Today’s guest post comes from fantasy author Rachel Hunter (no relation as far I’m aware). Her novel, Empyreal Fate — Part One of the Llathalan Annal Series, is coming soon from Hydra Publications. Now onto the post!
First of all, a large ‘thank you’ to Mr. Hunter for allowing me to post a little something to his blog. It is an honor to be here, and I am thrilled for the opportunity to post about a topic that intrigues me: Symbolism.
What is it and why do we care? First of all, according to the first definition from Dictionary.com, ‘Symbolism’ is “the practice of representing things by symbols; or of investigating things with a symbolic meaning or character.” Indeed. And most of you are probably thinking along the lines of this:
And yes. Perhaps what authors write is completely random and without deeper purpose. Perhaps there is no other reason that the Weasley family’s hair color is red, Gandalf transitions from “Grey” to “White”, Thomas Covenant starts out with a sour disposition, or a certain stone was left overturned – other than the fact the authors woke up one morning and thought, “Aha! I know the most random details to apply, and apply them I shall!” Well – perhaps it’s the psychologist in me, but I disagree. Although not every detail or characteristic in a work is necessarily crucial to the plot, there generally is something relevant or telling that may be gleaned from it. The interesting part is determining whether or not one is reading into the psyche of the actual characters – or into the author her/himself. Now that’s the fun part to determine.
Symbolism can take many forms: colors, shapes, characters, personalities, seasons, events, creatures… even the direction the wind blows or the way a lake ripples in a breeze. But what does it mean? That, my friends, is up to you. The reader – whomever you may be. And that is usually the part I find contention with regarding English teachers and their crticial analysis of various works: it is not that something is supposed to mean one thing or another; rather, it’s the importance of what the symbol means to the reader. The reader is the one who takes the meaning out of a work and carries that meaning inside of her/himself: however great or small the impact. But it is interesting to note the generalizations of certain symbols and the meanings they indeed carry. For example, some common interpretations of symbols are as follows:
- Spring: birth/renewal/“awakening”
- Summer: maturity/growth
- Winter: death/stagnation
- Fall: aging/decline
- Purple: royalty/confidence
- Blue: calm/serene/detached
- Green: hope/growth/renewal
- Red: emotion/passion/bravery
- White: purity/innocence
- Water: regeneration/cleansing/renewal
- Sun: vitality/strength
- Cavern: womblike/secretive/mysterious
- North: hostility/alienation
- South: warmth/expression
- East: youth/renewal
- West: old age/decline
Of coure, there are far more generalizations than that – and those are merely simple observations. It is another thing altogether to delve into the “whys” of particular actions and/or events. Or – “What does (insert object/person/event) signify?”
Throughout my readings, I have identified several symbols that hold particular meaning to me. But, again, the interpretations of one may be completely opposite in meaning to another. As an example, I would like to share a few interpretations of others relating to various works that I have found quite thought-provoking:
Mark Murdoch interprets the ‘Eye of Sauron’ (as found in JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series) quite interestingly. Here is what he has to say:
“Sauron lacks corporeal form and is depicted as an all-seeing eye at the top of an obelisk-like structure. The all-seeing eye is an ancient Egyptian symbol traced back to the solar cult of Aton and is commonly associated with power groups like the Illuminati and the Freemasons. Note, too, another Egyptian connection: Egypt was known as the black land, and Mordor is also the black land.
Sauron then can represent the dark force behind the power elite who have ruled civilization throughout history. The Freemasons use the eye to depict The Great Architect of the Universe, the demiurge or, as the Gnostics refer to him, Ialdaboth, the false god.
As the all-seeing eye, Sauron sweeps the land in search of the ring and in search of knowledge. Here is another clue. For as Freemason Francis Bacon stated: knowledge is power. The all-seeing eye seeks power, seeks to control and dominate all it beholds.
All of this — the dark lord, the false god, the power-seeking ruler — leads us back into ego territory again: the all-seeing eye or all-seeing “I”? Even the phallic obelisk on which the eye is perched is representative of the pronoun “I.”
Yet Sauron is not just another representation of the ego. Sauron represents the capstone eye to a pyramid of power. For as Tolkien tells us of the power of the One Ring, no matter who believes themselves to wield it, it is ultimately Sauron who is in control. All of the magical rings were bound to his One Ring.
This suggests that all of our individual ego strivings towards power flow upward into a greater network of power from which an elite few can control the many. We see this revealed today. The greatest threat to individual freedom is centralized, corporatized power — the New World Order.
We are all wired into Sauron through our rings, our individual egos.”
Todd McCaffrey – son of Anne McCaffrey (author of Dragonriders of Pern series) – takes note of the various cultural differences and beliefs relating to the dragon. He sums up mans’ general fascination in a brief interview with NPR:
“I think dragons are a really fundamental embodiment of our wishes and dreams,” McCaffrey says. “They are incredibly powerful,” he adds, “and they embody the best of humans and their aspirations.”
Justin Bruce shares his opinion of religious and historical influences in George Lucas’s Star Wars:
“Although not quite as powerful in Star Wars as the symbolism of religion, I believe that there is a strong historical influence behind many of the scenes in the film.
In religion, I compared the character of Darth Vader to Satan’s second-in-command, Beelzebub, because Vader takes orders only from the Emperor Palpatine, but is in command of virtually all of the destructive forces operating from the Death Star. Likewise, Beelzebub is in command of Satan’s legions of fallen angels, or more specifically, demons. Since World War II, many have classified the actions of German commander Adolf Hitler as Satan-like due to his extreme evil qualities and persecution of the Jewish. Hitler was effective enough at commanding his forces that most actually enjoyed the horrible acts that they carried out on the prisoners of war in their captivity. Although it is not likely that George Lucas intentionally designed Darth Vader to be perceived in this manner, with the other comparisons between historical events and Star Wars, it is not difficult to place him in this role.
After escaping the Death Star, Luke Skywalker must return to destroy the center of evil operations before it is within range of destroying the rebel encampment. After receiving the initial strike from evil forces at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, that set up World War II, America was forced to retaliate with strikes on the enemy. Just as the Jedi strike on the Death Star was a valiant effort against overwhelming odds, many of the strikes in World War II suffered heavy losses, but were overall successful. The Allied bombing raids on Berlin, Germany, from November 1943 to March 1944 were effective at damaging the city, but almost 600 bombers were lost in the strikes. This is reminiscent of the strike on the Death Star, in which most of the Jedi fighters were destroyed, but the center of Empire operations was annihilated.
The historical aspect of Star Wars that I have found most comparable to the German forces in World War II is the title that Lucas has given to the Empire soldiers. They are known as Imperial Storm Troopers, just as Hitler’s soldiers were called Storm Troopers. I find this far too close to be coincidental, and this strengthens the symbolic link between Adolf Hitler and Darth Vader.
Whether George Lucas intentionally intended these religious and historical allusions in Star Wars is uncertain, but many have felt their presence in the film. This interpretation is probably one reason why Star Wars enjoyed so much success as a science fiction film.”
At the same time, my novel – Empyreal Fate – has its share of symbolism. Although I shall not spoil anything for you here, I will mention that the Laymeur flower (as depicted on the cover) lends nicely to the concept of ‘Fate’. But again, it’s all perspective. Although readers may find various connections and interpretations that I have not even thought of, I hope that the relationship between the two is readily identifiable on an abstract level. If not, I would be thrilled to discover what readers make of the relationship – what they internalize – as well as what they make of the other ‘hidden’ elements. Just remember: whatever the work and whatever the subject – a symbol attributes meaning through the lenses from which the reader views it. Not all interpretations are the same, and there is no “right” or “wrong”. Rather, the significance of a symbol comes in when once decides for himself: what does it mean to me?
Find Rachel Hunter on the web: