Since the dawn of storytelling there’s been this great war of worms
No, sorry, war of words.
People discuss whether theme or entertainment is more important, research or characterization. How important is purple prose? Is it merely an enchanting container hiding inside it nothing but yammering moans or do these tranquilizing words of high heavens and bird chipper really relay message and theme better?
Not to mention the great war of the literal.
What is literature and what is not? Is Shakespeare? The Three Musketeers?
Not at the time, no. At their time they were mere entertainment. H.C. Andersen was accused of being childish in his writing. (Go ugly duckling analogy)
I often think about this right before falling asleep. I’m not quite sure what that says about me, but in any case I realized that there are two main factions of fiction:
Faction 1: Simplicity, message and entertainment.
The authors and critics on this side of the battlefield believe that the higher goal of literature is best achieved through characterization and actions. There’s no need to describe the marble waterfall in the back yard, even if it represents the confinement of Jessica and her inner, suppressed desires. Instead, we’ll show it by having other characters repress Jessica through actions. We’ll also make her strangely attracted to the gardener.
I’m not saying this faction doesn’t use symbolism. It does – but you won’t find a page up and page down analyzes wondering what the pink wall in the living room might represent.
Overall, theme is important in all fiction, so I won’t get too much into it.
However, there are many books out there that don’t care much for what theme they present. (Twilight, Fifty Shades) They care for entertaining the reader. These books undoubtedly fall intofaction 1.
Fairy tales also typically fall into this category, though often you can read an extra layer into the fairy tales. However when analyzing fiction from the past we need to remember that at the time things probably made more sense!
For instance, Red Riding Hood is about a girl who shouldn’t have strayed off the path or been alone in the forest.
The red color can also symbolize passion and when she is eaten it might be that she is raped by the wolf, who actually represents a thug.
Is that reading too much into it?
No. At the time of Grimm it was common to have women be eaten instead of explicitly saying that they were raped to death. At the time this was obvious. Society didn’t just talk openly about sex. Up until, like, 100 years ago that kind of “censure” was pretty common. We’re not used to it today because writing is a lot more prompt.
However, writing “he put his dick inside her vagina” is seen as vulgar even today, and we’d commonly write “he entered her” or somesuch. The latter is better because it’s less “in your face”.
Examples from fiction:
Jane Austen’s books.
Game of Thrones
Interview with the Vampire
Post modernistic books.
Faction 2: Play with words, symbolism and thematic overtures.
You know this stuff. Come on, you spent all your time in school analyzing it! That’s WHY you know – because if left to you, you’d probably decide to go read something from faction 1.
I don’t blame you. It’s a lot easier to digest.
But before you shut fraction 2 out completely, let’s take a second look at its merits and forget, for a second, how heavy it can be to read.
Remember that stories are about conveying a message. The best stories entertain but educate.
If I bluntly poked you in the back and said “don’t cheat on your spouse” you might shrug and say “what’s it to you?”
But what if I told a gruesome story of how a king was cheated on by his wife and was crushed with a grief that left him vengeful and hateful towards women, so spiteful that each night he would take a new woman’s virginity and kill her? What if I told you this man’s councilor had to give up his own daughter to this king, but the daughter, being clever, told a story to the king and just before dawn, when she was about to die, she told him to let her live another day to hear the rest. This continues for 1001 nights until the king falls in love with her and declares that he will keep her as his wife.
After the story that is 1001 Nights Stories you might begin to grasp how hurtful it can be to others if you betray their trust and how bitterness can ruin more lives than you first considered.
Stories help us learn better. Why else would educators use so many examples? It’s called ANALOGIES!
Fiction from faction 1 can get overly blunt. We say cut the unnecessary adjectives and adverbs – oh! the adverbs – but in the past they were much more acceptable.
What if the description of a waterfall in Jessica’s backyard DOES add something to the story that couldn’t otherwise be shown? What if the pink wall really is important? What if you wouldn’t understand the thematic concept of a young woman trapped in a suppressed environment if you didn’t see her surroundings?
Sometimes we cut TOO much. In striving to be entertained we dumb down fiction. We bathe it in acid till there are just the most important words left.
But what if something vital is lost? Something between the lines. What if writers become so terrified of fat on their story that they forget to put meat on the bones?
It’s sort of like women telling their men to just listen, be good and do what they say and then end up furious that they have a weak husband who won’t stand up for her or himself. Well, you trained him, darling.
Basically, faction 2 is sort of like impressionism in art. It’s not supposed to LOOK like what it’s saying, but it’s supposed to make you FEEL it.
Many canon writers are from this fraction.
Examples from fiction:
Shakespeare (even for his time, Shakespeare was weird)
Edgar Allan Poe
Lars von trier Movies
Now, many pieces of fiction obviously take something from both schools – and they should!
Sandman by Neil Gaiman. This story can be so confusing at times I’m pretty sure the only way to understand it is by running it by an English teacher.
Narnia. Although filled with symbolism and religious tones, Narnia is always very straight up about it.
Lord of the Rings. The story itself is very simple. Throw evil ring into doomsday mountain before Sauron engulfs the world in chaos. On the way we’ll learn about love, hope and corruption of man’s spirit.
Tolkien, however, is a man who loves detours.
He’s known for his prosaic language and religious undertones, but, as opposed to Narnia, they’re well disguised.
As we end I want to point out that there’s nothing wrong with focusing on entertainment and not on the play with words. Faction 1 captivates most readers. Stories are about conveying a message and in the end what makes a story good is how well the message was received.
Being entertained and invested is an important part of learning and paying attention.
There’s no need to exclusively read stuff like Moby Dick in order to be literary.
What’s your opinion on this matter? Which fraction do you like best? Do you have great examples of symbolism used in faction 1 or maybe theatrical boldness in faction 2?