March, for some reason, seems like a good time for attention to dragons. And just to remind you of their frequent presence in literature, take a look at 10 of them in works you may know or might like to explore.
Also worth looking at for two reasons is a review from this week’s New York Times Book Review. Neil Gaiman, who you probably know from his graphic novels, reviews a new book by Kazuo Ishiguro, who you may also know from reading a novel of his in your syllabus. Ishiguro’s new novel, The Buried Giant, elicits this opening of Gaiman’s review which touches on two terms, ‘fantasy’ and the poor much misunderstood term, ‘allegory.’:
‘Fantasy is a tool of the storyteller. it is a way of talking about things that are not, and cannot be, literally true. It is a way of making our metaphors concrete, and it shades into myth in one direction, and allegory in another.” Gaiman goes on to tell about how his novel Stardust had been labeled an ‘allegory’ (Gaiman says “it wasn’t”). Then he writes a review of Ishiguro’s novel and closes with: ‘The Buried Giant is an exceptional novel’ [Gaiman calls it a mix of fantasy, historical fiction and myth] ‘and I suspect my inability to fall in love with it, much as I wanted to, came from my conviction that there was an allegory waiting like an ogre in the mist. . . .’ Now in order to find out more about that and to see if you agree, you’ll have to read the novel.
The reason I’ve included the above is that in their essays and oral work, IB students very easily sling around the terms ‘allegory’ and ‘allegorical’ in much looser ways than they use terms like ‘fantasy’ or ‘myth’. So before you use the a-word again, take note of a couple of standard definitions, from which I have taken the first lines.
Oxford Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms: allegory, a story or visual image with a second distinct meaning partially hidden behind its literal or visible meaning. The principal technique of allegory is personification whereby abstract qualities are given human shape. (p.5)
M.H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms: An allegory is a narrative in which the agents and action, and sometimes the setting as well, are contrived not only to make sense in themselves, but also to signify a second, correlated order of persons, things, concepts and events. . . . The central device in the typical allegory of ideas is personification of abstract entities such as virtues, vices, states of mind and types of character.(pp.4-5)
Now that’s just a beginning. What you want to avoid is confusing allegory with the favorite student notion of ‘deeper meaning’ or the more sophisticated critical term ‘subtext.’
Of all this more, next time. In the meantime, enjoy the dragons— who have immense truly allegorical possibilities. And incidentally, do you know where the phrase, ‘Here be dragons’ comes from?