ship, on the return, was loaded to the gunwales with treasures beyond price. All had been carefully catalogued and scrupulously examined by In-the-Know Joe, as well as being recorded by Copycat Kate: Mrs Twit’s glass eye, Just William’s cap, an arrow from Robin Hood, Mr McGregor’s watering can, a few last crumbs from Bruce Bogtrotter’s chocolate cake, Snow White’s apple, Sherlock Holmes’s magnifying glass, the sword Excalibur (which may mean that the government of the land now has to be moved to the Story Museum – I do hope they are willing to take that on), and a stray India red rubber ball (not sure where that came from). Our Never-Ending Store still has capacity, but we may be carrying more than there is space for The Story Museum to display. I am also counting on them having no objection to a menagerie: we have brought with us Dr Dolittle’s parrot Polynesia, for instance – a very conversational creature. And – it seemed a coup when Lookout Kate and In-the-Know Joe adopted it – we have with us a baby dragon. I was anxious it might be a fire hazard, but had Cook Conomos keep its basket in the galley, where she has the wherewithal to put out a sudden blaze – but of course there is the worry that it won’t always stay this size. I am hoping it is the same breed as Toothless and will stay tiny. Otherwise, even with that courtyard, a full-grown dragon might, before long, cause alarm and a bit of a crush in Pembroke Street. The University’s bulldogs might well take exception.
What an adventure it has been. We have entered our wildest dreams. We have faced many dangers – the hurtle towards Superhero City made me a little less than captainly, I fear, in my alarm. We have hung on cliffs, dived into thick plots, negotiated unexpected twists and teetered on the brink of open endings.
And I have to say I was proud of my crew, whose commitment, imagination and attention to detail carried us through. Copycat Kate’s images were accurate records of skill and beauty and charm. Satnav Steve might have had no sense of direction but he was intrepid about adventure and kept us all cheerful with his lively travellers’ tales. In-the-know Joe brought a close and knowledgeable eye to our discoveries, along with invaluable technical skill and a way of expressing scientific ideas lyrically. Cook Conomos conjured delights out of thin air, not only in the galley but in between watches as she nourished us with her rich store of fables. Lookout Kate was not only a monkey in the rigging but also witty, resourceful and smart, and you could always count on her powers of observation. Even the bandicoot had her moments: sometimes her tricksiness surprised us in a good way – she came up trumps, for instance, as sous-chef to the cook, when it came to gathering ingredients. Any shared involvement with stories, it turns out, is a bonding experience.Our arrival into port was a happy one. We were sailing into the sunset when Lookout Kate called ‘Land Ahoy!’, and we slipped away from aspiring dreams and towards the Dreaming Spires. There were gasps of delight in the Mission Control room at the Museum as we came down the gangplank with our finds. It is a place already bursting with imagination, and accustomed to the magic of going into stories, but even by their standards we had a rich haul.
We have places we still want to go. We didn’t get to Interactivia – the land of video game stories. I took a decision not to make harbour there because its landscape is changing all the time. It seemed risky to come to rest on shifting sands. I think what we need on our next excursion is the company of children: they seem to be best at negotiating a path through this sort of terrain.
It is also of course true that our venture can never be complete. The Universe of Stories, as is the way of universes, has no known limit. There is no finite number of tales in the world, nor do we ever have enough. Those who hunger for narrative find their appetite is never sated, but only increased by being fed. And like stars in the expanding universe, new stories are – happily – being born all the time. We cannot count or itemise every creation in that twinkling heaven. We can only gaze and wonder, and lose ourselves in the immensity. If you have an exploring spirit, as we do, I recommend that you take off on your own expedition into that universe and find your own treasures. Bon voyage.
Looks like Twist is coming home with me.