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an old magic mirror Great-grandmother had bought from a Gypsy woman ...

Hilde Moller Knag awoke in the attic room in the old captain\'s house outside Lillesand. She glanced at the clock. It was only six o\'clock, but it was already light. Broad rays of morning sun lit up the room.

She got out of bed and went to the window. On the way she stopped by the desk and tore a page off her calendar. Thursday, June 14, 1990. She crumpled the page up and threw it in her wastebasket.

Friday, June 15, 1990, said the calendar now, shining at her. Way back in January she had written "15th birthday" on this page. She felt it was extra-special to be fifteen on the fifteenth. It would never happen again.

Fifteen! Wasn\'t this the first day of her adult life? She couldn\'t just go back to bed. Furthermore, it was the last day of school before the summer vacation. The students just had to appear in church at one o\'clock. And what was more, in a week Dad would be home from Lebanon. He had promised to be home for Midsummer Eve.

Hilde stood by the window and looked out over the garden, down toward the dock behind the little red boat-house. The motorboat had not yet been brought out for the summer, but the old rowboat was tied up to the dock. She must remember to bail the water out of it after last night\'s heavy downpour.

As she was looking out over the little bay, she remembered the time when as a little girl of six she had climbed up into the rowboat and rowed out into the bay alone. She had fallen overboard and it was all she could do to struggle ashore. Drenched to the skin, she had pushed her way through the thicket hedge. As she stood in the garden looking up at the house, her mother had come running toward her. The boat and both oars were left afloat in the bay. She still dreamed about the boat sometimes, drifting on its own, abandoned. It had been an embarrassing experience.

The garden was neither especially luxuriant nor particularly well kept. But it was large and it was Hilde\'s. A weather-beaten apple tree and a few practically barren fruit bushes had just about survived the severe winter storms. The old glider stood on the lawn between granite rocks and thicket. It looked so forlorn in the sharp morning light. Even more so because the cushions had been taken in. Mom had probably hurried out late last night and rescued them from the rain.

There were birch trees--bj0rketreer--all around the large garden, sheltering it partly, at least, from the worst squalls. It was because of those trees that the house had been renamed Bjerkely over a hundred years ago.

Hilde\'s great-grandfather had built the house some years before the turn of the century. He had been a captain on one of the last tall sailing ships. There were a lot of people who continued to call it the captain\'s house.

That morning the garden still showed signs of the heavy rain that had suddenly started late last evening. Hilde had been awakened several times by bursts of thunder. But today there was not a cloud in the sky.

Everything is so fresh after a summer storm like that. It had been hot and dry for several weeks and the tips of the leaves on the birch trees had started to turn yellow. Now it was as if the whole world had been newly washed. It seemed as if even her childhood had been washed away with the storm.

"Indeed, there is pain when spring buds burst..." Wasn\'t there a Swedish poet who had said something like that? Or was she Finnish?

Hilde stood in front of the heavy brass mirror hanging on the wall above Grandmother\'s old dresser.

Was she pretty? She wasn\'t ugly, anyway. Maybe she was kind of in-between ...

She had long, fair hair. Hilde had always wished her hair could be either a bit fairer or a bit darker. This in-between color was so mousy. On the positive side, there were these soft curls. Lots of her friends struggled to get their hair to curl just a little bit, but Hilde\'s hair had always been naturally curly. Another positive feature, she thought, were her deep green eyes. "Are they really green?" her aunts and uncles used to say as they bent over to look at her.

Hilde considered whether the image she was studying was that of a girl or that of a young woman. She decided it was neither. The body might be quite womanly, but the face reminded her of an unripe apple.

There was something about this old mirror that always made Hilde think of her father. It had once hung down in the "studio." The studio, over the boathouse, was her father\'s combined library, writer\'s workshop, and retreat. Albert, as Hilde called him when he was home, had always wanted to write something significant. Once he had tried to write a novel, but he never finished it. From time to time he had had a few poems and sketches of the archipelago published in a national journal. Hilde was so proud every time she saw his name in print. ALBERT KNAG. It meant something in Lillesan^, anyway. Her great-grandfather\'s name had also been Albert.

The mirror. Many years ago her father had joked about not being able to wink at your own reflection with both eyes at the same time, except in this brass mirror. It was an exception because it was an old magic mirror Great-grandmother had bought from a Gypsy woman just after her wedding.

Hilde had tried for ages, but it was just as hard to wink at yourself with both eyes as to run away from your own shadow. In the end she had been given the old family heirloom to keep. Through the years she had tried from time to time to master the impossible art.

Not surprisingly, she was pensive today. And not unnaturally, she was preoccupied with herself. Fifteen years old ...

She happened to glance at her bedside table. There was a large package there. It had pretty blue wrapping and was tied with a red silk ribbon. It must be a birthday present!

Could this be the present? The great big present from Dad that had been so very secret? He had dropped so many cryptic hints in his cards from Lebanon. But he had "imposed a severe censorship on himself."

The present was something that "grew bigger and bigger," he had written. Then he had said something about a girl she was soon to meet--and that he had sent copies of all his cards to her. Hilde had tried to pump her mother for clues, but she had no idea what he meant, either.

The oddest hint had been that the present could perhaps be "shared with other people." He wasn\'t working for the UN for nothing! If her father had one bee in his bonnet--and he had plenty--it was that the. UN ought to be a kind of world government. May the UN one day really be able to unite the whole of humanity, he had written on one of his cards.

Was she allowed to open the package before her mother came up to her room singing "Happy Birthday to You," with pastry and a Norwegian flag? Surely that was why it had been put there?

She walked quietly across the room and picked up the package. It was heavy! She found the tag: To Hilde on her 15th birthday from Dad.

She sat on the bed and carefully untied the red silk ribbon. Then she undid the blue paper.

It was a large ring binder.

Was this her present? Was this the fifteenth-birthday present that there had been so much fuss about? The present that grew bigger and bigger and could be shared with other people?

A quick glance showed that the ring binder was rilled with typewritten pages. Hilde recognized them as being from her father\'s typewriter, the one he had taken with him to Lebanon.

Had he written a whole book for her?

On the first page, in large handwritten letters, was the title, SOPHIE\'S WORLD.

Farther down the page there were two typewritten lines of poetry:


--N.F.S. Grundtvig

Hilde turned to the next page, to the beginning of the first chapter. It was entitled "The Garden of Eden." She got into bed, sat up comfortably, resting the ring binder against her knees, and began to read.

Sophie Amundsen was on her way home from school. She had walked the first part of the way with Joanna. They had been discussing robots. Joanna thought the human brain was like an advanced computer. Sophie was not certain she agreed. Surely a person was more than a piece of hardware?

Hilde read on, oblivious of all else, even forgetting that it was her birthday. From time to time a brief thought crept in between the lines as she read: Had Dad written a book? Had he finally begun on the significant novel and completed it in Lebanon? He had often complained that time hung heavily on one\'s hands in that part of the world.

Sophie\'s father was far from home, too. She was probably the girl Hilde would be getting to know ...

Only by conjuring up an intense feeling of one day being dead could she appreciate how terribly good life was... . Where does the world come from? ... At some point something must have come from nothing. But was that possible? Wasn\'t that just as impossible as the idea that the world had always existed?

Hilde read on and on. With surprise, she read about Sophie Amundsen receiving a postcard from Lebanon: "Hilde Moller Knag, c/o Sophie Amundsen, 3 Clover Close..."

Dear Hilde, Happy 15th birthday. As I\'m sure you\'ll understand, I want to give you a present that will help you grow. Forgive me for sending the card c/o Sophie. It was the easiest way. Love from Dad.

The joker! Hilde knew her father had always been a sly one, but today he had really taken her by surprise! Instead of tying the card on the package, he had written it into the book.

But poor Sophie! She must have been totally confused!

Why would a father send a birthday card to Sophie\'s address when it was quite obviously intended to go somewhere else? What kind of father would cheat his own daughter of a birthday card by purposely sending it astray? How could it be "the easiest way"? And above all, how was she supposed to trace this Hilde person?

No, how could she?

Hilde turned a couple of pages and began to read the second chapter, "The Top Hat." She soon came to the long letter which a mysterious person had written to Sophie.

Being interested in why we are here is not a "casual" interest like collecting stamps. People who ask such questions are taking part in a debate that has gone on as long as man has lived on this planet.

"Sophie was completely exhausted." So was Hilde. Not only had Dad written a book for her fifteenth birthday, he had written a strange and wonderful book.

To summarize briefly: A white rabbit is pulled out of a top hat. Because it is an extremely large rabbit, the trick takes many billions of years. All mortals are born at the very tip of the rabbit\'s fine hairs, where they are in a position to wonder at the impossibility of the trick. But as they grow older they work themselves ever deeper into the fur. And there they stay . . .

Sophie was not the only one who felt she had been on the point of finding herself a comfortable place deep down in the rabbit\'s fur. Today was Hilde\'s fifteenth birthday, and she had the feeling it was time to decide which way she would choose to crawl.

She read about the Greek natural philosophers. Hilde knew that her father was interested in philosophy. He had written an article in the newspaper proposing that philosophy should be a regular school subject. It was called "Why should philosophy be part of the school curriculum?" He had even raised the issue at a PTA meeting in Hilde\'s class. Hilde had found it acutely em-barrassing.

She looked at the clock. It was seven-thirty. It would probably be half an hour before her mother came up with the breakfast tray, thank goodness, because right now she was engrossed in Sophie and all the philosophical questions. She read the chapter called "Democritus." First of all, Sophie got a question to think about: Why is Lego the most ingenious toy in the world? Then she found a large brown envelope in the mailbox:

Democritus agreed with his predecessors that transformations in nature could not be due to the fact that anything actually "changed." He therefore assumed that everything was built up of tiny invisible blocks, each of which was eternal and immutable. Democritus called these smallest units atoms.

Hilde was indignant when Sophie found the red silk scarf under her bed. So that was where it was! But how could a scarf just disappear into a story? It had to be someplace...

The chapter on Socrates began with Sophie reading "something about the Norwegian UN battalion in Lebanon" in the newspaper. Typical Dad! He was so concerned that people in Norway were not interested enough in the UN forces\' peacekeeping task. If nobody else was, then Sophie would have to be. In that way he could write it into his story and get some sort of attention from the media.

She had to smile as she read the P.P.S. in the philosophy teacher\'s letter to Sophie:

If you should come across a red silk scarf anywhere, please take care of it. Sometimes personal property gets mixed up. Especially at school and places like that, and this is a philosophy school.

Hilde heard her mother\'s footsteps on the stairs. Before she knocked on the door, Hilde had begun to read about Sophie\'s discovery of the video of Athens in her secret den.

"Happy birthday ..." Her mother had begun to sing halfway up the stairs.

"Come in," said Hilde, in the middle of the passage where the philosophy teacher was talking directly to Sophie from the Acropolis. He looked almost exactly like Hilde\'s father--with a "black, well-trimmed beard" and a blue beret.

"Happy birthday, Hilde!"



"Just put it there."

"Aren\'t you going to ... ?"

"You can see I\'m reading."

"Imagine, you\'re fifteen!"

"Have you ever been to Athens, Mom?"

"No, why do you ask?"

"It\'s so amazing that those old temples are still standing. They are actually 2,500 years old. The biggest one is called the Virgin\'s Place, by the way."

"Have you opened your present from Dad?"

"What present?"

 "You must look up now, Hilde. You\'re in a complete daze."

Hilde let the large ring binder slide down onto ............
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