Allusions, Archetypes, and Writing from the Soup

Writers! Read this:) You will be happy you did!

Reading, Writing, and Rambling

I don’t know about you, but I love reading books that allude to other stories or bodies of knowledge. The allusions can be as simple as character or place names or as complex as a borrowed plot. These allusions—when most skillfully handled—require no explanation but deepen the experience of the story for readers aware of the reference.

One great example that comes to mind is the naming of some of the characters in the Harry Potter series. Let’s start with one of my favorite characters, Sirius Black. Sirius, along with his brother Regulus (and some other members of the family), are named after stars. The star Sirius, it so happens, is also known as the “Dog Star” and is in the constellation Canis Major (Greater Dog). Now, not knowing that Sirius is the Dog Star, and thus, Sirius Black’s name actually describes his Animagus form of a big black dog…

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9 thoughts on “Allusions, Archetypes, and Writing from the Soup

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful post. You’ve touched on one of my hot buttons: metaphor. I believe that metaphor–allusion, archetype and symbols–is the BIOS of thought…to use a metaphor.

    Metaphor allows us to experience the unfamiliar in familiar terms. Metaphor is economical. If you write, “her marraige is a nightmare”, your reader doesn’t have to know the particulars of the relationship, but knows that it is unpleasant, emotional, and difficult to escape.

    Similarly, archetypes resonate. Our experience includes the hero, mentor, ally, shapeshifter, trickster, herald, adversary, etc. These are seen collectively in the myths of every culture (says Joseph Campbell) and individually in the formation of imago in the infant consciousness.

    What a delight to recognize an archetype in someone’s story!

    Allusion goes off the rails (another metaphor) when references are merely sly. I’ve never read Harry Potter (gasp!) so I don’t know if the characters you cite have canine or lupine behaviors. That the names enrich your experience rather than detract from it, speaks well of Rowling’s craft.

    Thanks, too, for the reference to Ms. Gilbert’s Ted talk. I’ll be sure to check it out.

    You might enjoy the book, “Metaphors We Live By” (George Lakoff & Mark Johnson). The text demands concentration because the authors employ metaphorical and literal meaning. Lakoff and Johnson believe that metaphor is central to thinking. For example, consider the metaphors, “ideas are objects”, “words are containers” and, “communication is a conduit”. We ‘have’ ideas: they are objects capable of being possessed. We ‘put’ them into words–again, ideas are objects, and words are containers. We seek to ‘get’ ideas ‘across’–speech is a conduit..

    Heady stuff. Thanks for starting the train of thought.(Thought has motion–it can start–and is a vehicle.)

    Sorry to write such a long response. I didn’t have time to write a short one.


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