Study Guide

Bridge to Terabithia Contrasting Regions: Lark Creek and Terabithia

By Katherine Paterson

Contrasting Regions: Lark Creek and Terabithia

Of course, her temper had been terrible, and she had screamed at Jess all afternoon and was now too tired to fix any supper.

Jess made peanut-butter sandwiches for the little girls and himself, and because the kitchen was still hot and almost nauseatingly full of bean smell, the three of them went outside to eat. (2.1-2)

This shows us many of the bad things about Jess's life in Lark Creek. Sure, life is tough for everyone, but here it seems especially hard for poor Jess. It's Jess who has to take care of, and essentially be a parent to, the "little girls and himself." They can't even bear to be in their home because of the bad (temporary) smell. His mom can't control her temper and is mean to Jess, even though it sounds like he was working just as hard as she was all day. He doesn't have the luxury of having someone else make dinner for him.

"I know" – she was getting excited – "it could be a magic country like Narnia, and the only way you can get in is by swinging across on this enchanted rope." Her eyes were bright. She grabbed the rope. "Come on," she said. "Let's find a place to build our castle stronghold." (4.102)

Leslie (and Jess) create Terabithia where before there was nothing, through the power of imagination. Like the authors who create magical realities for their child characters to disappear into – C.S. Lewis, E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, and J.K. Rowling, most notably – Leslie imagines and names a vivid world. Unlike the authors and characters in those other books, though, Leslie and Jess really get to enter into and interact with the world they've created.

He believed her because there in the shadowy light of the stronghold everything seemed possible. Between the two of them they owned the world and no enemy, Gary Fulcher, Wanda Kay Moore, Janice Avery, Jess's own fears and insufficiencies, nor any of the foes whom Leslie imagined attacking Terabithia, could ever really defeat them. (4.113)

Here the regions overlap. In Terabithia, Jess and Leslie find safety and protection from every enemy in each region. While their enemies are real and imagined, internal and external, they end up fighting some of the same battles wherever they go. The protection they forge inside and outside of Terabithia defends them everywhere. Jess may feel most confident in Terabithia, at "the stronghold," but with Leslie at his side, he can be confident in Lark Creek too.

They were always nice to Jess when he went over, but then they would suddenly begin talking about French politics or string quartets (which he at first thought was a square box made out of string), or how to save the timber wolves or redwoods or singing whales, and he was scared to open his mouth and show once and for all how dumb he was.

He wasn't comfortable having Leslie at his house either. (4.136-137)

There are different regions within Lark Creek, too. Jess feels out-of-place at the Burkes' home, and also feels like Leslie is out-of-place at his home. Although the differences between homes aren't as sharp as those between Lark Creek and Terabithia itself, they're still deeply felt. Jess's fear that he doesn't belong at the Burkes' comes from a lack of self-confidence and shared knowledge. But he's probably far harder on himself than they would be.

Leslie took a deep breath. "This is not an ordinary place," she whispered. "Even the rulers of Terabithia come into it only at times of greatest sorrow or of greatest joy. We must strive to keep it sacred. It would not do to disturb the Spirits." (4.146)

Terabithia may be made up, but that doesn't mean it's not complex, or that its parts aren't clearly differentiated. There are special and "sacred" places inside Terabithia, reserved only for special occasions: as Leslie puts it, for "times of greatest sorrow or of greatest joy." Her description shows how deep the magic of Terabithia goes, and how great her capacity for imagination is.

Leslie gave a deep satisfied sigh. "I love this room," she said. "Don't you feel the golden enchantment of it? It is worthy to be" – Jess looked up in sudden alarm – "in a palace." Relief. In such a mood, a person might even let a sworn secret slip. But she hadn't […] Terabithia was still just for the two of them. (7.27)

Here, Terabithian qualities bleed into the everyday world. Leslie's special vision, which allowed her to see Terabithia in a patch of forest and then show it to Jess, can transform ordinary and extraordinary places alike. Jess is worried that in her excitement about the golden room, she'll reveal their secret, but he should know better: Terabithia is theirs alone.

All he could think of was dry clothes and a cup of hot coffee and maybe just plunking down in front of the TV for a couple of hours. He was obviously not worthy to be king of Terabithia. Whoever heard of a king who was scared of tall trees and a little bit of water? (9.61)

As great as Terabithia is, it does have its limitations. Lark Creek may be ordinary, but sometimes ordinary comforts, like "dry clothes" and "hot coffee," are exactly what are most needed. Jess feels "not worthy" of Terabithian status because he has these everyday concerns and wants, but we don't think he should. Everybody, even a king, deserves warm clothes and warm drinks.

Entering the gallery was like stepping inside the pine grove – the huge vaulted marble, the cool splash of the fountain, and the green growing all around. Two little children had pulled away from their mother and were running about, screaming to each other. It was all Jess could do not to grab them and tell them how to behave in so obviously a sacred place. (10.53)

Just as Leslie saw the golden room as "a palace" (7.27), Jess views the museum as similar to their "pine grove." This shows how much she's taught him – he can see Terabithia in the outside world too. He realizes that "sacred place[s]" exist outside of Terabithia and that he too has the vision and the ability to access them.

He landed slightly upstream from Terabithia. If it was still Terabithia. If it could be entered across a branch instead of swung into. (13.5)

Jess's loss makes him question the permanence of Terabithia. Can it "still [be] Terabithia" if Leslie's not there to envision it with him, or if the way he used to access it has been permanently tainted and removed? The answer, we find, is yes. Terabithia can still be Terabithia, as long as Jess wants it to be. The power of the visionary now lies with him.

And when he finished, he put flowers in her hair and led her across the bridge – the great bridge into Terabithia – which might look to someone with no magic in him like a few planks across a nearly dry gully. (13.82)

Jess's loss makes him value Terabithia even more, while also realizing its impermanence and value. Even as he crosses "the great bridge into Terabithia" with the help of his ever-growing imagination, he knows what the entrance to Terabithia would look like to an outsider – just some wood "planks." But Jess is someone with "magic in him," and that magic isn't borrowed or reflected from Leslie's magic – it's magic of his very own.

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