When did the idea of using a fireplace as a portal first become popular?

I am looking for any indication from writers, perhaps through interviews/posts where SciFi writers have explained the concept as to why a fireplace is used for such a portal - and what was the first popular example of such a portal. Aside from the stories about Santa Claus, my thoughts are that J.K. Rowling really brought forward the idea in the Harry Potter series (1997).

In Harry Potter, wizards and witches use Floo Powder to travel through the Floo Network.

In Doctor Who ("The Girl in the Fireplace", 2006), the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey land on what appears to be an abandoned spacecraft in the future. Throughout the ship, the Doctor and his companions find several "time windows" that allow them direct access to 18th century France. One of the two-way windows is the fireplace, through which the Doctor and Mme. Pompadour can clearly see one another. The Doctor can use the fireplace, along with other "time windows" to travel between his time (on the spaceship) and Mme. Pomadour's 18th century France. The fireplace is the last remaining time window after all had been supposedly shut off.

Girl in the Fireplace

There was a short story I remember reading when I was younger, there was a man inside of a fireplace and much like when at a bookcase and pulling a certain book to make it revolve, he pulled a lever inside and it revolved him into a what was described as a different time and setting.

  • 3
    You forgot Santa Claus.
    – John O
    Apr 4, 2014 at 23:48
  • 2
    This is not "too broad" and shouldn't be closed as such. "Too broad" suggests that the person is asking about some wide scope of things, as in "When did these 30 common household objects start to be used as magical portals?".
    – John O
    Apr 4, 2014 at 23:51
  • 2
    He's not actually fitting down the chimney, if that's what you're thinking. Have you seen him? He's a fatass. Besides, I suspect that the sleigh and the fireplaces are two different mythologies that were somehow later conflated.
    – John O
    Apr 5, 2014 at 0:01
  • 1
    I was thinking more of him getting from house to house when I responded (and ended my comment short from pressing Enter- then couldn't edit it - noob here.) , but yes you are right.. he's a fatass and wouldn't fit, thus qualifying as an example of the fireplace acting as a portal.
    – sipp
    Apr 5, 2014 at 0:04
  • 3
    I feel that the trope of using fire as a means of escape has been around since a long time. Notice the stereotypical magician vanishing using a bang of smoke. I feel the fireplace is a more refined version of the same thing
    – user13267
    Apr 5, 2014 at 9:48

4 Answers 4


There seems to be an established folklore belief in unnatural creatures which leave a house by way of a chimney, e.g. in Scottish tales of fairy changelings How to find out a "Fairy Changeling".

And similarly in the story of Dildrum, King of the Cats: Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 1/Dildrum, King of the Cats

Traditionally these eldritch creatures just rush up the chimney and re-emerge... Somewhere Else. Perhaps that suggested the fireplace-as-a-portal to fantasy writers, who elaborated it into a more complicated system of transportation?


Mikhail Bulgakov in his posthumously published in 1967 The Master and Margarita made the attendants of Satan's Ball arrive through fireplaces.


It seems the most popular example would be Harry Potter series. I'm having a hard time finding popular examples before J.K. Rowling's Floo Network.

As Hypnosifl pointed out in the comments,

"if you're going to have magic portals in old-timey houses there's only so many places they could be"

J.K. Rowling's Revelations Excerpt below:

In addition to domestic fireplaces, there are around a thousand fireplaces across Britain connected to the Floo Network, including those at the Ministry of Magic, and various wizarding shops and inns.

‘Floo’ came from the flue that you find on a chimney and don’t ask me to tell you exactly what a flue is, because I don’t know. I just know it exists, but I’m not sure what it does exactly. I needed a way for particularly young witches and wizards to travel around because I’d created the International Statute of Secrecy, which was inconvenient, so immediately that made it quite difficult for them to move around, particularly over long distances, by magical means. So I thought they need something very discreet, and that’s how the Floo Network came about, so it was a way of moving from house to house without ever being seen by Muggles. But it was fun and comical to have it a little bit difficult to use, so that you could easily make a mistake in where you ended up.


Santa Claus is said to come down the chimney and enter houses through the fireplace. When I was young, children would send their Christmas wish list to Santa Claus by holding it over the fire and letting the updraft carry it up the chimney. The fireplace was also where Christmas stockings were hung for Santa Claus to fill with presents.

According to this MentalFloss article, the story of Santa Claus coming down the chimney originated in a Washington Irving story from 1812. It also mentions earlier associations between fireplaces and magical beings. The only one that is dated is a theory developed by a 15th century French scholar that witches could enter a house through the chimney.

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