“Not once did it occur to her that she might give up the Magic Forest. People who are fortunate enough to have found the Magic Forest are also not foolish enough to give it up.”
Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I recently discovered a classic fantasy book from 1969 called The Gruesome Green Witch by Patricia Coffin. I had to get a copy through interlibrary loan because they go for around $100 online. The illustrations are fantastic – in black and green – and even the text is in green ink. The creatures are based on Scandinavian folklore.
Puffin, age 10, is at her family’s summer house with her friend Mole when they find that a closet in the upstairs Green Room (a room painted all green) opens up into an otherworldly forest. They go in and immediately meet a tumpte, like a dwarf, who explains that they’ve reached the Magic Forest, only open to children. He helps them and introduces them to other denizens of the Forest. Then Puffin returns alone, with only her dog as company, and encounters a perilous fairy (specifically a huldra) known as the Gruesome Green Witch. Puffin sees the terrifying hollow back of the Witch, and is now a target. When she brings her older brother Matt to the Forest to help him, the Witch enchants him and turns him to stone. Puffin must go into the otherworld alone in search of the Witch, trick her into consuming a magical potion which will destroy her, and rescue her brother. Her parents are, of course, oblivious to any of this. Puffin enters a hollow tree and goes underground to the lair of the Witch, defeats her, and wins not only her brother back, but all the men the Witch had ever enchanted.
While the back-and-forth nature of Puffin’s visits to the otherworld give this a slightly different tone than other GU books, it does qualify as the “return to home in the middle of the journey” trope, and overall the story fits. There are even a few Alice in Wonderland references to seal the deal!