Through the Gate

Inspiring Objects Writing

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though we pass them by today,
Tomorrow we may come this way
And take the hidden paths that run
Towards the Moon or to the Sun.
— A Walking Song, JRR Tolkien

Whether large or small, gates delineate spaces and communicate boundaries. They may deny entrance or stand ajar, welcoming the wanderers and explorers into the spaces they protect. They may conceal hidden things of great significance and value, as in The Secret Garden, or in their fall, put an entire city at risk, as in Lord of the Rings. To pass through a gate is to leave one realm and enter the next, therefore a sense of transition (for good or ill) accompanies the passage.

In centuries past, gates often served as the sole means of entrance into a walled city or castle dwelling. They might be purely functional or display the grandeur of a civilization in their towering splendor. Grand gates might stand in front of cities or palaces, but in private dwellings and more modern times, gates are often simpler, marking the limits of homes and gardens and dividing private realms from public.

When it comes to worlds real or fantastic, the security of a people and confidence in their welfare may dictate the kind of gates they use–practical or ornamental. A culture might shun the use of gates altogether, believing all spaces must be open and shared. Or perhaps gates convey levels and hierarchies in certain cities, boundaries that only those of certain status may cross.

Whether or not gates play a role in your storyworld or the books you enjoy, I hope you find some inspiration in these examples of gates in our world:

Image credit: muffet1

Image credit: true2source

Image source: Adrian Midgley

Image credit: Pat Dalton

Image credit: bjearwick

Am I the only one who finds gates (and the promise of what’s behind them) intriguing? Do gates have a role to play in the stories you write or books you’ve enjoyed?

On Inspiring Objects: For a writer, even the smallest thing can provide a spark of inspiration and serve a catalyst for creativity. The objects I feature are usually items that give a glimpse into another way of life, thus enlivening the imagination to run on a course of its own. When building a world, even the smallest of details can reveal much regarding a culture and society, so I hope you find some inspiration here to go forth and create. And if you don’t write, I hope you can still enjoy the beauty and uniqueness of these objects shared.


  • Jenny Freitag
    November 10, 2011 - 8:25 am · Reply

    I am having very strong flashbacks to The Silver Chair when I look at the third picture down – though perhaps it is a little too lavish a wall for an Experiment House.

    Your pictures here, Sarah, are beautiful, and your comments enlightening, on occasion almost arresting. You take the time to realize the importance in the little things, little things like gates. We live in a world of details, in which the simplest decoration, the simplest piece of furniture, speaks volumes about the owner; it stands to reason that we should keep these things in mind whenever we write our own worlds. Of course, as observers, we take all this in subconsciously most of the time – but we would know if something were off or out of place, “one of these things is not like the other,” and so on. As writers, however, we are not afforded the speedy luxury of blasting through a room, or a lane, or a market square, and taking in the details subconsciously. We have to stand and stare a good long while before the plot is allowed to move forward under our typing fingers. It takes time!

    This particular post is rather timely (have you been eavesdropping on me?) since I’ve just managed to construct a castle-house in my current novel. You asked if any gates play parts in our stories, so here we go. The entire castle is built on the terrace of a fell, rather precipitous and unnerving; its lower gates are not unadorned with carvings (the castle is family-owned, and quite old) but for the most part it and its several succeeding fellows up the levels are utilitarian. It is only until you get up to the House itself that the gates become more ornamental, if still useful. In contrast, the ruling House of a neighbouring territory which relies more on the respect and fear of its name is a mere (if grand) sprawling manor with farm-gates into the home-meads, but nothing bulky enough to keep out marauding hordes.

    I have a dreadful habit of running on so when I am interested. Grazie, Sarah! This was a fun post.

      • Sarah Sawyer
        November 11, 2011 - 11:07 am · Reply

        Since I’ve roamed around briar-filled woods a number of times, I can easily believe that a gate of thorns would be an effective deterrent…especially one enforced by faeries.

        Just that comment provides a glimpse of insight into the type of faeries that inhabit your world, which further illustrates the value of the right details. Thanks for sharing!

    • Sarah Sawyer
      November 11, 2011 - 11:06 am · Reply

      Thanks for stopping by, Jenny, and for offering words of encouragement! You’ve brought up some great points. It does take time to layer in the right details, ones that are meaningful and significant to plot, character, and setting…but it is beautiful when it all comes together.

      How fascinating to hear about your castle–that’s one I’d love to see in real life. And it’s a perfect example of using the little things to enhance a story and communicate something about the world, and even the differences between different territories within the same world.

      By the way, running on is encouraged here, so you’re welcome to do so any time you’re inclined that direction. 🙂

  • TheQuietPen
    November 13, 2011 - 9:52 pm · Reply

    A neat, thought-provoking post. Great choice of pictures too–I like the variety that you chose.
    It’s interesting, I’ve always noticed details like gates, but I’ve never given them a lot of consideration in my current story. It’s a modern fairy tale, and I don’t think there’s a single gate it in. I’m not sure if I could actually fit one in anywhere. It wouldn’t be in the character of the story.
    I do like to think of doorways a lot though. I always have this notion that someday I’ll open a door and end up somewhere different. Or some odd person will be on the other side, like a thief on the lam or a character from a story or something else. Because doors are often made of solid wood or metal, there’s always a slight feeling of uncertainty when you see one open, because you’re never quite, 100% sure what’s on the other side.
    On a personal note, I’m interested in doors, but not locks. I’ve never met a lock that hasn’t messed up on me.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      November 15, 2011 - 3:11 pm · Reply

      Thank you! Pertinent details do vary greatly book by book, I agree, and the best are those that ring true to the story.

      I’m quite excited to hear that you are writing a modern day fairy tale. Though my current WIP is an epic fantasy novel, I’ve also written a fairy tale retelling, and I love that genre. Which story inspired your book?

      Old doors always have fascinated me as well! They also convey that sense of passage from one realm to the next, but perhaps with a bit more mystery than gates because you can’t see through to the other side. You’ve described that sensation quite well. Of course, when it comes to doors and other worlds, I always think of Narnia and the warning not to shut oneself in a wardrobe.

      It sounds like you have some interesting stories to tell about your experiences with locks. My worst experience happened while I was on a missions trip in Romania. I got locked in a bathroom inside the building…and the rest of the team was occupied outside. It was some time before I was rescued. 🙂

  • Sarah Herrlin
    November 14, 2011 - 8:37 am · Reply

    Gates inspire such provocative imagery. It tantalizes the imagination and whets our curiosity, quickening our searching hearts which long for the beautiful, mysterious, and sublime! But also shudders before the unknown.
    I normally don’t post randomly on websites, but I was so excited to find a writer who’s thoughts resonated so deeply with my own. I started a blog back in February that was named “The Secret Gate” ( with the theme quote being the same song from Lord of the Rings with which you opened this entry! It was supposed to be a running contemplation on those places and moments when you feel the hushed awe and overwhelming thrill of being so close to eternity (I think you call them “numinous”. Did you come up with that name or find it somewhere? Either way it’s beautiful!). Unfortunately, I’ve never been a faithful blogger and gave up after two posts due to school, then work, and now NaNo.
    But anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I deeply enjoy your thoughts and reflections and am encouraged to find a kindred spirit 🙂 May the beauty of God always inspire you and the love of God always enthrall you. Blessings.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      November 15, 2011 - 4:04 pm · Reply

      Sarah, thank you for taking the time to comment! I just visited your blog and see that we do share a great deal in common. It is a pleasure to connecting with others who appreciate wonder, beauty, and imagination, so I’m glad you spoke up. 🙂

      I love the phrase you used “quickening our searching hearts.” It’s an apt description of those things that stir awe, those brushes with eternity. I first encountered the term numinous in CS Lewis’s non-fiction writings, though he borrowed it from an earlier theologian. Even the word itself seems to fit the sensation.

      I appreciate your your encouraging words, and I hope to get to know you more here (and over at your blog, whenever you pick it up again).

  • Sarah Herrlin
    November 16, 2011 - 9:27 am · Reply

    Thanks Sarah! I hope to get to know you more too 🙂 I agree, “numinous” is the perfect word for describing such moments. It gives the feel of something very real and wonderful but not quite tangible…it’s like a blend between “nebulous” and “luminous”, something that gives warmth, light, and inspiration yet fades away with a breath of wind. Ah, such poetry in only one word!

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