Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Fantasy & Folklore: A Sense of Symbolism

“You slowly peeled me out of time;
I swayingly stepped into it
and yielded after subtle fights:
but now your darkling presence grieves
your gentle victory.

You conquered me and know me not.”

One of the greatest aids belief gives the writer is an ability to understand the symbols and images he uses. Belief, a relationship with the symbols, is something allows us to see them as living, changing, growing things; images with deep roots; and that understanding is the place from which to pull the nuance of meaning, without either over-extending the symbol or misrepresenting it entirely. Jenna’s Monday post emphasized it perfectly, “I believe in mysteries—”. Mystery is a challenge to us, especially as we populate our stories with characters from folklore and legend. We’re a jaded lot, and while we may love the old tales, too often we look at them with eyes unused to mystery. We need to retrain our eyes. Mr. Pond joined us again with a surprise, one of his tales woke up and walked the earth - thrilling, but is it unexpected? “There are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of”.
Often, it seems, the writer will see as a symbol, a creature he loves or hates, like dragons for Michael O’Brien, and cling to one aspect of the symbolism, forgetting the rest in his enthusiasm. There is no relationship to the symbol, and the deeper meanings are lost. O’Brien is so full of the sens of the dragon as Satan image (dangerous, cunning, wicked) that he pushes out conflicting images of the dragon as counselor (powerful, wise, dangerous). It’s where the two intersect that the true symbolism is found. Dragons represent power, power outside of morality, and power of the mind as well as the physical power. Dragons are dangerous, but they don’t have to be a symbol of evil. Relationship to the image, how the author chooses to emphasize and down-play aspect of the symbol, is the key.

I am thinking especially of the symbolism of plants right now, Jenna mentioned them in last weeks discussion, and I am realizing more and more as I begin to reply, that symbols are shifting things, requiring an intimate friendship. I began by writing about birches - trees I love, trees I walk among daily for inspiration and friendship. In the spring, I bring in birch twigs to set on the altar, because my Saints love them. Birches bring so many good things: babies, healing, sweet dreams, and good spirits. But they’re also ghost trees, in birch groves, the souls of unshriven girls dance for the death of those who join them, late at night, under the waning moon. Birches link us to the dead, good and evil, they lean toward the good - all things have a leaning. But the tales speak mostly of the dancing girls, of terror and madness. Without a relationship we often miss an important aspect. Mr. Pond is right when he reminds us that “belief in fairies is certainly not [a] comforting thing.” As writers, we need to remember this, our fairies are not angels, and our angels are not merely fat cherubs.

"What will you do, God, when I'm dead?..
without me, you end up losing making sense...

I fret about you, God."

 Symbols are powerful, and now, living in a world that to often fails to appreciate them, we who write with them, need to write with love and understanding. Need to absorb their darkness and their light in order to make sense of them. In order to share them with the world.


  1. I'm excited to see a little bit of plant/tree symbolism in here. :D

    Also, I like the idea of relationship to the symbols--Christian images are old friends, but the ancient myths are much newer ones, and herbology and folklore newer acquaintances yet. I'm looking forward to getting to know them, though.

  2. Thanks! I have half an e-mail written with more plant information...maybe I'll send that today :)

  3. Just doing some backreading . . .really enjoying everything. Is Micheal O'Brien the one who wrote "A Landscape with Dragons"? I didn't know what to think about his insistence that dragons were evil symbols. I thought, "My goodness, what does he think of Harry Potter?"

  4. He HATES Harry Potter. In all capitals, and probably in italics. He has a book just on Harry Potter, which I want to own. He is the one who wrote A Landscape with Dragons, and the title is so good I would resent him just for taking it, but to mis-use it like he did makes me sad.

    I actually don't like Harry much either, but for different reasons..we might have more on that in this discussion later, if I ever get my act together. If you DO like Harry (and even if you don't) Jenna has a great essay on Love in Harry Potter in a book called Harry Potter for Nerds. You should check it out! I loved it!

  5. I've only read the first HP book, so . . . liked it enough but not enough to read the whole series. It probably gets better as you go along, though.