Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Magic, Fantasy, and Allegory (Part Five)

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Today, friends and fellow bibliophiles, we are wrapping up our jaunt into the realm of fantasy and magic. While much more could be said, this is all I am ready to say at the present time, and I think it best to stop while I'm sure of myself. But, like all things here, I'm sure we'll be returning to it sometime in the distant future.

Today we've got one final post, in which I promised to discuss allegory.

What is Allegory?

While there may be several definitions of allegory, I found one source which contains a good working definition. Don't worry if you don't understand it the first time you read through it. It's a little complicated, and I'll explain it more fully, so you don't have to catch it all the first time. M.H Abram's Glossary of Literary Terms defines allegory as follows:

"An allegory is a narrative fiction in which the agents and action, and sometimes the setting as well, are contrived to make coherent sense on the ‘literal,' or primary level of signification, and at the same time to signify a second, correlated order of agents, concepts, and events."

In other words, let's give this a practical application to make it a bit more understandable. An allegory [Pilgrim's Progress] is a narrative fiction [story] in with the agents [Christian] and action [journey to the Celestial City] and sometimes the setting as well [King's Highway] are contrived to make good sense on the literary level [the story itself] and at the same time illustrates a second story that parallels to the first. [Christian parallels to any Christian, the journey to the Celestial City parallels our spiritual journey to heaven, the King's Highway is a parallel to the Christian life].

So basically, an allegory is one story that has a second story it symbolizes.

You might be questioning why we had to go through all that. But it's very important to separate allegory and fantasy, and to give you a good definition of what it means. Oftentimes allegories are misunderstood and classified as fantasy, and while many allegories have fantasy elements to them, they are not actually fantasies themselves.

So let's further divide allegories into two main types. Returning again to M.H Abram's Glossary of Literary Terms:

 "We can distinguish two main types [of allegory]: (1) historical and political allegory, in which the characters and actions ... represent, or ‘allegorize' historical personages and events" (Abrams 4).

And the second one:

"The allegory of ideas, in which the literal characters represent abstract concepts and the plot exemplifies a doctrine or thesis" (Abrams 4).

Chuck Black is an excellent author to use in illustrating these two concepts: Take his two series: The Kingdom Series and The Knights of Arrethtrae, and you have, in effect, both types of allegory. The Kindom series is the first type, historical and political, in which the characters allegorize Old Testament prophets and rulers. Leinad represents Moses (and a host of others) his father Payton represents Adam, his mother Dinan represents Eve. Every event in the story parallels to an event in Scirpture.
In the Knights of Arrethtrae series, the characters and story represent the second type of allegory: the allegory of ideas. Bentley represents generosity, Lord Ra represents rebellion. Dalton represents both doubt and faith.

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So is Allegory a Good Thing?

Well, Jesus himself used allegory. Many of the parables were allegorical representations for something entirely different. Take the parable of the prodigal son, the wise and foolish builders, the unforgiving servant, the wedding banquet, and the ten virgins. All these are allegorical for our relationship to God, God's forgiveness to us, the wedding supper of the Lamb, and Jesus' Second Coming.

Therefore, an allegory can be a very good thing. Whenever we look at stories to judge their rights and wrongs, we always look to Christ himself--because he spent much of his life telling stories. And whatever He did,  we can be assured that it is wise for us to imitate.

Allegories I can Recommend

Chuck Black--I've already dealt with him in another post, so I will merely give you the link.
The Pilgrim's Progress--Um, believe it or not, I've never read it. But it's a good book....
Hind's Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard--This is a sweet story of one girl's journey to the High Places--which, by the way, aren't Heaven--a beautiful allegory of the Christian walk and also the Song of Solomon, it's a quick and enjoyable read.
The Chronicles of Narnia--magic, fantasy, and allegory all in one. Though I haven't gotten to a full review yet, I enjoy these books as well.

The Final Point

One last point I would like to leave you with, to wrap up this entire series. You can be reading a book with magic in which the author uses it correctly, and comes at it with the right worldview. You can read allegories that are well-crafted, and fantasies embodying the very spirit of Christian virtue that you want to be picking up on. But still, I would caution you, don't make books of these sort the majority of your reading diet. Every fantasy and allegory is at a disadvantage in this one respect: it's an alternate 'reality'. You can't hang around these exclusively without turning the best of books into a pitfall. Read them occasionally, and enjoy them, but make sure that you're spending most of your time with books that show the realities of the present and the past--books that have one meaning, not a double one. Adventures that you can point to, and epic battles that you can glory in, while all the time saying "this really happened" or "this could have happened".

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I fear I must write The End to this series for now. My sister reminded me this morning that I never talked about unicorns. I remembered that I forgot to mention fauns and centaurs. Maybe in a Narnia review someday. While I haven't covered everything, I have given you where I am right now. It's not easy to write a series when you don't have all the answers yourself. Some things I still wonder about. But God will show them to me in His time, and He will show you what to do with this topic as well.

 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
-James 1:5

And on Friday, I have a hankering for something period drama-ish and nice. Look forward to a book review--(I promise you, it shall be nonfiction. :)

Lady Bibliophile


  1. Dear Lady B,
    Wonderful series!!!! I've been loving the photos on this series. My favorite is the Unicorn. You've had some wonderful points in this series.
    I LOVE Hinds Feet On High Places. I have to rank it in favorites, but I don't know where to put it! :D :D :D
    Love, Sister

  2. It has been a good blog series! I was quite surprised though to know that you've not actually read The Pilgrim's Progress, Schuyler! You really should try to read the actual book sometime, and The Holy War by Bunyan is really good as well. I know you will be blessed by reading them!

    Ah, Hinds Feet on High Places is a favourite of mine as well! Many blessings in Christ,

    1. Thank-you Joy! Yes, I surprise a lot of people about Pilgrim's Progress. :) I have it on my list to read, and I would like to read The Holy War as well. I am starting to mark books to read in 2013, and I think I will put Pilgrim's Progress down. :)



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