Contrasting images, such as a 100-year-old man and a newborn baby, when presented together, can create an instant reaction in viewers that attracts their interest and attention. Fantasy, or imaginative fiction that depends upon unconventional, and often novel fields of action, can utilize elements drawn from both Romanticism and Realism to generate such allurement. Romanticism’s trademark figurative settings and Realism’s characteristic detailed exactitude can both be crafted by using metaphor, simile, symbolism, and allusion. Readers can find themselves being drawn into fantastical and fantastically futuristic worlds (Sci-fi) because of the use of imaginal patterns in Neil Gaiman’s, Stardust, Angela Carter’s, In the Company of Wolves, and Ursula Le Guin’s, The Left Hand of Darkness, because they help to create Romantically symbolic settings along with Realistic and closely rendered realities.
Tristran Thorn is Neil Gaiman’s protagonist in Stardust. Tristran, seeking to win over a young woman’s love, ventures out of his homeland Wall and crosses into Faerie: “As he walked, the chill of the night grew less, and once in the woods at the top of the hill Tristran was surprised to realize the moon was shining brightly down on him through the gap in the trees. He was surprised because the moon that had set had been slim, sharp silver crescent, and the moon that shone down on him now was a huge, golden harvest moon, full, and glowing, and deeply colored” (Gaiman 1999, 53). The new field of action he crosses into cues the reader into the early stages of Tristran’s transformation by alluding to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. This figurative use of allusion utilizes the strange phenomena of the moon being replaced by its own brighter self in order to demonstrate the protagonist’s first steps out of the metaphoric cave of immaturity, and towards the multidimensional, and brighter world of manhood.
Tristran’s intangible but Romantic consciousness shift is coupled with a sensory awakening that leaves the reader with the feeling that his new environment is not only symbolic but also realistically detailed. Gaiman expertly utilizes simile to include a sensory moment which is akin to a real-life experience: “A warm wind stroked Tristran’s face: it smelled like peppermint, and blackcurrant, and red, ripe plums…” (Gaiman 1999, 53). Not only is it common and normal for a realistic character to acknowledge the sense of smell but it should be noted that olfactory experiences are closely linked to memory recall. Gaiman ends the above figurative sentence by saying, “And the enormity of what he had done descended on Tristran Thorn” (Gaiman 1999, 53) and in doing so continues to render reality closely by demonstrating memory’s actual link with the sense of smell.
Similar to Gaiman, Angela Carter utilizes imaginal patterns, also including the moon, in her story In the Company of Wolves, to design a symbolic setting for her young protagonist to transform within: “Snow half-caked the lattice and she opened it to look into the garden. It was a white night of moon and snow; the blizzard whirled round the gaunt, grey beasts who squatted on their haunches among the rows of winter cabbage, pointing their sharp snouts to the moon and howling as if their hearts would break…” (Carter 1979). The young girl’s innocence and purity is illuminated by the “white night” and by the depiction of hungry wolves seen through her wholesome, almost pure lens. The girl’s innocent heart does not race in fear, in fact, because of the symbolic setting, the reader is left with the idea that she more pities the lupines as desperate creatures instead of animals who would satisfy their hungers on her own flesh.
A young man, initially harmless in appearance, has eaten the main character’s grandmother in Carter’s tale. He has claimed her matriarch to satisfy his own hungers and to make her granddaughter his lover. Carter utilizes the biblical allusion of the eyes being windows of the soul, in combination with metaphor, to demonstrate the realistic experience of an inexperienced person coming face to face with an aggressive, and lustful infatuate: “She did not dare reach for it because his eyes were fixed upon her - huge eyes that now seemed to shine with a unique, interior light, eyes the size of saucers, saucers full of Greek fire, diabolic phosphorescence” (Carter 1979). The realistic factor of intimidation through fear is rendered with imaginal detail in order for the girl to not defend herself, but instead, to embrace a different type of heroism by succumbing to her captor, and to spare her own life by transforming into the man-wolf’s bed mate.
Ursula Le Guin utilizes allusion to place Genly Ai, the main character in her book Left Hand of Darkness, in a symbolic setting that mirrors his own mental state of despair. Within his gloom there lies the difficult to get to, but visible notion of truth, as a path to psychic freedom and mental wholeness. Genly Ai’s external prison is “Pulefen Commensality” (Le Guin 1969, 175), whose German sounding name and torturous conditions allude to the horrific work camps of the Nazi Third Reich: “We were lined up to wash ourselves at a big trough in a frame hut; everybody began by drinking the washwater” (Le Guin 1969, 174). The allusion helps to depict the character’s mental state, but also includes the idea that finding truth can lift one out of malaise and into freedom: “Outside the fence and not far from it a forest began that covered the folded hills as far to northward as the eye could see” (Le Guin 1969, 175). North is the governing direction of the compass, and to know it is to know one’s place geographically, and, in a metaphoric sense, psychologically.
The allusion to Nazi camps renders the reality of “Pulefen” imprisonment realistically believable: “If they allowed a little more food and better clothing much of the work would have been pleasant, but we were too hungry and cold most of the time for any pleasure” (Le Guin 1969, 176). The Nazi camps practiced extermination through labor and calorie restriction. Le Guin’s created prison resembles the inhumane and notorious camps of Nazism, and in doing so leaves the reader with a feeling of the reality of such an experience, even within a fantastical Science Fiction story.
Contrast attracts attention. Fantasy and Science Fiction literature can utilize elements of Romanticism and Realism to lure a reader into strange and original landscapes. Imaginal patterns are effective writing tools to weave together the two poles of Romanticism and Realism. Neil Gaiman’s, Stardust, Angela Carter’s, In the Company of Wolves, and Ursula Le Guin’s, The Left Hand of Darkness, all utilize imaginal patterns, allusion being one of the most effective, to create Romantically symbolic settings along with Realistic and closely rendered realities in a way that compels readers to travel on their main characters’ journeys through extraordinary and fantastical worlds.
Carter, Angela. 1979. “Company of Wolves”. Accessed November 1, 2017. https://canvas.du.edu/courses/63047/pages/week-2-readings?module_item_id=776687
Gaiman, Neil. 1999. Stardust. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Le Guin, Ursula K. 1969. The Left Hand of Darkness. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
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