Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter A

 

 

 

is for Allusion

 

 

 

An allusion is a reference to a person, place or thing outside of the current text. It is assumed that the reader or viewer will recognize the reference and draw a deeper connection with the text.

Different types of allusions require different levels of critical thought in order to form connections. A simple allusion might be a casual reference to something from popular culture:

The plan was simple enough–bring the girls to the ancient Victorian, that Addams Family knock-off, scare the pants off them, be all “there, there” when the time was right, and then literally take the pants off them.

-from The Revenant

In this example, “Addams Family knock-off” connotes a dilapidated mansion with mansard-style roofs, quite possibly haunted, with a belfry, bats included.

A more complex allusion might be an extended metaphor that, when taken as a whole, paints a picture for the reader:

Zulu heard his watch mark off the time: tick…tick…tick. He fancied himself Captain Hook on the deck of the Jolly Roger, hearing the clock in the belly of the crock that took his hand. He stood upright, hands on hips, right foot on an overturned trash can. For a moment he was Hook. “He tasks me,” he whispered. “He tasks me and I shall have him.”

Wait, he thought. Wrong movie.

-from The Revenant

This allusion relies, not only on the reader’s knowledge of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, but also “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” While the reference to Pan is more of an explicit allusion as it identifies characters in the text, the reference to “Khan” is more subtle in that it doesn’t. Here the author is hoping her target audience has seen the movie, recognizes the quote, and makes the connection.

I leave you with one final allusion I wrote, just because I’m proud of it, from my I am, Was, Will be Alice YA novel:

“I’m not sick.”

“Paralyzing fear is a kind of sickness,” she says and just like that, we’re replaying the scene from The Big Bang Theory, the one where Sheldon is locked out of his house and spending the night at Penny’s, but he can’t sleep and Sheldon says he’s not sick and Penny says, “Homesickness is a kind of sickness.” Mom doesn’t disappoint–she asks if I want her to sing “Soft Kitty” to me. Or maybe she does disappoint, I mean, here I am, scared to frozen that if I go to school I will one day dematerialize in front of people in an imperceptible poof of air leaving behind nothing but my clothes (including my underwear) or even worse, rematerialize in front of the entire ninth grade population in the altogether, my privates on display, and all she can do is play out a corny scene from a stupid television show. I know she means well, to ease the tension in the room, but come on!

Feel free to share any allusions you’ve written or comments you have below.

Foreshadowing Rant

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When Killian Jones, aka Captain Hook in ABC’s Once Upon A Time vows to get even with “The Crocodile” aka Rumplestiltskin aka Mr. Gold, it’s not foreshadowing. From the moment we meet Hook, he is at odds with Rumple. When Rumple cuts off Hook’s hand and he begins to plan his revenge, it builds suspense as the viewer wonders how he ever could, seeing as Hook stuck  in Fairytaleland and Rumple is stuck in Storybrooke. His plan to get even is idle posturing, not foreshadowing. The long shot of The Jolly Roger in Storybrooke harbour however, now that’s foreshadowing, as it hints that Hook will finally get his revenge at some point in the future.  

In spite of what SparkNotes may say, when the witches tell Macbeth he will be Thane of Cawdor and King, it is not foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is much more subtle than that. WiseGeek defines it as giving “hints about things to come in later plot developments. It can be very broad and easily understood, or it may be [the] complex use of symbols, that are then connected to later turns in the plot.” To add to that, Buzzle says foreshadowing “can either be done in passing with the help of a comment, or as a thought that one of the characters has, as a symbolic representation through certain symbols, as well as certain other forms.” Going by this definition, the Hook revenge plot is the type of foreshadowing that is broad and easily understood.

I have just finished marking sixty exams in which students are asked to provide an example of literary devices, foreshadowing amongst them, from the works of literature studied in the semester. Invariably, students point to Macbeth and the first set of prophecies he receives from the witches early in the play. Told he will be Thane of Cawdor and king, the witches prophecies are not foreshadowing, any more than a character who states that he is about to go shopping and then leave to go to the store is foreshadowing. Conversely, the second set of prophecies may indeed be considered foreshadowing, as by this time the audience has learned the witches have the power to see the future and the prophecies are cryptic enough that one must have been paying attention to realize how they refer to Macbeth’s demise.

Foreshadowing in Macbeth occurs to predict Lady Macbeth’s death. Throughout the play, Shakespeare describes sleep as a metaphoric death. When Lady Macbeth sleepwalks, she is in a state between life and death. As Macbeth’s reign is about to come to an end with the attack of the English army, the audience knows that Lady’s Macbeth’s life as she knew it is also about to come to an end. Whether she survives or not, she will no longer be queen, which is a kind of death. Seeing how badly Lady Macbeth wanted her title, for her, actual death is probably preferable. If you missed the signs, missed making the connection between sleep and death, Lady Macbeth’s death would no doubt come as a shock.

Another example is in plant and tree imagery. In Act I, before Macbeth succumbs to his ambition, Duncan tells him, “I have begun to plant thee, and will labour to make the full of growing” (iv). Once Macbeth “plants” Duncan in the ground, he grows to be the new king. One of the markers that Macbeth’s end is near is when Birnam Wood advances on Macbeth’s Dunsinane castle. When Macbeth arrives at the witches’ lair before he receives the second set of prophecies, he comments they have, among other things, blown trees down (IV.i). When Macbeth hears the Birnam Wood prophecy, he asks “Who can impress the forest, bid the tree unfix his earth-bound root?” (IV.iii). This is after the witches show Macbeth an apparition of a child with a tree in his hand. Later, after seeing Banquo’s ghost, he admits to Lady Macbeth, “Stones have been known to move and trees to speak”. At this point, anyone that’s been paying attention should get the idea that trees and plants may play an important role in Macbeth’s future. This is how foreshadowing works.

Foreshadowing is difficult to incorporate into a piece of writing as it requires a great deal of planning. In the young adult novel I am currently crafting, I have been dropping breadcrumbs as to the revenant’s origin. That the necromancer responsible for Zulu’s resurrection is Malchus should come as a surprise to a few, but savvy readers will have picked up on this fact earlier in the plot than the reveal. One might ask, what keeps the reader reading if a major revelation is figured out early in the plot? Suspense is the answer. Even if the reader picks up on the clues and puts the puzzle together, he should continue reading to see if his assumption is correct. The reader is kept guessing if his interpretation is correct until the reveal, because foreshadowing done right is implicit in nature.  

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!

Works Cited

Sparknotes. Macbeth Key Facts. 2012. <http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/macbeth/facts.html&gt;.31 Jan 13.

WiseGeek. What is Foreshadowing. 2013. <http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-foreshadowing.htm&gt;.31 Jan 13.

A quest! A quest! My kingdom for a quest!

The November 25th episode of Once Upon A Time was exciting for many reasons, the least of which was not in watching Robert Carlyle bring yet another facet to the diamond in the rough that is Rumplegold. I was fascinated as he tried to be demure on his date with Belle at Granny’s Place in spite of the dirty looks and evil eyes Storybrookers shot his way. Thoroughly enjoying was the way he continued to protest his power as being greater than both Regina’s and Cora’s though he no longer had the bluster to back it up. But that’s not the subject of this blog. This blog is about The Quest Archetype and the skilful way the writers weave it into the plot of the story.

Just as a tragic hero has a set of parameters that, once satisfied, a character may be classified as such, so, too does a quest. The Quest Archetype (as defined by Joseph Campbell, American mythologist, writer and lecturer (Wiki)) may be defined as:

begin[ning] in the hero’s ordinary world, when he or she receives a call to adventure from a herald. Many heroes initially refuse the call, until a mentor reassures them that they are capable. After this meeting with the mentor, they must enter the world of the quest. They meet allies and enemies along the way and are tested frequently. As they near the source of their quest, they usually face one final ordeal. Upon their success, they take the object of their quest, and make their way home. The way home is not always easy, but eventually they return to their ordinary world with their prize (PBS).

The OUAT quest begins in our world, an ordinary world that normally doesn’t have any magic. Emma Swan is the heroine of the story who is drawn to Storybrooke by her son who assures her she is the key to breaking the curse under which they all live. Emma resists, refusing to believe she is their saviour but eventually is convinced by Snow White/Mary Maragaret, who plays the role of Emma’s birth mother and mentor, who reassures her she is capable. She comes to believe this when she saves Henry from Regina’s sleeping potion and slaughters Maleficent in her dragon form to retrieve the potion that will break the curse. The true quest begins when both Snow and Emma wind up back in Fairytaleland—the world of the quest—and they are tasked with finding a way to get back home.

The secret to getting back to Storybrooke lies in an old compass and the ashes from the tree/wardrobe that originally transported Baby Emma to Storybrooke. Snow and Emma meet allies—Mulan and Aurora—and enemies—Cora and Hook—along the way and are tested frequently. One such test occurs when Hook takes Aurora’s heart and Cora uses it to convince the heroes that Hook wants to help them in their quest and that he may even have a little crush on Emma. Another is when Aurora is taken by Cora and Mulan takes the compass to get her back. Still another happens in the previous episode when Emma has to take the compass from the Giant residing at the top of the beanstalk. It is anyone’s guess what the final ordeal will be or when it will occur, but if the writers remain true to form, the heroes will emerge from the ordeal successful and find their way home to the ordinary world.

The only question remaining (and I can’t wait to see how it all pans out) is if Cora and Hook will follow.

Works Cited

PBS. In Search of Myths & Heroes. http://www.pbs.org/mythsandheroes/myths_archetypes.html. 28 Nov 2012.

Wiki. Joseph Cambell. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 21 Nov 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell. 28 Nov 2012.

Rumplestiltskin as a Tragic Hero

The classic definition of a tragic hero according to Arisotle is that he must be of noble birth, has a tragic flaw which leads to his downfall, suffers a reversal of fortune, his actions bring about an increased sense of self-awareness and self-knowledge and the audience must feel pity and fear for the character(1).  I submit that Rumplestiltskin, aka Mr. Gold on ABC’s Once Upon A Time (OUAT) is a tragic figure. While he is not of noble birth, he does have a tragic flaw (cowardess) which leads to his downfall, he suffers numerous reversals of fortune (the loss of his son, wife, and lover), his actions bring about an ongoing increased sense of self-awareness (recent confessions made by the character), and the audience feels both pity and fear for the character.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with OUAT, the show is about storybook characters coming from their familiar storybook existence in Fairytaleland (FTL) to our world and settling in Storybrooke, Maine (SB).  Robert Carlyle plays Rumplestiltskin in FTL and Mr. Gold in SB with menacing relish. In the original tale, Rumplestiltskin is an impish character that is able to spin straw to gold. He agrees to teach the miller’s daughter the trick, provided she pay the sum of her first born to him. The miller’s daughter marries the king and has a child but does not want to give it up. Unable to resist a deal, Rumplestiltskin agrees to let her keep the child, provided the (now) queen can guess his name. After the second try, certain that he would receive the child, he was praising himself by the fire when someone heard and reported his name to the queen. Upon hearing  his name come from the queen’s lips,  Rumple got so angry he tore himself in two (2). In OUAT’s version, Rumple is the village coward. Shunned by others in his village because he ran when the ogres attacked rather than fight, his wife (Milha) has run off with Killian Jones (aka Captain Hook). Determined to become powerful and earn the trust of everyone including his son, he kills The Dark One and assumes his powers. Shunned by others because they fear him, he saves his son from fighting in The Ogre Wars only to lose him when he falls into a portal to another land and closes before he can follow. Alone, he finds his wife and kills her by literally taking and destroying her heart. Lonely, he makes a deal with a king to save his subjects from the ogres in exchange for his daughter, Belle, with whom he falls in love. Believing himself unworthy of being loved, he banishes Belle from his castle and Regina, The Evil Queen, convinces him she returned to her village despondent and  ostracized for her involvement with him and she kills herself. After Regina enacts The Curse causing FTL characters to be transported to SB, he finds Belle when the curse is more changed than broken and reunites with her, but finds it hard to shake his beastly ways.

The Tragic Hero is of Noble Birth

Granted, Rumple himself is not of noble birth, but he does become elevated to the status of nobles when he becomes The Dark One. He has the same powers and wields them to his advantage as do the other royals in FTL. Take, for example, King George, who takes a peasant boy to replace his son when he dies only to threaten his mother and his twin brother’s life if he does not do the same when the replacement dies. Or Belle’s father, Sir Maurice, who is willing to trade his daughter for peace in his kingdom (granted Belle decides to go on her own, but in the long run, Maurice remains passive when his daughter leaved). Then there’s Regina who pushed her mother into a portal and has made her life’s mission to wreak havoc in Snow White’s life for a transgression occurring in her childhood. Like the other royals, Rumple is feared for his power and revered by those who come in contact with him by people who offer (as Macbeth, another royal and tragic hero laments) “mouth-honour”. As the owner and benefactor of SB, Rumple, aka Gold, maintains his power over the characters and seems to enjoy that they fear him. He is the proprietor of the local pawn shop which houses many of the character’s prized possessions with which they made deals with Rumple back in FTL.

The Tragic Hero has a Tragic Flaw Which Leads to His Downfall

As far as personality flaws go, Rumple has many. The story begins with him as a coward, then becoming addicted to and drunk with power as The Dark One. He clings to this power, valuing it even over the love he seeks. This is demonstrated when, after his magic seems threatened by Belle’s love for him, he sends her away rather than explore his heart’s deepest desire.  Betrayed by many including his wife, his apprentice (Regina) and many of the townspeople when they try to get out of the bargains he strikes, Rumple trusts no one. Rumple’s biggest flaw is his desire for acceptance and love. He places himself in a vulnerable position when he allows himself to mistake August (aka Pinocchio) for his son, and again when he prostrates himself to Belle in the library after admitting to her he is still a coward.  It is this flaw more than the others that will ultimately lead to his downfall, as a man as powerful as RumpleGold cannot afford to wear his hat on his sleeve in such a manner.

The Tragic Hero Suffers a Reversal of Fortune

When Rumple agrees to kill The Dark One in order to release him from his misery and gain his power, he thinks life can only get better. Rather than ostracize and ridicule him as being the village coward, the villagers will be forced to revere him or he will turn them into a snail and crush them like the bugs they are. Instead, people ostracize him further. Instead of their disgust, he garners their fear. If he is The Dark One, he surmises, his wife will beg to come back to him and he will win back his son’s respect. Instead, he loses them both. Perhaps worse, he loses himself in the bargain. As we have seen with Regina, magic is addictive. In a brilliant turn of events, Regina runs to psychiatrist Archie Hopper (aka Jiminy Cricket) when she falls off the magic wagon. Like Regina, Rumple is addicted to magic. He does not know how to interact with others without offering them some sort of magical deal and, as previously stated, he chooses magic over securing his deepest heart’s desire. It seems to me that there is no lower ground to which a man who kisses a soldier’s boot in front of his son can stoop, but Rumple seems to do it. At times I am left to wonder, which is better—being ridiculed for cowardess but still having my son, or having all the power in the world at my fingertips and being utterly alone in, not one, but two, worlds.

The Tragic Hero’s Actions Bring About an Increased Sense of Self-awareness and Self-knowledge and the Audience Must Feel Pity and Fear for the Character

As writers continue to flesh out Rumple’s character, we learn he is very much self aware. The mystery in season one questioned who, out of all of the characters, remembered their FTL past. I love the scenes in which Rumple and Regina verbally spar. In one of these scenes, Rumple is in SB’s jail and Regina is compelled to sit and talk to him (she must do whatever Rumple says when he says “please” as a part of the original curse). The moment where he reveals he remembers his FTL name is an incredible step toward his admitting he is still The Dark One and the audience can’t help but fear what will happen to him if the others regain their memory and learn of his name. In season two, the Rumbelle ship continues to sail on very choppy waters. As they battled a wave that threatened to sink their ship, Rumple admitted to Belle that he is still a coward. What a brilliant moment toward Rumple’s self-awareness of the man behind the beast. At that moment, I felt nothing but pity for the character played to expertly by Robert Carlyle. He still loves her. And in admitting that he needed her, he revealed a vulnerability that instilled fear in audience members such as myself who watch the show primarily for this character. Many in the blogosphere believe that Hook will seek revenge for Rumple’s killing Milha on Belle. Having begun his descent out of the pit that is his addiction to magic, I can’t help but fear that without Belle he will fall back to magic to seek his own retribution, and thus descend into madness as well.

Time, of course, will tell, and I don’t mean time on the clock swallowed by the crocodile in the original Peter Pan tale because in OUAT’s version, Rumple is the famed crock as well. As I write this, Hook and Emma, still trapped in the ruined FTL are about to discover Jack’s beanstalk in their quest to find a portal to SB so Emma and Snow can be reunited with their family and Hook can “skin” the crock that took his hand and his love. My hope for Rumple is that he remains intact for the balance of the series, however long that may be, and not fall prey to the death visited on most other  tragic heroes at the end of the tale.

(1)    http://shakespeare.nuvvo.com/lesson/4435-elements-of-a-tragic-hero-in-literature

(2)    http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/Rum.shtml

Flat and Round Characters

Colin O’Donoghue who plays Killian Jones aka Captain Hook in ABC’s Once Upon A Time is handsome, I’ll give him that. The blogosphere was abuzz with how Hook will give Rumple a run for his money, how he will be the biggest and baddest villain on the show. The problem with these theories is that Hook is flat whilst Rumple is rounded. Hook will be no match for Rumple due to Rumple’s multifoliate interior.

                Characters are of two types, flat and rounded. Flat characters are doomed to live their lives out in Flatland, the one-dimensional world created by Edwin A. Abbott and popularized by Sheldon Cooper in an early episode of The Big Bang Theory. That is to say, when looked at head on, they have shape and dimension, an appearance, names, a purpose, but when they turn sideways, they devolve into nothing more than flat lines, indistinguishable from one character to the next. Flat characters function as “phaser bait”, they serve a purpose, nothing more. They are the innocents Palmer and Michael (my characters) interview in their investigation that give up their information and then vanish, never to be seen or heard from again. They are Molly’s students who find an important artifact and then get about with their studying. They are the pirates who cheer on Hook in his bid to belittle Rumple and then fade into the background. They are the Milhas, the women who spur a duel between two characters, never to be heard from again. Last night’s Hook seems to have no motivation other than to kidnap women for the pleasure of he and his crew and then, later, to avenge Milha’s death. Or maybe it’s to get back at “The Crocodile” (a brilliant turn of events, nicknaming Rumple this) for taking his hand. OUAT’s Hook is narcissistic, and single-minded. Girls and wealth are his only motivator.

                Ever the round character, Rumple continues to amaze. All this time, the viewer was led to believe his sole motivation was to bring magic to Storybrooke so he could wield power over Regina, The Evil Queen. Now we learn his sole purpose is to overcome his cowardly past, to be reunited with those he loves and prove to them he is worthy. In a stroke of genius, the writers send Rumple to Belle to humble himself and apologize for his transgressions where she is concerned. He is a man who knows he is imperfect, someone who is capable of vengeful murder (Milha’s) and sweet gestures (giving Belle the key to the library), but at his core, he is a man whose sole desire is to be loved, and to love, but he doesn’t know how. Rumple looks upon people as possessions. He became The Dark One to keep Bae with him. He killed Milha (his wife) because he could not possess her. He imprisoned Belle in his dungeon because he feared she, like all those before her, would leave. Rumple’s motivation to bring back magic so he can leave Storybrooke and find his son is heart-achingly poignant and gives the character depth.

                Granted, Hook is a new character and we’ve only seen him in a single episode designed to facilitate getting Cora, Emma and Snow back to Storybrooke, and he will be fleshed out in the weeks to come. But so far, the simple fact that Hook was introduced to facilitate getting Cora, Emma and Snow back to Storybrooke supports my theory that he is a flat character. He has a purpose; he has no self-motivation to speak of thus far. Contrastingly, when we are first introduced to Rumple, he is already The Dark One, his origins a mystery cloaked in an impish exterior. He is jailed, he grants wishes, he is hated and revered by virtually everyone in Storybrooke. We know there is an age-old rivalry between he and Regina and we ache to find out what that is. Juxtapose that with Storybrooke’s Gold who may or may not remember his life before the curse, and Rumplegold is multi-dimensional from the start.

                Last night’s OUAT opened a multitude of possibilities for the season(s) to come. I like that, unlike while watching so much formulaic prime time tripe, I never know what to expect. And even when I intuit the formula, I am still satisfied with what I see. Kudos to OUATs writers and actors, but especially to Mr. Robert Carlyle who brings justice to the character of Rumplestiltskin, a tragic hero if ever one there was. 

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!

Graphic credit to http://hollywoodlife.com/2012/10/21/once-upon-a-time-captain-hook-rumpelstiltskin-kills-milah/