Old Favorites: The Forgotten Door

When I was a kid, I read everything that came my way.  I haunted the local library and yard sales, always on the look-out for something new. Scholastic Book Order time was a reason for celebration, because I could get several books at a low price.  I wasn’t one of those kids who read only mysteries, or only girl stories, or only fantasy. If the cover looked good, I’d pick up a sports story, a survival story or science fiction.  (Usually not non-fiction, although I love it now.)

Somewhere around fourth grade, I discovered Alexander Key.   Now,  he’s probably best known for being the author of Escape to Witch Mountain, the book that two 1970s Disney movies (Escape to Witch Mountain and Return from Witch Mountain)  and  one 2009 remake (Race to Witch Mountain) were based upon.  (I think there were two made-for-TV movies as well, but they were completely forgettable.  And bad. Very, very bad.)

But when I was in fourth grade, he was best known for The Forgotten Door.  Everyone was reading it.  Since then, I don’t think I’ve met anyone who was in elementary school between about 1965 and 1979 who doesn’t remember either the haunting cover or (once you start talking about it) the plot.  It’s on book stumper lists all the time, because people remember the story, even if they don’t remember the author or the title.

* * *

The Forgotten Door, by Alexander Key, is about Little Jon, a boy who wakes up all alone in the middle of a forest. He’s hit his head, and all he can remember is his name, and that he fell through a door. But there obviously aren’t any doors in the forest, so Jon follows a passing doe and her fawn. Their journey is disturbed by a man shooting at them; the deer escape, but Little Jon is caught by the horrible man and his nasty wife. He manages to escape their clutches, and finds his way to the road, where he’s picked up by Thomas and Mary Bean, and their children Brooks and Sally.

Jon likes the Beans, but he still can’t speak with people, although he seems able to communicate with animals.   The Beans take him in, and try to figure out the puzzle of this strange boy whose hair is too long, whose clothes are made out of no fiber they’ve ever seen, and who…in the most surprising turn of all…can make himself ‘light’, so that he bounds through the air, keeping up with deer.

After a couple days, Jon teaches himself English and begins talking; what he is able to tell the Beans only makes the mystery deepen.  The first man who caught him returns, wanting to capture Jon and take him  away to be studied. Fear fills the town about the strange boy, and only Thomas and Mary and a few of their friends seem to see him as a child and want to protect him. Their very lives are put in danger.  Can the Beans  help Jon find the door to his home, even if it’s starting to look like home might be somewhere very, VERY far away?

* * *

This book is  a fairly short (about 140 pages) quick read. Once you get caught up in Jon’s adventures, you want to know what happens to him.  Originally published in 1965 it is a product of the time, with references to the Cold War  and people worried about attacks from other countries. Jon is very much in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it makes some of the more frightened people in the community suspicious. Jon’s journey, and his winning over of townspeople in the face of all that suspicion is courageous, and makes for a compelling read.

Alexander Key wrote several other books about children with powers over animals or the world around them. At the Weston Public Library, besides The Forgotten Door, we have Escape to Witch Mountain (which is NOTHING like the movie…if you like science fiction or kids with powers, you should read it!) and Jagger, Dog from Elsewhere. My favorite though, which we don’t own and is very difficult to find is The Flight to the Lonesome Place.

The Forgotten Door is appropriate for fourth grade and up; a second grader would probably enjoy listening to it read aloud.   It could be classified as adventure, science fiction or fantasy.  If you read it, let me know what you think!



14 thoughts on “Old Favorites: The Forgotten Door

  1. Oh, I love this book! Yes, it was one of the standouts for me as a kid. Thanks for featuring it on your blog! I haven’t read it lately, but I’ll admit I tracked down a copy a few years back because I wanted it in my personal library of children’s books. I liked the way the kindly Bean family protected Jon against the greedy, suspicious neighbors and how he managed to find his way back home at the last possible second. As I recall, the army even gets involved in the chase, and there is a cool little twist at the end.

  2. It was a wonderful book, and I wish more people still read it. Even though it’s a little dated now, it’s surprising how the ecological message it contains is still relevant.

  3. I have just re-read The Forgotten Door after many many years. I now realize how much it affected my life. Isn’t that the definition of a great book?

  4. This is one of my favorite children’s books. I still have it, and even read it not too long ago (at age 45). I got the book through the Scholastic Book Order at school, and I agree about the concept: great books at ultra low cost, so kids can enjoy the fine art of reading. I have always wanted to see this story made into a movie. I seem to remember hearing that back in the 1960’s, they tried to make this into a TV series, but it only lasted 3 episodes. I’m sure a movie wouldn’t be too difficult, as the story could be updated a bit for the 21st century, and it really wouldn’t require too much in the way of special effects; just good old-fashioned acting.

  5. Yea, I read it to when I was very young. Great little book and I could hardly put it down as best as I can remember. Mine was paper-back and have no idea what happened to it. Think it would make a great movie also..

  6. I read The Forgotten Door in fifth or sixth grade—I am fifty-eight, now. This was a TK series book, about six by nine inches, and thirty-five cents; same as Reader’s Digest, at the time. It is one of only two stories whose titles I remember. The other is a short story, No, No, Not Rogov!.
    I remember some details of many of the stories I read back then, too. Sadly, they generally do not overlap. Because of this thread, I looked up NNNR, found Baen Books has it online, at http://www.baenebooks.com/chapters/1416521461/1416521461___1.htm. The story is as compelling as I remember it, but the Baen book is not the Scholastic book. That was a TT book, which was the small Pocket Book size.

    Thank you for the memories!

    • So much for memory: The photo you have up says it is a TX book, and fifty cents! “TK” is wrong, but many of the books were thirty-five cents then (nineteen sixty-five). Others were fifty, sixty, or seventy-five cents; or even a dollar. The NNNR book was one of the more expensive titles.

      Thank you for Alexander Kay’s name, and the additional titles of his.

    • Sorry Mr. Goodman but your link did not take me to “The Forgotten Door” as your input suggested. It did however take me to “No, No, Not Rogov!”, which I read and enjoyed. Thanks for that sci-fi shot story. I will continue to look for it and if there was a mistake on your part as far as the link, I would be grateful if you wouldn’t mind re-posting it. I too read that small TT book when I was in the 5th or 6th grade as a child close to your age..

      Thank you so much Mr. Goodman
      Jeffery Davis

  7. The Forgotten Door is my favorite childhood book of all time. I re-read it several years ago, as a middle aged adult. It was just as good as I remembered. And now suddenly, it is out of print! Our library does not have it. What a shame. I’ve recommended it to the library three times. It would he great to bring this book back in print. It is one of those that should be mandatory reading in school.

    • It should still be in print, I agree! Often, libraries have no recourse for purchasing a book if it is out of print. (However, I sometimes check our book sale donations for oop titles that I want to put in the collection.) But I think you can still get The Forgotten Door as a kindle book for your e-reader, which is better than nothing.

  8. Funnily, Alexander Key’s second novel “The Red Eagle” was my father’s favorite childhood book. I still have his original copy, inscribed to him from his mother in 1930. It helped inspire him to be a lifelong pilot. I never connected it with “The Forgotten Door” (which I read as a child of the ’60’s) until I looked up “T.F.D.” today. I’ll have to find a copy and re-read it, just for fun!

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