The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley
For ages and ages, no one had opened the book. Just as Sylvia sat weeping in boredom by the edge of the lake, pleading for something to happen, a fan of light began opening in a corner of the sky, sending flashes of color across the water. "Rawwwk! Reader!" screamed an orange bird. "Boooook open! Ooopen! Boook open!" groaned a bullfrog.
Everyone from Princess Sylvie to Thomas, the courteous thief, scrambled to their places. Chapter one, page three found Sylvie center-stage and out of breath from the long run from the lake:
"Father," she said, and paused. There was dignity in the way she carried herself, her chin lifted, her voice soft but clear. "I cannot marry Prince Riggeloff."
King Walther seemed stunned. "Not marry Riggeloff?" He walked to the window considering her words, then turned to face her. "For heaven's sake, child! He is handsome, rich..."
She lowered her head. "Kind, brave," she said, "yes, I am aware of his qualities." "He has everything!"
The girl flashed him a look. "So have I!"
Sylvie has been a princess in a storybook for more than eighty years. She's the heroine of a wonder tale replete with magical waterfalls, robber caves, and an enchanted prince. She's the most important person in her world, but her story is always the same. Just once she'd like to do a Great Good Thing, never mind her father's warning, "Where would we be if we all started playing parts that weren't written for us?"
Then she saw the woods. Beyond the trees that had always been in the book there were other ones, an entire other forest. When she heard the Reader's soft breathing, she realized that these woods were different than any she had seen before because they were part of the Reader's dreams. Instead of great oaks and beach trees there were ragged palms and plants with rubbery leaves.
Her obedience to her parents made her hesitate. They were probably wondering where she was right now. Still, when had any character had the chance to explore a Reader's dream? It was irresistible! She took a deep breath. "Here goes," she whispered, and stepped across.
The Wild Hunt by Jane Yolen
Picture this: a great house surrounded by rowan trees, familiar and yet not quite. The house has chairs and tables and a library with bookcases that stretch to the ceiling filled with large books meant for grown-ups. It has beds in the upstairs bedrooms: three beds, three rooms. It has a bathtub with clawed feet and gold taps.
It has no radio, no television, and no locks on the doors.
Jerold and the white cat lived in a large house filled with silences, both companionable and otherwise, and a library filled with books about wizards and kings and sorcery. On a day when snow fell heavily and quietly outside the safety of the house, he took down a heavy book called The Wild Hunt and began to read, although the pictures disturbed him. A story of a man with a horned helmet riding with a pack of slavering hounds. He wanted to go outside but she, the white cat, would not let him, for the Wild Hunt was once more on the ride.
In another great house, much the same as the first, so much so that for all the worlds they might have been the same house, a young man named Gerund came running, sliding, and tumbling into the room.
"The Wild Hunt!" Gerund said, pouncing on the white cat and lifting her over his head, which she accepted with grudging graciousness. "Mully says it's come. Says he can smell it. Says it's riding the wind."
Mully, the dog in question, lept into the room and eagerly urged Gerund to grab his coat and GO SEE! They bounded together through the snow completely unaware that the white cat followed from a discreet distance. She had told no stories to frighten him as she had that other boy, but then Gerund probably wouldn't have listened to them anyway. Yet she worried for them both.
Out in the snow and dark where raucous din changed over to eerie silence, the Hunt was on the ride, seeking its prey in the millennium-old game between the immortals.