Tag Archives: Allegory

The Inferential Layer of the Word-Pond – Symbolism #amwriting

The Word-Pond is dark, and near the bottom the waters are murky. It’s hard to find your way, but knowing the theme gives us a diver’s guide-rope to hold onto.

We’ve identified the theme, but we need to strengthen it. We want to add depth to our narrative, but wonder how. This becomes easier when we remember that theme, mood, and atmosphere work closely together.

An important tool in our writer’s toolbox is Symbolism. It is an aspect of Story that helps create mood, atmosphere, and supports and strengthens the theme. When a little thought is applied to how you place it, symbolism becomes a subtle tool that speaks subliminally to the reader.

Intentionally placing symbolic objects in the setting influences the characters’ emotional mood. It represents the theme and will help reinforce the desired atmosphere without your having to resort to an info dump.

Words can have subtle meanings beyond the obvious, when used as allegories. Using allegory in the narrative offers images for the reading mind to see and understand.

So, what is an allegory? An allegory is an essential tool of the author who wants to convey important ideas with the least amount of words.

The storytelling in The Matrix series of movies is a brilliant example of employing heavy allegory in both the setting and conversations to drive home the multilayered theme of humankind, machine, fate, and free will. The theme is represented with heavy symbolism in:

  • The names of the characters,
  • The words used in conversations
  • The androgynous clothes they wear

Everything on the set or mentioned in conversation underscores those themes, including the lighting. Inside The Matrix, the world is bathed in a green light, as if through a green-tinted lens. In the real world, the lighting is harsher, unfiltered.

In the movie, everything that appears or is said onscreen is symbolic and supports one of the underlying concepts. When Morpheus later asks Neo to choose between a red pill and a blue pill, he essentially offers the choice between fate and free will.

Neo chooses the red pill—real life—and learns that free will can be unpleasant. Cypher regrets choosing the red pill and ultimately chooses to return to the Matrix.

The reader/viewer infers the mood and atmosphere by virtue of embedded symbolic clues, hints that also strengthen the theme.

One of my works-in-progress that is in its infancy is a contemporary novel. I want to convey a Gothic atmosphere in this piece and yet maintain the setting and time-frame of a novel set squarely in the  21st century. I can only do this through the use of allegory. I will have to approach writing a scene as it would be portrayed in a movie, keeping the symbolism in mind.

In this novel’s case, I have several character threads that converge in the large themes of trust and fidelity. It’s a multilayered piece, and each layer has its own sub-theme

  • Social responsibility.
  • Ethics and the lengths we will go to achieve a goal.
  • What constitutes family, nurture or nature?

Making good use of symbolism and allegory will be critical if I want to convey the mood and the atmosphere without resorting to an info dump.

Just to be clear, a plan is not always required because sometimes the flash of inspiration we begin with is a strong theme in itself.

If you are lucky, the theme develops as you write, and immediately, you see what it is. This strong theme will whisper suggestions and symbols to you as you create the world and the visual environment.

In my case, I need a plan fifty percent of the time.

Whatever the case, once you have identified the main theme, you can write the story in such a way that it is shown through:

  • Actions
  • Symbolic settings/places
  • Allegorical objects in the setting
  • Conversations

We try to picture conversations, clothing, settings, and wider environments as if they were scenes in a movie. As you do so, consider how you can insert small allegories and symbols to support your theme.

The casual reader doesn’t notice symbolism on a conscious level. However, dedicated readers will, and that is what will keep them reading. Dedicated readers love work that holds up on closer examination, enjoying work that has layers of depth.

Yet, for the casual reader, it is all there, making the imaginary surface look and feel real, solid, and concrete.


Credits and Attributions

The Matrix movie poster, © 1999 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (US, Canada, Bahamas and Bermuda); © 1999 Village Roadshow Films Limited. (All Other Territories) Fair Use

The Temptation of St Anthony, Joos van Craesbeeck ca. 1650 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Theme, Allegory, and The Matrix #amwriting

One question I hear often when I am giving seminars is “How do I identify the theme of my story?”

Theme is what the story is about on a deeper level than what is seen on the surface. It’s the big meaning, a thread that is woven through the entire story, and often it’s a moral. Love, honor, family, redemption, and revenge are all common, underlying themes. Theme is an idea-thread that winds through the story and supports the plot.

A question was asked in an online group for writers “How do I emphasize my theme without bludgeoning my reader with it?”

Making good use of allegory can subtly underscore your themes to drive home your point without resorting to an info dump.

Using symbolism and allegory allows an author to pack the most information into the least amount of words, but it requires intention when you first begin creating the story arc. Words, phrases, and setting must be chosen, and the narrative’s prose must be purposefully crafted.

Whenever I talk about allegory, I like to use the movie, The Matrix, as my example: In this movie, you see lean dialogue, conversations that are spare and to the point. The symbolism continues in the way the setting is so sparsely portrayed, and even the characters’ names are symbolic. Allegory is built into their androgynous costumes, and in the screenwriters/authors’ choice of words used in every conversation. All these layers offer us an incredible amount of subliminal information about that world and what is really going on.

The themes are represented with heavy symbolism in the lighting used on the movie set:

>Inside The Matrix the world is bathed in a green light, as if through a green-tinted lens.

>In the real world, the lighting is harsher, unfiltered.

In the movie, everything that appears or is said onscreen is symbolic and supports one of the underlying concepts. When Morpheus later asks Neo to choose between a red pill and a blue pill, he essentially offers the choice between fate and free will.

>Neo chooses the red pill—real life—and learns that free will can be unpleasant. Cypher regrets choosing the red pill and ultimately chooses to return to the Matrix.

In one of my favorite scenes, when Neo answers the door and is invited to the party, he at first declines. But then he notices that Du Jour, the woman with Choi, bears a tattoo of a white rabbit. He remembers seeing the words: follow the white rabbit, on his computer. Curious and slightly fearful of what it all means, he changes his mind and goes to the party, setting a sequence of events in motion. The white rabbit tattoo is an allegorical reference to Alice in Wonderland, a subliminal clue that things are not what they seem.

In my stories, I try to picture conversations, clothing, settings, and wider environments as if they were scenes in a movie. This is where I consider how I could use allegory to support and underscore my theme. I’m not as adept at this as I hope to become, but I try to consider the books that really moved me as a reader. All were allegorical in some way.

When we are immersed in reading a story laden with allegory, many times we don’t notice the symbolism on a conscious level. But on closer examination it is all there, making what is imaginary into something real, solid, and concrete.

This is what I hope to achieve in my current work.


Credits and Attributions:

Quote from the Matrix, screenplay written by Larry and Andy Wachowski © 1999 Warner Bros. Pictures

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#FineArtFriday: Winter Scene in New Haven, Connecticut, by George Henry Durrie

I frequently find myself perusing the vaults at Wikimedia Commons, looking for clues about how people lived in times past. Winter Scene in New Haven, Connecticut, by George Henry Durrie is an intriguing window into the winter of 1858, a surprisingly intimate view of life in America just before the Civil War.

Durrie had a modest reputation during his lifetime, an indie struggling unsuccessfully to market his works. After his death, the American printmaking firm, Currier and Ives, ensured his works were kept in the public eye.

The grandeur of the sky is reminiscent of Constable’s work, and the painting, overall, is both bold and comforting. Under a large sky, we find a small farm. It’s a simple pastoral scene, a moment painted during a winter long passed into memory. It’s pleasant, almost boring scene in its common hominess. When you look at the larger picture, you may ask, “How is this intimate? The landscape and the sky provide the drama, while the people are completely overshadowed by the scenery.”

But there is another, deeper story, one that is overshadowed by the majestic landscape and threatening winter skies, and Durrie included these people for a reason.

In Connecticut in 1858 things were not as simple and bucolic as the wide view of this image portrays.

Quote from Matthew Warshauer in his article for Connecticut History:

The state descended into chaos at the start of the war, splitting into warring Republican and Democratic factions that sometimes faced off violently.  Before the Southern states even seceded, the two parties faced off in the 1860 gubernatorial election, a contest that would decide the level of the state’s involvement once the war began.

Artists, then and now, frequently deal in allegory and misdirection. Then, as now, they were pressured to portray an acceptable vision life as it should be. They had to sell their work to live, so they did do that, but they still painted what they saw, inserting the truth into each painting. The story that Durrie hid within this painting can be found by examining the painting in detail. I have enlarged the important section for you.

A sled, drawn by a single horse and driven by a woman, has pulled up beside the gate. A man has emerged and is talking to her. In the doorway of the farmhouse, a woman and girl stand, watching the scene at the gate.

We can imagine that some drama exists in their relationships, beginning with the way the man is standing there, not inviting the woman in. She obviously doesn’t expect to be invited in by him but has come anyway.

The man speaks to the traveler, but his gaze is not focused on the woman who has traveled through the snow, bringing a large sack filled with… what? Presents? Food-gifts? Instead, he looks away, focusing on the fencepost. Is the visitor an unwelcome mother-in-law, or is she, perhaps, a travelling merchant and he is negotiating with her?

Did she purchase something? Perhaps they’re merely chatting and he just happens to be looking away.

The sky can be a clue to the deeper story, too. Dark clouds take up fully half of the scene, dwarfing the homestead. Storms threaten the peace and prosperity of this farm, and barren trees flourish. It’s 1858 and the country is divided politically and ideologically, and the threat of a civil war looms.

The final subliminal clue is in the title: Winter Scene in New Haven, Connecticut. The artist names the picture after the larger community, a town that doesn’t appear at all in the painting, instead of offering the farm’s name. Thus, the scene. the approaching storm threatening the peaceful farm, is an allegory depicting the mood of the larger community.

Does this small detail hidden in the larger picture depict a travelling merchant, a customer, or a disliked mother-in-law bringing gifts despite her son-in-law’s aversion? Or is there something deeper here? Nothing breaks up families or divides communities as surely as strongly held opposing opinions, and we were deeply divided in those turbulent times.

The story is there, and the world in which it is set is all prepared for you. George Henry Durrie painted it, and if you are looking for a deep story that echoes our modern political state of affairs, here it is.

Or, it could simply be a passing stranger, asking for directions on a winter’s day.

When you examine the art of the past closely and look for allegories, you may find a large story hidden within the the image.  It’s up to you to interpret it and then write it.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:George Henry Durrie – Winter Scene in New Haven, Connecticut – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:George_Henry_Durrie_-_Winter_Scene_in_New_Haven,_Connecticut_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=249454341  (accessed December 14, 2017).

The Complicated Realities of Connecticut and the Civil War, by Matthew Warshauer, Ph.D., Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University. Copyright © Connecticut Humanities. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 3.0 License. (accessed December 14, 2017)

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#amwriting: theme

ofmiceandmenTheme is the core of the plot, an idea-thread that runs through your story from the opening pages to the end, binding the elements of characters, conversations, actions, and reactions. Theme is independent of the setting or genre.

Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge, describes theme as:

The most common contemporary understanding of theme is an idea or point that is central to a story, which can often be summed in a single word (e.g. love, death, betrayal). Typical examples of themes of this type are conflict between the individual and society; coming of age; humans in conflict with technology; nostalgia; and the dangers of unchecked ambition. A theme may be exemplified by the actions, utterances, or thoughts of a character in a novel. An example of this would be the theme loneliness in John Steinbeck‘s Of Mice and Men, wherein many of the characters seem to be lonely. It may differ from the thesis—the text’s or author’s implied worldview.

Often we can visualize a complex theme but we can’t explain it. If we can’t can’t explain it, how do we show it? Consider the theme of “grief.” It is a common emotion that can play out against any backdrop, sci-fi or reality based, where there are humans interacting on an emotional level.

Perhaps you have a story about a woman who has just lost her husband to a preventable accident. Her grief is the main theme. When you learn the accident that killed him was preventable, you know the subtheme: anger. The protagonist’s goal in this story is to prevent such accidents from happening again–perhaps she must battle a corporation or take on a government agency. Rage is the motivator that forces her to wake up each day and take on the Goliaths, but at the root of the story it is her grief that is the driving force behind her subsequent actions.

But the main theme of grief is an extremely complex experience, as anyone who has ever suffered the loss of a loved one will tell you. It is a fundamental emotion, chaotic and weighing heavy in the heart of one who grieves. It is experienced in many identifiable stages with elements of loneliness, anger, guilt, and deep suffering. It is sometimes accompanied by thoughts of suicide.

Everything your character sees and experiences in the opening pages underscores and represents her sense of loss and inspires the accompanying emotions of anger, futility, and depression. As her story progresses and she begins live despite her loss, she will still be affected on many levels and to a certain extent, driven by those complex emotions. While she is interacting with others who are happy and who believe she has gotten past her pain, you can employ allegories and symbolism to paint the deeper picture of her mental state to show how she is deeply depressed and possibly suicidal.

Once your protagonist has beaten the enemy, what is her reaction? Without the battle to sustain her rage, does she learn to accept her loss begin to find happiness? Or does she allow herself to spiral into ever worsening depression?

Perhaps you are writing a tale where a group of people faces terrible challenges in a war. On the surface, this looks like it is all about the action, but in reality, it is not. It is about relationships, the bonds of friendship, and the way the events of this war bind a group of soldiers together and also the way events test those bonds, perhaps breaking them. The theme of this tale is brotherhood: the way fighting a common enemy binds strangers from all walks of life together, creating brothers- and sisters-in-arms.

How do you identify your theme? Sometimes it’s difficult unless you start out with one in mind. Most of my books are based around the hero’s journey, and how the events my protagonists experience shape them. The hero’s journey allows me to employ the theme of good vs. evil and the sub-themes of brotherhood, and love of family.

These concepts are important to me on a personal level, and so they find their way into my writing.

What themes are important to you? When you look for a book, what catches your interest? I am not talking genre here, I am speaking of the deeper story. When you look at it from a distance, what do all the stories you love best have in common?

Political thrillers: Set against the backdrop of a political power struggle. Political corruption, terrorism, and warfare are common themes.

Romance Novel: Two people as they develop romantic love for each other and work to build a relationship. Both the conflict and the climax of the novel are directly related to that core theme of developing a romantic relationship, although the novel can also contain subplots that do not specifically relate to the main characters’ romantic love.

Literary fiction focuses on the protagonist of the narrative, creating introspective. These are in-depth character studies featuring interesting, complex and developed characters. Action and setting are not the primary drivers of the story arc here. Instead, action and setting are carefully developed in such a way they frame the character, and provide a visual perspective. Allegory is a featured motif in many literary fiction novels.

allegoryScience Fiction: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method. Science and technology are a dominant theme but based on current reality. Characters are still subject to sub-themes such as morality and love, but setting and science are the main themes.

Fantasy: Often set in alternate Earths, medieval times, or ancient worlds, the common themes are good vs. evil, hero’s journey, coming of age, morality, romantic love. Can also be set in urban settings with paranormal tropes.

On the surface, these types of books look widely different but all have one thing in common–they have protagonists and side-characters. These imaginary people will all have to deal with and react to the underlying theme of the book.

Morality, love, coming of age–these ideas can be found in nearly every book on my shelves or in my Kindle.


Credits:

Wikipedia contributors, “Theme (narrative),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Theme_(narrative)&oldid=765573400 (accessed February 22, 2017).

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#amwriting: using allegory to underscore theme

the Matrix PosterGreat novels, like great movies, are built of many layers. Theme is what the story is about on a deeper level than what is seen on the surface. It’s the big meaning, and often it’s a moral. Love, honor, family, redemption, and revenge are all common, underlying themes.

Allegory is an essential tool of the author who wants to convey important ideas with the least amount of words. One of my works-in-progress is a contemporary novel. I need to convey a Gothic atmosphere in this piece and yet maintain the setting and time-frame of a novel set squarely in the  21st century. The way I am doing this is through the use of allegory. With symbolism in mind, I try to approach writing a scene as it would be portrayed in a movie. Each conversation is an event and must advance the story.

Consider this scene from one of my favorite movies of all time, The Matrix. The films of The Matrix trilogy pit man against machine in a clearly drawn battle, but they also reveal that the humans are more machine-like than they think, and that the machines possess human qualities as well. These are the obvious themes, but there are several underlying concepts going at the same time.

The movies in this series are famous for the action, and rightfully so.  But great choreographed martial arts sequences can’t convey the concepts the authors needed to express. The advancement of the plot hinges on dialogue. Dialogue drives the action and connects the fundamental ideas of the story through the intentional use of allegory. The authors never lost the way, because every aspect of that script is steeped in symbolism that directly points to the overall theme(s).

Quotes from the matrix

 

The conversation concerns a drug deal, but the overarching idea of the blurred line between humans and machines is never lost.

The key words are in the first line, written on Neo’s computer:

  1. The Matrix has you,
  2. the third line,follow the white rabbit,
  3. and in that very last line, telling Neo to unplug.

The obvious plot of The Matrix series of films details a questioning of what reality is and portrays Neo as the potential savior of the world, which has been enslaved by a virtual reality program. Dig slightly deeper, and you see that it is about escaping that program, at which point the audience sees that a larger theme is in play: fate vs. free will.

Even before that larger concept is made clear, the conversations that happen in the course of the film all advance that theme, even the minor interactions, from the first conversation to the last.

The storytelling in The Matrix movies is a brilliant example of employing heavy allegory in both the setting and conversations to drive home the motifs of man, machine, fate, and free will.

The themes are represented with heavy symbolism in the names of the characters, the words used in conversations, and even the androgynous clothes they wear. Everything on the set or mentioned in conversation underscores those themes, including the lighting. Inside The Matrix the world is bathed in a green light, as if through a green-tinted lens. In the real world, the lighting is harsher, unfiltered.

In the movie, everything that appears or is said onscreen is symbolic and supports one of the underlying concepts. When Morpheus later asks Neo to choose between a red pill and a blue pill, he essentially offers the choice between fate and free will.

Neo chooses the red pill—real life—and learns that free will can be unpleasant. Cypher regrets choosing the red pill and ultimately chooses to return to the Matrix.

The creators of the movie even used the lighting as an allegory showing that Neo’s world is filtered through something else: The Matrix.

The arc of the story is driven by

  1. who has the information,
  2. when they learned it, (and when the audience learns it)
  3. what they did on learning that information.

In our own work, if we don’t keep the arc of the story moving toward the final conclusion with each scene, we will lose our reader. To that end, we disseminate information in small increments, with the reader learning what she must know at the same time our protagonist does. Using symbolism and allegory is a way to get the most information out there in the least amount of words, but it requires intention on the part of the author. Words, phrases, and setting must be chosen and the narrative’s prose must be crafted.

Crafted prose does not mean flowery prose. If you reexamine the above excerpt from The Matrix, you see lean dialogue, spare and to the point. It is in the symbolism of the setting, their names, their attire, and the authors’ choice of words that we get the most information. When Neo answers the door and is invited to the party, he at first declines. But then he notices that Du Jour, the woman with Choi, bears a tattoo of a white rabbit. He remembers seeing the words: follow the white rabbit, on his computer. Curious and slightly fearful of what it all means, he changes his mind and goes to the party, setting a sequence of events in motion.

We build the overall arc of the story from scenes, each of which is a small arc, in the same way a gothic cathedral is constructed of many arches that all build toward the top.  The underlying arches strengthen the overall construction. Without arches, the cathedral wouldn’t remain standing for very long.

Theme is a thread that winds through the story and supports the plot. Using allegory and symbolism in the environment to subtly underscore your themes allows you to show more without resorting to info dumps.

Picture conversations, clothing, settings, and wider environments as if they were scenes in a movie, and consider how you can use allegory to support your story arc. When we are immersed in reading it, we don’t notice the heavy symbolism on a conscious level, but on closer examination it is all there, making the imaginary real, solid and concrete.

By using allegory and conversations to create many layers, we can build memorable stories that will stand out in the reader’s mind.

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#amwriting: The Art of Foreshadowing: Charles Dickens

Ghost of Xmas Present[ Desmond BarrittAnother Christmas is about to join the Ghosts of Christmas Past–although, until December 26th, it is still the Ghost of Christmas Present. And as always, I want to talk about my favorite Christmas story of all time, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens was a master when it came to creating marvelous hooks and using heavy foreshadowing. Let’s have a look at the first lines of this tale:

“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.”

In that first paragraph, Dickens  tosses out the bait, sinking the hook, and landing the fish (the reader) by foreshadowing the first plot point of the story–the visitation by Marley’s ghost. We want to know why Marley’s definite state of decay was so important that the conversation between you the reader, and Dickens the author, was launched with that topic.

1999-xmas-present Desmond BarritHe picks it up and does it again several pages later, with the little scene involving the door-knocker, where Scrooge sees the face of his late business partner superimposed over the knocker.

At this point we’ve followed Scrooge through several scenes introducing the subplots. We have met the man who, as yet, is named only as ‘the clerk’ in the original manuscript, but whom we will later know to be Bob Cratchit, and we’ve met Scrooge’s nephew, Fred.

These subplots are critical, as our man Scrooge’s redemption revolves around the ultimate resolution of these two separate mini-stories–he must witness the joy and love in Cratchit’s family, who are suffering but happy in the midst of grinding poverty for which Scrooge bears a responsibility. We see that his nephew, Fred, though orphaned is well off in his own right, but craves a relationship with his uncle with no thought or care of what he might gain from it financially.

All the characters are in place. We’ve seen the city, cold and dark, with danger lurking in the shadows. We’ve observed the way Scrooge interacts with everyone around him, strangers and acquaintances alike. Now we come to the first plot point in Dickens’ story arc–Marley’s visitation. This is where the set-up ends and the story begins to take off.

christmas-carol-1999-patrick-stewart-scrooge-desmond-barrit-ghost-of-christmas-presentI love tales of redemption–and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens remains one of the most beloved tales of redemption in the Western canon. Written in  1843 as a serialized novella, A Christmas Carol continues to inspire adaptations, in both movies and books.

This is a short tale, but it is a deeply moving allegory of the Christian concept of redemption that remains pertinent in modern society.

In this tale, Dickens asks you to recognize the plight of those whom the Industrial Revolution has displaced and driven into poverty, and the obligation of society to provide for them humanely. This is a concept our society continues to struggle with, and perhaps will for a long time to come.

It is that deep, underlying call for compassion that resonates down through the centuries, a call that is, unfortunately, timeless.

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#Fairytales: Myth and the Power of the Allegory

little red riding hood Illustration published in 1868 Dutch edition of Little Red Riding Hood. Engraving by English printer Kronheim & CoWhen we were children we craved stories. We begged, “Mama, read me a story,” or “Grandma, tell me story.”  Many times those stories were fairy-tales, tales of good and evil, magic, and heroic deeds succeeding against all odds.

And they were sometimes tales of failure—after all, in the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, Grandma was eaten by the wolf, and had to be rescued by the woodsman.

They were allegories—fictional stories that represent spiritual truths.

My generation learned about the world and the evil that lurks in unknown through those dreadful, violent, sexist, amazingly wonderful fairytales.

These tales were, for the most part, written when the world was a far different place, and men and women had clearly defined roles, and abuse was an accepted, fundamental aspect of daily life.

In Europe women were property. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that this was the way it should be, and as property, they were to be protected and rescued as may be needed. It was a time of hunger and famine—the Little Ice Age had descended upon the northern hemisphere, crops frequently failed and disease was rampant.

There was a great deal to fear out there, and it was important to protect what was yours.

From Childhood's Favorites and Fairy Stories, by Various

From Childhood’s Favorites and Fairy Stories, Project Gutenberg

Once you understand the historical context of the times these tales were written, you understand why a prince who must prove his worth should be required to perform heroic deeds to gain the hand of a princess who is a valuable prize worth risking his life for.

You are not required to approve of the misogyny and misandry that is represented in the surface story—only to understand that society has vastly evolved over the last thousand years, and these tales are proof of that evolution. That is only the over-story—the structure that carries the real underlying truths about good and evil, truth and lies.

That deeper part of the story is called an allegory—something that only becomes apparent on further observation by the reader.

The tales I grew up on, that were such scary and yet entertaining stories were written originally during at time when:

  1. Tales were always told in such a way that the listener was not so much immersed in them as they were viewing them. They were told in a passive voice. This made them slightly less scary, because you knew it was just a story.
  2. Tales always employed symbolism—using objects to represent ideas such as love and honor, and personification—using talking animals and caricatures of people to represent ideas.
  3. Tales were always about morality, right and wrong, good and evil.
  4. The plot was simple—the hero and villain had only one goal to achieve, and would risk everything for that goal.
  5. Each character represented one major characteristic: love, honor, loyalty, fury, jealousy, or even lust for power.

Discrimination of either sex aside, there is a deep message in these tales. Folk and fairy tales remain the foundations of our storytelling society because while they are simple on the surface, when you examine them in a spiritual sense you can see the deeper meanings—the allegories.

Batman by Jim Lee (2002) via Wikipedia

Batman–Pencils by Jim Lee and inks by Scott Williams (2002) via Wikipedia

The most memorable fairytales are simple stories that everyone knows is only a fable, but is one everyone has read or heard. We remember them because of the hard kernel of truth that lies encapsulated within the entertainment of seeing the ugly duckling become the beautiful swan, or beast become a good man through the power of love.

Everyone loves a happy ending. When times are hard and it seems like the wolf is at the door, we need to know that better times lie ahead, to think that perhaps this time Grandma will eat the wolf.

We learn the power of hope and perseverance through fairytales and fables—we learn that if a person just keeps trying, the underdog can win the day.

It is that yearning for the power of good to defeat the minions of evil that powers our most iconic of modern myths—the modern superhero.


This article by Connie J. Jasperson was first published July 15, 2015  on Edgewise Words Inn, Alternate Realities and Food for Thoughta meeting place for  readers and authors.

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Elements of the Story: Allegory

allegory

Proper use of the allegory is an integral tool in the author’s toolbox. An allegory is a metaphor, but it is not merely symbolism, although it is definitely symbolic. Authors, painters, and musicians can convey hidden meanings and discuss complex moral issues through the device of allegory.

Literary Devices.net describes  Edmund Spenser’s “Faerie Queen,” a moral and religious allegory, in this way:

RAK9388 Faun and the Fairies, c.1834 by Maclise, Daniel

Faun and the Fairies, c.1834 by Daniel Maclise

“The good characters of book stand for the various virtues, while the bad characters represent vices. “The Red-Cross Knight” represents holiness while “Lady Una” represents truth, wisdom and goodness. Her parents symbolize the human race. The “Dragon” which has imprisoned them stands for evil. The mission of holiness is to help the truth, fight evil, and thus regain its rightful place in the hearts of human beings. “The Red-Cross Knight” in this poem also represents the reformed church of England fighting against the “Dragon” which stands for the Papacy or the Catholic Church.”

The Faerie Queene is an allegorical romance, and contains several levels of allegory, including praise for Queen Elizabeth I, who was Spenser’s great patron.

Elizabeth-I-Allegorical- painting  c.1610  by Unknown. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Allegory of Queen Elizabeth (c. 1610), with Father Time at her right and Death looking over her left shoulder. Two cherubs are removing the weighty crown from her tired head. Artist unknown.

Allegory is not always something that works well if you desire commercial success with your novels. This is because allegory is the sort of thing that only becomes apparent on further contemplation by the reader–which many casual readers don’t usually want to do and modern action-based literature does not encourage. A great many of today’s readers are action-junkies, so if you choose to present a moral concept through the use of allegory, you must take a page from Stephen King‘s work and  wrap it up in such a way that the average reader will enjoy it for the entertainment value, while the discerning reader will look deeper and find more layers to enjoy within your work.

ClassroomSynonym.com says: “At the foundation of a well-constructed allegory are carefully crafted parallels between two separate issues. To properly analyze an allegory it’s important to identify these parallels and explain why the parallels are such strong indicators that an allegory exists. Even though “The Crucible” is literally about a witch hunt, the unfair tactics for deciding who is a witch and who isn’t parallel the claims made during the McCarthy Era with little justification other than rumor and hearsay that certain people were communists. The unfair method of designation is the parallel.”

Crafting an allegorical narrative requires planning and intention. Clarity of thought on your part is absolutely crucial if your deeper story is to become clear to the reader. I suggest you outline so that the beginning, middle and end are clear before you begin.

An effective allegory narrative will have a clear moral or lesson that will become apparent at the end of the essay. Even if it is not stated directly the message will be implicit in the final resolution. You want to be sure that the ending reflects your final thought on the subject.

  1. Use Symbolism

The allegory is the symbol of your idea. This means your narrative or poem conceals the true theme you’re symbolizing. In other words, you are writing a cover story that will contain the primary one.

  1. Planning Your Characters Is Essential

Each character in an allegory represents an underlying element to your theme. Because the reader is expected to interpret the whole story and find what it means, no character can be introduced that does not directly pertain to and represent part of the underlying story. The moment you introduce a random character into it, your allegory devolves into chaos and your deeper meaning is lost.

  1. Planning Your Action is Essential

The arc of the scene becomes tricky. Every action is crucial–action must show something that pertains to the underlying theme, not just push the overlying story forward.

  1. Insert Hints Regarding the Deeper Meaning Into The Overlying Story

What that means is, you’ll be expected to leave evidence in your story for the discerning reader to grasp. Some authors have used irony, and sarcasm.  Others use large metaphors. No matter what you choose, subtle clues will guide the reader to the deeper story, and you want them to catch that underlying meaning, or you wouldn’t have written it. You don’t have to explain it baldly—readers love figuring out puzzles. But you do have to make sure a trail of breadcrumbs is there for your reader to follow.

E-how gives us this perfect, concise example: “For instance, if you want to show the damage done to the environment by humans, then the character symbolizing “everyman” could end up harming or hurting the character symbolic of the environment.”

animal farm george orwellI love allegories, and I have written a great deal of poetry that is allegorical.

I have read The Faerie Queene and The Crucible, and was challenged by both, for different reasons. One reason for that challenge in The Faerie Queen is that Spenser used many words that were considered archaic even in Elizabethan times, so you have to interpret it as you go.

Some other famous allegorical novels I have read are:

Animal Farm by George Orwell

An allegorical and dystopian novella by George Orwell, first published in England on 17 August 1945. According to the author himself, the book reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and then on into the Stalin era in the Soviet Union.

The Trial by Franz Kafka  Kafka’s descriptions of law and legality are considered allegories for things other than law, but it does clearly show how law and legality sometimes operate paradoxically.

Thinner by Richard Bachman (Stephen King writing under a pen name) Horror: An allegory about what lies beyond the limits of prosperous American complacency and where the responsibilities of human actions ultimately lie.

I will just say that allegorical novels are not written to be comfortable, cozy reads. They can be quite disturbing and thought provoking, as both Animal Farm and Thinner were to me. They were extremely disturbing, if you want the truth, but that was what makes them great literature. I was in the mood for a meatier read, and they took me out of my comfort zone, showing me disturbing aspects of the world I live in. These were things I could not change on a global level, but which I could possibly change within in my own sphere, thus my horizons were widened by reading them.

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