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Month: August 2015 (page 1 of 4)

The Traveling Angel Trope

Although in drama and masterpiece theatre and in literary fiction your main character needs to have both a moral and a psychological ‘need’, that rule doesn’t hold for travelling angel types. Mary Poppins does not have a moral need. (She does not treat other people badly.)

Traveling angel characters are found mainly in Westerns, detective stories and comedies. They are also found in children’s stories.

The travelling angel often enters the storyworld when the storyworld is in trouble. (But not always.) They fix the problems, then move on.

The travelling angel comedy is a comedy of structure and contrast. Other comedic forms rely on comedy of dialogue. Because the comedy is in the story’s structure, critics tend to say a comedy of the traveling angel type has ‘heart’. Audiences love stories with heart and so traveling angel films rarely fail at the box office.

EXAMPLES

  • Crocodile Dundee (Australian film) — comedy, adventure
  • Amélie (film) — French comedy romance — traveling angel comedies are popular in France for some reason
  • Chocolat (book and film) — drama, romance
  • Good Morning, Vietnam (film) — biography, comedy, drama
  • Mary Poppins (family musical based on a series of books by P.L. Travers) — children’s book — comedy, fantasy
  • The Music Man (film, musical) — comedy, romance
  • Shane (classic Western) — about the only non-ironic Western movie made since the world wars — includes drama and romance
  • Anne Of Green Gables — though Anne doesn’t leave Avonlea for good, she is back and forth, and tends to win crotchety people over so long as they are basically good in the first place.
  • Santa — the ultimate travelling angel!

Related: Angelic Tropes at TV Tropes

Mary-Poppins

Some Notes On Winnie The Pooh

Winnie the Pooh came at the very end of the First Golden Age Of Children’s Literature, as described by Peter Hunt:

THE AUDIENCE

  • Winnie the Pooh has been described as not really a book for children, but rather ‘collegiate’. (Sure enough, my mother bought me the complete hardcover works when I was in university. I hadn’t truly read them until then — like Seuss’s The Lorax, the stories had always been enjoyed more by my mother than by me.) In the early years the books were very much in vogue among adults but were later condemned by some as being smug/bourgeois/whimsical. Winnie is like The Bee Gees — he tends to go in and out of fashion, but unlike The Bee Gees, he’s currently in fashion. People don’t complain about his whimsy much these days.
  • Roger Sale said that the Pooh books are essentially about the fact that Christopher Robin is now too old to play with toy bears.
  • Maria Nikolajeva says that ‘the books present a subtle balance between the creation of Arcadia and the subversion of it, so that our final interpretation of them can easily topple over to either side, which we also see clearly in many studies of Pooh’. She explains that Milne tries to create an illusion that Paradise is indeed eternal, while the text subverts the author’s intention.
  • Apart from his Pooh stories (written 1924-1928, A.A. Milne wrote plays for adults. After his four Pooh stories that’s all he wrote, until he died in 1956.

FOOD IN THE POOH STORIES

  • Food is an important part of Pooh’s paradise, though surprisingly little is said about it compared to, say, The Wind In The Willows. Pooh is fixated, of course, upon ‘hunny’.

As a side note, children are likely to identify with Pooh’s love of honey. Human evolution explains why we love it:

The honeyguide lives in much of Africa, where it eats the wax, brood, and eggs of honeybees. In this, it is relatively unique. Wax is indigestible to most animals. The honeyguide has been simultaneously blessed with the ability to eat wax and cursed with the dilemma of how to obtain it. Honeyguide beaks are too small to break into beehives. Humans have a different problem. We crave beehives for their honey. We are willing to do almost anything to get to honey. In Thailand, little boys are sent a hundred feet up into trees with a smoking stick to do battle with three-inch-long giant bees and take from them their honey… Honey, to paraphrase the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss has “a richness and subtlety difficult to describe to those who have never tasted [it], and indeed can seem almost unbearably exquisite in flavour… [It] breaks down the boundaries of sensibility, and blurs is registers, so much so tat the eater of honey wonders whether he is savoring a delicacy or burning with the fire of love.”

– from The Wild Life Of Our Bodies, by Rob Dunn

 

  • Pooh is often punished for being greedy, though the punishment is rather mild compared to the punishment in most gluttony stories. (Compare with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.)

  • Food is always joyful. Most adventures end with Pooh going home to eat lunch. He is always excusing himself to go home to eat. He lives to eat. Pooh immediately interprets unfamiliar words as food, which is a good source of humour. A similar technique is used in the more modern book Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, in which the animal protagonists structure their days around mealtimes, and almost don’t live to tell the tale.
  • As in many children’s stories, a picnic is an important part of any outing.
  • Food takes a less significant role in the stories once they move from mythic to linear (i.e. when changes start to occur), when Christopher Robin’s departure from this world is imminent and later becomes a fact. Food moves into the background because emotional development comes to the fore.

THE SETTING

  • Alison Lurie sees Pooh books as an intact idylls, with their strong “reversal of parental authority”. The Forest is a self-contained universe without economic competition or professional ambition. Any danger that can threaten always comes from natural causes. This is similar to the idyll in the Moomin stories. Apart from occasional bad weather, there’s nothing unsafe about this world.
  • The world is a stable one. Tigger’s and Roo’s arrive in the Forest is like the appearance of a sibling in early childhood, inexplicable and unexpected. Both characters soon become an integrated part of the idyllic world.
  • Humphrey Carpenter sees in the Pooh books the Biriths Goldne Age’s farewell to enchanted places.
  • Some critics say that Milne wrote these books because he himself was estranged from his parents, and the world is a kind of escape. But this doesn’t explain why other authors wrote similar worlds, and they were not estranged from their parents. (Astrid Lindgren, Tove Jansson etc.)
  • The toys represent the childish part of Christopher Robin. They cannot follow him out into the Wide World.
  • All scenes that take place at Christopher Robin’s house take place outdoors, including the party he gives at the end of the first book.

  • Homes and houses play a significant role in the books in general, though. But home doesn’t exactly represent security — Owl’s house gets blown down. (This anticipates Christopher Robin’s departure.)
  • The Forest is a natural world, where civilization has not yet entered, at least not in the beginning. It’s basically a modern version of an archetypal legend. A peaceful animal kingdom is ruled by a single benevolent human being. But the final threat to the Forest comes from knowledge and education. Pooh’s poems represent oral, mythical culture but the education Christopher Robin receives on the outside is written and therefore linear. When Christopher Robin writes his first correct sentence, he takes a step away from the world of innocence.
  • The Forest is a child’s inner landscape.

THE CHARACTERS

Winnie the Pooh characters

  • The characters are humanised toys rather than humanised animals but there’s not much point in making a distinction. Each of their characteristics doesn’t have much to do with their real-world animal counterparts, except that Piglet likes Haycorns (as do real pigs, apparently).
  • Some feminist critics have ascribed Pooh with gender characteristics, but Nikolajeva argues for a gender-free Pooh. The Forest is a ‘pregender’ universe. Note that the voice of Pooh, when adapted for television/film is quite high pitched, though narrated by an older male. This is both ‘youthful’ and results in a sexually ambiguous character.The characters of the Pooh stories can be viewed as a ‘collective protagonist’ (from Jungian thought), with each character representing faults and virtues particular to some adults and some children, but Pooh himself (the hero) has faults and virtues common to children.
  • The characters are introduced gradually, one or two at a time in each story, which is like a child’s gradual discovery of their own traits.
  • Pooh is the bland, confident, mystic child.
  • Piglet is the small, nervous but very brave child. Piglet moves in with Pooh, which might be seen as a fusion of character. Piglet eats acorns.
  • Tigger is the wild child. He is fussy about his food. His attempts to find suitable food for himself is a search for identity. He must find his place int he hierarchy of the Forest (remember, the Forest equals childhood). Tigger is the only animal who doesn’t have a house of his own and stays with Kanga. This emphasises his smallness. (Not his physical dimensions but his general bouncy demeanour, which is childlike.) Normally — if he were a real animal — he would have gobbled up Kanga. This further disarms him. He is at the ‘pre-mirror’ stage of child development, and doesn’t recognise his own reflection. He is a baby who has just been weaned, tasting his mother’s different foodstuffs.
  • Roo is the baby, and critics find it difficult to say much interesting about Roo.
  • Rabbit often thought to represent is the egocentric, sarcastic adult. Rabbit is the most conservative part of the collective protagonist. He is against change. He wants to get rid of Kanga and then Roo, then Tigger. But Rabbit is also the most childish. He is the most reluctant part of the child. This is a stubborn child who has made up his mind and is unwilling to change. (Perhaps he is really a very old man.)
  • Owl is the pretentious and insecure egocentric adult.
  • Kanga is the loving but firm mother.
  • Eeyore — together with Owl, Eeryore is closest to the world of adults. This is partly symbolised by his food. Eeyore eats thistles, rather than the sweet foods of childhood.
  • Christopher Robin is small, powerless and oppressed. But in the Forest he is the God. He has the function of deus ex machina in the stories, stepping in to save the day. But Christopher Robin is never focalised, whereas all the other characters are.

 

NARRATIVE PERSPECTIVE

  • The story progresses toward an increasingly adult, detached view of the events.
  • The metadiegetic, didactic narrator gradually disappears. Some critics really don’t like this adult-like narrator’s voice, thinking it is intrusive. (Metadiegetic pertains to a secondary narrative embedded within the primary narrative. The secondary narrative can be a story told by a character within the main story or it can take the form of a dream, nightmare, hallucination, imaginary or other fantasy element.)
  • This kind of narration is typical of idyllic fiction.
  • In the Pooh stories, there is a metafictive father telling these stories to a metafictive son over and over again.
  • There is much irony between the words and the pictures, for example when Pooh is stuck in the hole because he’s eaten too much honey. Christopher Robin reads him a ‘sustaining’ book, which happens to be an ABC book, and opens to the page for ‘Jam’. Both Milne and Shepard (the original illustrator) make fun of the child.

 

THEME

  • ‘The Pooh stories are as totally without hidden significance as anything ever written.’ – Rowe
  • See: The Pooh Perplex, which is a satire of literary criticism. These books were perfect for that, since they don’t seem to stand up well to such criticism.
Notes above are from:

From Mythic to Linear: Time in Children’s Literature by Maria Nikolajeva

Written for Children by John Rowe Townsend

 

RELATED LINKS

The Ecology Of Winnie The Pooh, from Aeon

From The Hundred Acre Wood To Midtown – Winnie The Pooh in New York from Scouting New York

A catchy seventies song by a couple of guys with awesome shiny hair. It’s called Pooh Corner.

Celebrating Winnie-The-Pooh’s 90th With A Rare Recording (And Some Hunny) from NPR

Five Hundred Acre Wood: The forest that inspired Winnie-the-Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood can be found outside London from Atlas Obscura

The Plot Points Of Every Single Fairytale

  1. Absentation: A family member leaves home.
  2. Interdiction: He or she is given an ‘interdiction’ or warning.
  3. Violation: The interdiction is violated.
  4. Reconnaissance: The villain attempts to contact the hero and obtains information about the him/her…
  5. Delivery: …which he/she uses to trick him/her.
  6. Trickery: The victim is fooled… , who causes harm or injury
  7. Complicity: …and unwittingly helps his/her enemy…
  8. Villainy: …who causes harm or injury to a member of the family.
  9. Lack: One family member of a family lacks something or desires something.
  10. Mediation: Misfortune or lack is made known; hero is approached with a request or command; he is allowed to go or he is dispatched.
  11. Counteraction: The seeker agrees/decides upon counteraction.
  12. Donor Tests The Hero: The hero is tested, and receives a magical helper.
  13. Hero reacts by either passing or failing test.
  14. Provision of Magical Aid.
  15. Transference to another kingdom
  16. Struggle: Hero and villain join in direct combat.
  17. Branding: Hero is marked.
  18. Victory: Hero defeats villain.
  19. Initial Misfortune Remedied.
  20. Return of hero.
  21. Pursuit of hero.
  22. Rescue of hero.
  23. Unrecognized return of hero (either to home or to another kingdom).
  24. Unfounded claims are presented by a false hero.
  25. Difficult task is proposed to the hero.
  26. Solution: task is resolved.
  27. Recognition of hero.
  28. Exposure of false hero/villain.
  29. Transfiguration: The hero is given a new appearance.
  30. Punishment of villain.
  31. Wedding: Hero marries and ascends the horse.

Not every fairytale includes every plot point, but when they do, they appear in order.

– Propp’s fairy-tale “ur-plot”, from Catherine Orenstein’s Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked

For many examples of these functions in pop culture, see Propp’s Functions In Fairy-tales at TV Tropes.

The Disgusting Sandwich by Gareth Edwards and Hannah Shaw

disgusting sandwich cover

My 7-year-old daughter expressed disgust at The Disgusting Sandwich and said she didn’t want to read it again, but she brought it to me again a few days later. This time, she knew what to expect, and managed to enjoy it.

Most kids I know love to be grossed out. There’s a narrow window in childhood in which this is the case. It must come soon after learning that some things are disgusting — that one can’t pick your nose and eat the booger, or taste-test dead flies on the window sill.

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Fairytale Archetypes

Fairytale Character Archetypes

Even modern stories make use of the stock characterisation of fairy tales, otherwise known as ‘fairytale archetypes’. There is no need to shy away from using these. Audiences love them. The trick is to expand upon them, or, according to your purposes, to subvert expectations and challenge the reader’s prejudices.

In fairy tales, famously, character is destiny. Who the personages are, and what happens to them, are completely inseparable. You can predict what will happen to a good princess, just from the fact that she is a good princess. Her identity in the story maps out her future. Conversely, her goodness has no other aspects except those that are revealed by her marrying a handsome prince. That’s all her goodness really means; though we will of course have seen it in action  in acts of kindness or victimhood at the beginning of the story, so we know that it is there. In true fairy tales, as opposed to literary hybrids smuggling in the techniques of the novel, there are no individual characters, only types.

Good princess; bad princess.

Witches.

Fairy godmothers.

Genies.

Kings who set tasks for suitors.

These beings do not exist in the environment of the child who, at the same time as hearing about Snow White, is also thrilled by stories of door-opening. But the vocabulary of types is actually easier to acquire, in some ways, than knowledge about the child’s own world, because the fairy-tale world is so perfectly self-explanatory. Every appearance by a witch is a complete, sufficient demonstration of what a witch is. In life, knowledge of other people’s natures is both important and relatively hard to come by; it depends on a long loop of inferences moving gradually from the things people do and say, to conclusions about what they’re like. Children can afford to be much less cautious about the information in stories — much quicker to decide. Arthur Applebee asked a group of pre-school children to tell him the characters of a list of animals. They were more certain of the stereotypical personalities of animals they could only have met in stories, such as brave lions or sly foxes, than of the characters of dogs or cats, where experience of specific dogs and cats came in to complicate the picture. Story characteristics are prepared for reception, so to speak; they’re consistent, they don’t contradict themselves, and they’re dispensed at the pace that understanding demands.

The Child That Books Built, Frances Spufford

Vintage Paper Toys

CHARACTERS ARE ‘NOT ACTUALLY CONSCIOUS’

“Conventional stock figures”: there is no psychology in a fairy tale. The characters have little interior life; their motives are clear and obvious. If people are good, they are good, and if bad, they’re bad. Even when the princess in “The Three Snake Leaves” inexplicably and ungratefully turns against her husband, we know about it from the moment it happens. Nothing of that sort is concealed. The tremors and mysteries of human awareness, the whispers of memory, the promptings of half-understood regret or doubt or desire that are so much part of the subject matter of the modern novel are absent entirely. One might almost say that the characters in a fairy tale are not actually conscious.

They seldom have names of their own. More often than not they’re known by their occupation or their social position, or by a quirk of their dress: the miller, the princess, the captain, Bearskin, Little Red Riding Hood. When they do have a name it’s usually Hans, just as Jack is the hero of every British fairy tale.

The most fitting pictorial representation of fairy-tale characters seems to me to be found not in any of the beautifully illustrated editions of Grimm that have been published over the years, but in the little cardboard cut-out figures that come with a toy theatre. They are flat, not round. Only one side of them is visible to the audience, but that is the only side we need: the other side is blank. They are depicted in poses of intense activity or passion, so that their part in the drama can be easily read from a distance.

Philip Pullman, The Guardian

 

witch

Myths, Fairytales, Legends and Other Similar Terms

A Picture Book Primer: Understanding and Using Picture Books By Denise I. Matulka

TRADITIONAL LITERATURE from A Picture Book Primer: Understanding and Using Picture Books
By Denise I. Matulka

MYTHS

Are about creation. Why the earth/sea/day are as they are, who runs the world and how. Myths explain.

Myth In Western Children’s Literature

Myth as such is absent in the history of Western children’s literature. Unlike literature, myth is based on the belief of the myth bearers; when this belief disappears, the myth ceases to be a myth. Since children’s literature emerges long after Western civilization had lost its traditional mythical belief, this stage is not represented in children’s fiction.

– Maria Nikolajeva, The Rhetoric of Character In Children’s Literature

A Picture Book Primer: Understanding and Using Picture Books By Denise I. Matulka

A Picture Book Primer: Understanding and Using Picture Books
By Denise I. Matulka

FOLK TALES

Are the traditional tales of the people. Folktales are often fairy tales, but not always. Folk indicates the origin of the story, while fairy indicates its nature.

folktales

A Picture Book Primer: Understanding and Using Picture Books By Denise I. Matulka

FABLES

A Picture Book Primer: Understanding and Using Picture Books By Denise I. Matulka

A Picture Book Primer: Understanding and Using Picture Books
By Denise I. Matulka

See also: The Difference Between Folklore and Fables

FAIRY TALES

Are stories of magic, set in the indefinite past, incorporating traditional themes and materials. Often about giants, dwarfs, witches, talking animals, a variety of other creatures  — good and bad fairies, princes, poor widows etc. In fact, there is a standard cast of characters who appear in fairy tales.

Some fairy tales are ancient; others are modern. The tradition of the modern fairy tale began with Uncle David’s Nonsensical Story in Catherine Sinclair’s Holiday House.

LEGEND

Are about the achievements of real or imaginary heroes — battles long ago.

FANTASY

Is a modern form, belonging to the age of the novel. There are many different subcategories of fantasy. Overlaps with fairytales, though fantasy tends to be long while fairy tales are brief. Has tended to be a British speciality, at least in the 19th Century. Fantasy from newer countries have gone more for stories about contemporary life, though globalisation means the distinction is now less marked.

Fantasy took off in the decade of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and The Water Babies. (1865 and 1871.)

— for more see John Rowe Townsend, Written For Children

BEAST TALES

A Picture Book Primer: Understanding and Using Picture Books By Denise I. Matulka

A Picture Book Primer: Understanding and Using Picture Books
By Denise I. Matulka

Short Story Study: The Sorrows Of Gin by John Cheever

The Sorrows of Gin

It is impossible not to read this story naively when you know that Cheever himself was plagued by the bottle. This is a story about how a man’s drinking affects his only daughter. I feel there are enough clues in this story to foreshadow a future of alcohol addiction for the daughter — like father like daughter.

This short story is an example of a character change that almost happens — there is every opportunity for it to happen — but the character is too inward looking to have any sort of epiphany, and we are left with the sombre feeling that, from here, things will only get worse. The final sentence is a rhetorical question, and the reader knows the answer to it: Stop drinking! But the main character (the father) doesn’t know it.


 

WHAT HAPPENS IN THE STORY?

A new cook tells the lonely nine-year-old daughter of a well-to-do couple about her own alcoholic sister, and how just having alcohol in the house proves too much of a temptation. Disquieted by the drunkenness of her own parents, Amy tips a bottle of gin down the drain. (Though she has possibly been doing this for some time, resulting in all sorts of dismissals.) This contributes to the cook’s getting fired. Amy does the same again, getting the next housekeeper fired. Though Amy doesn’t see any causation to her actions, her long-standing non-drinker baby-sitter ends up in an altercation with her father, who accuses her of stealing his gin.

Amy is upset at the altercation between her father and her baby-sitter, hearing the word ‘Police’ shouted from downstairs, so the following day when her parents are out she packs a few things, steals $20 from her mother’s desk and goes to the station where she plans to run away from home.

Mr Flanagan the station master sells her a ticket, but promptly calls her father. The father arrives at the station and is briefly filled with emotion for his daughter, but this feeling quickly fades and we are left feeling that he has missed his chance for character growth, and that things will continue as they have been at home.


 

SETTING

Shady Hill

This is one of Cheever’s Shady Hill stories. Other notable stories set in this place are The Swimmer and of course The Housebreaker of Shady Hill.

[Cheever’s] Shady Hill is a fictional territory to consider alongside Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County or Thomas Hardy’s Wessex.

The Guardian

Cheever’s description of the Shady Hill train station creates in the reader an eerie locale, helped along by a reference to the well-known creepy French folktale of Bluebeard, in which a man takes a woman captive in his basement. Though Bluebeard is not a father-daughter story but a story of a husband and his wives, the theme of female captivity is nevertheless replicated in this suburban story.

The railroad station in Shady Hill resembled the railroad stations in old movies [Amy] had seen on television, where detectives and spies, bluebeards and their trusting victims, were met to be driven off to remote country estates.

Milieu

This was an era before the perils of drunk driving were widely known, and the babysitter simply had to put up with drunk men driving her home after her baby-sitting jobs. Moreover, women couldn’t necessarily drive themselves and cars were expensive:

Mrs. Henlein, anxious to get into her own bed and back to sleep, prayed that he wasn’t going to pour himself another drink, as they so often did. She was driven home night after night by drunken gentlemen.

Rosemary brings Amy a present of ‘Japanese Water Flowers’. I believe these were a child’s toy — a flower which opened up when placed in water, but I’m not sure if they were real flowers or made of paper.

As Cheever often does, he provides a soundtrack to this story, which is evocative of the times.

 

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There are studies suggesting that reading digitally is worse for recall and comprehension than reading books – yet many of them are based on computer screens not touchscreen tablets, and involved adults who’d grown up reading books, not children who’ve been swiping on tablets since they were toddlers.

There are studies suggesting that reading digitally may, in fact, benefit certain groups of children, from boys from disadvantaged backgrounds who struggle with print, through to children with dyslexia – but many of these are based on small sample groups, with the common conclusion being that more research is needed.

The Guardian

What Is Meant By ‘Mythic Structure’?

Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself.
— Unknown

I’ve always wanted to get as far as possible from the place where I was born. Far both geographically and spiritually […] I feel that life is very short and the world is there to see […] and one should know as much of it as possible. One belongs to the whole world, not just one part of it.
— Paul Bowles, American expatriate composer, author, and translator

Myth can be considered a genre. It is the oldest genre and to this day is the most popular.

Myth is not a part of every story. Even Joseph Campbell himself said that there was no mythic structure to be found in 25% of stories.

Mythic form is enjoyed by audiences across cultures.

THE INFLUENCE OF GREEK MYTHOLOGY

Originally, the Greeks invented myths which are now the foundation of Western thought. Even back then these were considered allegorical and metaphorical. In Greek myths, there were always at least two levels of beings: Gods and humans. The gods represented the aspect of man which was able to gain enlightenment/excellence. The gods did not necessarily rule the humans.

Consider the Greek gods ‘psychological models’ which represent character traits.

THE SYMBOLISM OF MYTH

Myths use a clearly prescribed set of symbolic objects. Original audiences always knew that these objects stood for something else. These objects also represent something within the hero. Even today, audiences will recognise these:

  • Journey = life path
  • Tree = tree of life
  • Underground = unexplored region of the self
  • and so on.

Take The Pilgrim’s Progress as a fairly modern story making use of mythic symbols:

Although The Pilgram’s Progress is allegorical, it is impossible even for an adult to read about Christian’s journey to the Celestial City in any other way than as a story. The passages through the Slough of Despond and the Valley of Humiliation, the fight with the monster Apollyon, the loss of Christian’s comrade Faithful in Vanity Fair, the crossing of the River of Death: these are actual and vivid events, as real in their own way as the mass of detail with which Defoe built up Robinson Crusoe. It may be noted that the themes of all these three books — the dangerous journey, as in The Pilgrim’s Progress, the desert island, as in Robinson Crusoe: and the miniature or other imaginary world, as in Gulliver — have served for innumerable later books, both children’s and adult, and are by no means worn out.

– – Written for Children by John Rowe Townsend

For more on this see The Three Main Types Of Modern Mythic Structure, in which I have added an extra.

Pilgram's Progress

EXAMPLES OF STRONGLY MYTHIC  MODERN FILMS

  • Lord of the Rings
  • Superman/Spiderman/Batman etc – comic book stories are modern myth forms.
  • Close Encounters
  • Crocodile Dundee
  • Dances With Wolves
  • The Lion King
  • Groundhog Day
  • Avatar – science fiction stories often use the myth form, not only because myth is about the journey but also because myth is the story form that explores the most fundamental  human distinctions (human/robot etc.)
  • Thelma and Louise – a female buddy movie. Buddy movies tend to make use of mythic structure.
  • Casablanca
  • The African Queen – classic example of river as setting in a mythic story, along with Heart of Darkness
  • La Strada
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • The Piano – myth blended with romance
  • Bringing Up Baby
  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • Dona Flor And Her Two Husbands
  • Annie Hall
  • Sleepless in Seattle
  • True Grit – basically a crime story, blended with mythic structure
  • Harry Potter – mixture of myth, fairytale and coming-of-age in a school story. Typically for heroes of myth stories, Harry is a foundling, abandoned by his parents and brought up by horrible people.
  • Le Week-end – a film written by Hanif Kureishi in which the journey takes the form of a romantic weekend away with the purpose of rekindling a failing marriage
  • Locke – a road trip with one on-screen character played by Tom Hardy. Extraordinarily well scripted, we really only see Tom Hardy sitting in his car. The opponents he meets on his journey come only in form of voices through his car phone. By the end of the journey he is in a different place both physically and spiritually.
  • I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore – an indie-film which provides an excellent example of modern use of mythic symbolism such as the labyrinth and the river. The backdrop is American suburbia. The main hero is a woman, though she is joined by a man. Interesting for its gender inversions.

Then there are computer games, such as Halo and Red Dead Redemption.

 

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Types Of Literary Shadowing

These literary devices are all ways of displacing the idea of temporal linearity in fiction. In other words: Authors don’t always want readers to assume that in stories time moves forward in a straight/simplistic way, or that everything ties up nicely.

 

FORESHADOWING

A literary device in which an author drops subtle hints about plot developments to come later in the story.

Compare with ‘telegraphing’, which is basically foreshadowing done in an overly heavy-handed way. In this case, the readers are able to predict what is about to happen, even though the author doesn’t want them to.

We find instances of foreshadowing in literature where we would not suspect it in real life, because nothing in a story lacks a purpose, or it wouldn’t be there. (See Chekov’s Gun.) Events in real life cannot be foreshadowed. This makes foreshadowing a specifically literary construction.

Foreshadowing is visible only to the reader, not the characters.

In picture books, foreshadowing can happen in the illustrations. For example, the drawing of the Wild Thing at the bottom of the stairs in Where The Wild Things Are. Upon second reading, the reader knows that Max has been creating these wild things in his imagination.

max dog

 

What is foreshadowing used for?

Foreshadowing gives the feeling that everything in a story is ‘tied-together’, and provides a sense of closure and satisfaction at the end of a story or scene. This technique helps avoid the feeling of deus ex machina, which is the feeling that something has suddenly swooped in to save the day (originally God, and in children’s literature, notoriously, an adult).

Foreshadowing provides the re-reader with extra insight.

Foreshadowing can add dramatic tension by building anticipation about future events. It can also help build a creepy/suspenseful atmosphere.

When added up, the details of foreshadowing can help the reader with verisimilitude, which is ironic, since foreshadowing doesn’t really happen in real life.

 

BACKSHADOWING

What is backshadowing?

Backshadowing is the technique of inserting commentary into the present narrative that refers to earlier narrative events. For example, a child living in present-day Germany discovers that she is a descendent of a war criminal. In order for such a story to make sense, the reader has to know something about Germany and the world wars.

Backshadowing is visible to readers as well as to characters — everyone knows what happened, and the story rests upon this shared schema.

 

What is backshadowing used for?

Many historians and writers of historical fiction employ backshadowing of real-world historical events because the reader already has a schema. For example, the holocaust might be used as a setting in a romance novel to allow the writer to spend time on the characters and plot.  This can be problematic.

In his book Foregone Conclusions: Against Apocalyptic History, author Michael Bernstein criticises authors who use their own and their audience’s knowledge of an apocalyptic event which occurs after the epoch about which they are writing to interpret the actions of their real or imaginary characters. Bernstein’s problem with backshadowing is that it encourages a reader to believe in determinism — that whatever happened in the past lead inevitably to the present we know.

 

Foregone Conclusions

The term backshadowing was coined by Bernstein

Another use of the term backshadowing: When describing the technique of starting a story with its ending, then shifting back to the beginning with the reader in full knowledge of the outcome but no idea how it all happened. This allows the writer to use a climactic event as a hook, drawing the reader in immediately with the promise that something big and interesting happens. It’s a subcategory of a flashback. In this case, the character is likely to interpret his/her own current (fictional) reality according to whatever happened in the past. In first person narratives where the character is the storyteller, the very act of storytelling becomes the main focus rather than the events themselves — the narrator’s main role is ‘artist’. (See The Role Of Storytellers in Fiction).

Related to ‘backshadowing’ is the bias ‘chronocentrism’, which is the natural human tendency to see one’s own time/era/generation as more special than others.

 

SIDESHADOWING

What is sideshadowing?

A character or narrator posits a series of possible events which never have any consequences in the story.

What is sideshadowing used for?

Sideshadowing draws attention to the possibility that other paths could have been taken. Sideshadowing suggests to a reader that one must grasp what else might have happened in order to fully understand an event. The technique suggests to readers that time is not a line but a shifting set of possibilities. Sideshadowing suggests that nothing can be wrapped up neatly, if at all.

In other words, sideshadowing is used to give a contrasting illumination to the ‘real’ event.

While foreshadowing makes the present and future seem inevitable, sideshadowing emphasises the contingency of the present.

Sideshadowing points outside the narrative, deliberately suggesting to the reader that more things might be going on than what’s expressed in the narrative.

See a longer definition at The Literary Lab.

In children’s literature, an example of sideshadowing can be found in Johnny, My Friend:

Let’s turn the clock back, Johnny! […] We’ll take the Alternative where […] you can have a home, Johnny, not just a bit of a smelly monster’s den, and a name, Johnny, you can have an English mum and a Swedish dad and a French sister, and me as a brother, and regular pocket money […]

This is a character visualising a series of alternative events that never happened in the story. (See Maria Nikolajeva’s From Mythic to Linear: Time in children’s literature.)

Lionel Shriver constructs an entire plot around sideshadowing in several of her novels.

Big Brother Shriver

 

Post Birthday World cover

Chekov was a fan of sideshadowing in his short stories.

In Russia, Dostoyevsky was no stranger to sideshadowing, either. Might be a Russian thing, because Tolstoy does it too.

Philippa Pearce uses the technique of sideshadowing in Tom’s Midnight Garden.

Narrative and Freedom

Morson created the term sideshadowing.

See also Cheever’s short story called Just One More Time, in which the final scene is an example of sideshadowing, because the reader doesn’t know if it really happened.

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