Allegory vs symbolism

Forums Fiction Themes Allegory vs symbolism


Viewing 15 posts - 16 through 30 (of 52 total)
  • Author
  • #41111

    @Karthmin YOU’RE KIDDING! Oh my… *dies laughing* The world is small. 😛 Hail friend. Well met.

    Are you pretty active around creative/writing communities? INFPs basically rule that particular stratosphere just by virtue of majority. SO. Many.

    Tell my grandparents I said hi. XD

    INFP-A. If you can't be brilliant, odd will do.

    Martin Detwiler

    @kate Crazy, right?! I’ll pass along your greetings next time I see them. 😀

    I was pretty active on Holy Worlds in the winter of 2014/15, right after I graduated from Detwiler Christian Academy (ie homeschool lol), but I haven’t been active anywhere since like midsummer 2015. College and work kinda got in the way of things.

    It was actually your grandmother bringing up KP (because you were/are involved with that) that indirectly brought me to Story Embers. I had found KP a few years prior, but it had been a while since I visited, so I checked it out again, found that it had more or less hiatused, saw the ads for SE, and now here I am.

    Right after I registered for the forums here, I met @daeus-lamb in person like two weeks ago at something called the Ohio Scriptorium (took place up near Akron; that was another whoaaaa small world moment). Funny thing is, the only reason I found out why his face was so stinkin familiar was because he had a Story Embers shirt on… and I realized I had seen his face in the bios. XD

    So anyway, to answer your question, it’s been a long time, but I’m excited to get back on a forum and soak in the Christian writer atmosphere; and run into more INPFs along the way, haha!

    myths don't die

    Sarah Baran

    @Karthmin @Kate @Daeus-Lamb This is the most interestingly freaky coincidence I have ever accidentally read.

    INTJ ➸

    Sarah Baran

    As far as allegory vs. symbolism, @Daeus-Lamb, I think my own opinion has already been pretty well covered in much better detail by the others. I’m interested in knowing what your definition of allegory is—what you described sounds pretty allegorical to me, though I might just have an incredibly broad standard for that particular story device….

    I personally prefer symbolism over allegory, mainly because it’s less in-your-face than allegories typically are. But as has already been mentioned, if you’re gonna go that route, there has to be some sort of established theological foundation or the symbolism will be open to interpretation and won’t mean anything.

    Please become the next Tolkien or Sanderson. That would be epic.

    INTJ ➸


    @Karthmin still shaking my head over this. 😛 Truth is stranger than fiction.

    INFP-A. If you can't be brilliant, odd will do.

    Daeus Lamb

    @kate Yes, it’s a very new project. I love my trilogies, but I think with a lot of thought and investment, I can come up with something even better. It will definitely be in another world, not this one.

    I appreciate the deep thought! I think the crux of what you said actually lies at the point that confused me.

    In fact, there is something that feels very off about creating a world in which there is no Gospel, no Jesus, and no salvation.

    But at the same time, I think there is definitely room for creating worlds in which there is no Gospel present (as such), no Messiah figure, and no way of salvation.

    What to make of that confused me for a bit, but I’m going to guess I found the key to it. You also said:

    I want my readers to leave my books wanting to know God better. I want my stories to push and influence readers towards the Gospel if they are not saved, and if they are saved, to know God and His truth better.

    This is the exact thought I’ve been having recently. Fiction might save a couple people here and there, but its real purpose is to drive people to explore further. I’d also say it has a purpose in creating a culture that fosters meaningful conversations.

    So, I’m going to guess that what you meant when you said having no gospel in a story didn’t feel right (but at the same time you could see it) is that if your world is gospel-less and that’s that, you’ve totally rejected the truth, but if the purpose of the story is to drive people to explore God further, than it is in line with the purpose of Christian literature even if it doesn’t have a specific gospel allegory. Is that right?

    That’s interesting and I’ve honestly never thought of it in that light, but now that I consider it, I’d say I really have to agree.

    The trouble though is how to do this. I think we all agree Tolkien did a good job with this, but he also came short in some places. I honestly can’t think of a perfect example to look to. Like allegory, I think it’s risky. Do a bad allegory, and people might get the wrong idea, but be too vague with symbolism, and people might not even know you had a point to make.

    I’m pretty sure it can be done though and you’ve got me excited to think about this more.


    I think of symbolism and allegory running in a rough continuum. Symbolism represents a basic truth or aspect about human nature, God, or the world. The Ring, for instance, has symbolic ties to sin nature in that it drives one to be like God and it is constantly calling to you. I think when Frodo put the ring on and it took Gollum biting off his finger to save him, that was great symbolism of man’s helplessness and that he needs someone else to save him. It certainly wasn’t allegory though. Gollum does not represent Jesus!!! Tom Bombadil is also symbolic, as is Aragorn the rightful king, the Grey Havens, and the whole Middle Earth theme of going on a journey and overcoming struggles to come to a final place of rest.

    Allegory, I consider to represent and closely follow specific events: creation, the fall, the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, the great apocalypse, etc. Aslan’s creation in The Magician’s Nephew is what I would call true allegory.

    Then in the middle is what I consider loose allegory. Loose allegory depicts specific events, but replaces important details with symbolic representations. For instance, if you’ve read The Warden And The Wolf King, I’d consider the ending of that book to be a loose allegory. It represents a specific biblical event, but it doesn’t completely depict that event nor does the fictional event accomplish everything that was accomplished in the real event. It is merely symbolic of that event — but it is symbolic of an event you see, not just a general truth, so it is what I would call lose allegory.

    Like I said, I see these three in a continuum. Also, a book can contain all three of these elements. The Silmarillion for instance contains very small ammounts of true allegory, small amounts of loose allegory, and a lot of symbolism.

    👖 🐢🐢🐢🐢🐢


    @Daeus-lamb sweet. 😀 Let me know how it develops.

    INFP-A. If you can't be brilliant, odd will do.

    Martin Detwiler

    @ethryndal @kate Right?! Truth truly is stranger than fiction.

    You’re exactly right in interpreting what I wrote. Just so you know, the part that tripped you up also makes me pause for a few seconds. It seems so counter-intuitive. But as we think further, it becomes clear that symbolic elements/themes about God/salvation/Messiah can be embedded in our stories in such a way that they are not “present” in the surface details of the story, but still inform and undergird its interpretation to a very high degree.

    I appreciate your explanation of allegory and symbolism! It was very helpful to me that you introduced the idea of a spectrum. I think that explains the nuances we see in stories much more coherently – as you showed in the examples you mentioned.

    I would love to get your opinion on Lewis’ book Til We Have Faces. It is one of the most moving, powerful books that I have ever read (definitely Lewis’ best work, in my opinion). The main reason I bring it up, though, is because of how it approaches this subject. The story is the retelling of a Greek myth, but Lewis made it so much more than that by introducing symbolic elements to the story which end up making it confront very Christian ideas in a powerful way. I know we all have very little time for reading, but I think a thoughtful journey through that book would help as you ponder how to approach this topic in your new series. At the very least, it’s a great story that deserves much more recognition that it gets. Definitely worlds beyond The Chronicles of Narnia, as much as I love those stories.

    myths don't die

    Daeus Lamb

    @karthmin I actually read that book recently. 🙂

    That’s true. It did accomplish just what you said. I never really noted that. Huh…

    👖 🐢🐢🐢🐢🐢

    Daeus Lamb

    Hey, btw, what do you think about classifying fantasy types.

    I think there’s Mythic fantasy, Fairy tale fantasy, and Alternate reality fantasy.

    Mythic borrows from classic myths — it’s exalted with unrealistic but subtly poetic objects, obstacles, and characters. Think LOTR.

    Fairy tale is generally more whimsical and is often seen in children’s fiction. The chronicles of Narnia would be of the fairy tale type.

    Alternate reality may contain fantastic elements, but the tone tells you the world is meant to be taken seriously and logically. Laws of nature, whether they be the same as ours or not, matter more and the story worlds may feel a little more familiar, even if they’re different. Brandon Sanderson’s worlds would be a good example.

    If you can think of any other categories, that would be great.

    The reason I came up with these categories is because I think they mark “strongholds” within the genre. Sure, technically you can do anything you want in fantasy, but just like each genre has strengths that are meant to be taken advantage of, I think these categories also have strengths that if writers consciously take note of will lead to better stories.



    👖 🐢🐢🐢🐢🐢


    @Daeus-lamb oooh, yes! Great thoughts. I’ve thought about this a lot actually, but you summed it up quite nicely. There’s also Paranormal/Dark, but I think that’s one none of us would really care to know more about. 😛

    Another way to break it up might be to stipulate that each category has a different purpose/focus.

    Mythic fantasy could easily be called a deeper look into mankind’s history of telling stories, and a study in why we tell the stories we do. An exploration of our ‘real fantasy’, so to speak, and what it says about us.

    Fairytale (following in the grand tradition of the Chronicles of Narnia) would be to take the underlying truths that prop our world up and deliberately put them in a whimsical, fantastic setting to make them clearer and easier to understand.

    Alternate Reality (my favorite to write) is similar to Fairytale, but instead of being bent on clarifying the complexities of our reality, it’s more focused on exploring them deeper and is probably for an older, more intellectually mature audience.

    INFP-A. If you can't be brilliant, odd will do.

    Martin Detwiler

    @daeus-lamb @kate I definitely think that we should make distinctions within the genre of fantasy, and I like the ones that you have mentioned. The genre is so broad that saying, “This story is fantasy” is about as meaningless as saying, “This chair is furniture that you can sit in”. It’s true, but not very informative. Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my point.

    [Sci-fi has begun to have subgenres (military, space opera, dystopian); there’s no reason why we shouldn’t do the same for fantasy.]

    Personally, I like four subgenres:

    1. Fairy-tales. I think we should put this under the umbrella of fantasy as a sort of fairy god-mother. In this category I would put things like the fairy-tale collection of the Brothers Grimm, or Hans Christian Anderson’s retellings of fairy-tales. I think that this genre contains the stories that are the ‘Aesopian’ versions of mythic fantasy. They are short, to the point, and vary in mood from lighthearted to potentially quite dark. I say this sub-genre is the fairy god-mother of fantasy because it is the kind of literature that pre-dated fantasy and sparked it into existence, in a way; it continues to provide rich and fertile ground in which fantasy can grow. The Chronicles of Narnia fits into this genre, but not very squarely. It has elements of mythic and realist fantasy, in my opinion; but there is something about the overall mood that puts it within this genre.

    2. Mythic fantasy (I like to use the term high fantasy as a nod to the fact that this is how the entire genre of fantasy began). This genre has been well defined by both of you. 🙂

    3. Realist fantasy (what you called alternate reality). Within this category I would make even further divisions:

    a. Alternate reality: Sandersonian worlds. A magic system is nearly always present; usually integral to the plot as well. This is the most popular kind of fantasy we see today, I think. And it deserves pointing out, because I think there is something in mythic fantasy that you can never get with this kind of fantasy; so it’s important to understand the difference between them.

    b. Urban/historical: These stories take place within “the real world”, but a ‘real world’ in which magic has always been a part of history. Urban fantasy is often gritty, veering towards the darker side of fantasy; but it doesn’t have to. For example, I would put the Harry Potter series within this sub-genre. These stories often bring a freshness to fantasy in the way that they mix the familiar with the strange and fantastic.

    c. Pure realist: No magic systems, but these stories exist within an internally consistent alternate reality. I would call this low fantasy, because these stories are basically novels that are set in a different reality.

    d. Paranormal: This deserves a mention under the umbrella of fantasy, but oftentimes stories like these fit more neatly within the horror/suspense genre.

    4. Grim fantasy. This sub-genre imagines a world where human depravity has reached an all-time low; it is always gritty, dark, and usually contains mature content because it confronts the depths of inhumanity. For Christian writers, it is a very debatable genre. However, one strength of the genre is that it allows the author to force readers to viscerally and intellectually confront the reality and nature of evil. When done well, it can sensitize the reader to the true horror of evil (which we so often refuse to fully confront and come face to face with), rather than desensitizing the reader, as we would suppose. There are other strengths to the genre, but the drawbacks may very well outweigh any potential benefits. The jury is still out as far as I am concerned. There may be a place for this kind of fantasy, but it is very small.

    I see unique strengths to each of the four categories.

    1. Fairy-tales: These often encapsulate a facet of truth and tease it out in the form of a relatively simple story. The strengths of this sub-genre are simplicity and brevity (usually).

    2. Mythic fantasy: These kinds of stories are often cosmic in proportion and in the best of cases confront metaphysical and/or philosophical questions about the basic nature of reality (e.g. in tLotR good always wins in the end, therefore hope/faith is justified; evil isn’t a thing in itself, but the twisting of something originally good; nothing happens on accident (idea of sovereignty, though latent), and I could go on…). They also have a lot of potential to address the question of what it means to be human in a cosmos populated with gods and myths and legends. Mythic fantasy is larger than life, and yet remains one of the most perennially relevant, timeless aspects of the fantasy genre.

    3. Realist fantasy: Because of the broad range of categories that I put under this subgenre, it’s hard to pinpoint it’s strengths. However, if you forced me to say one thing, I think this sub-genre most frequently addresses the question of what it means to be human by inserting realistic characters into settings and worlds that are fundamentally foreign to us. The juxtaposition of strange and familiar allows us to come face to face with aspects of humanity/reality that we might otherwise never think about. This is true of most speculative fiction (and a lot of sci-fi as well). The journey into the, “What if?” often sparks a new or fresh appreciation of the real. Although there is plenty of room within this genre to bring up metaphysical/philosophical questions, they are usually addressed via the human element (vis. the struggle or experience of the characters themselves), rather than being woven into the symbolism and elements of the story itself (as with mythic fantasy).

    4. Grim fantasy. I said pretty much all I have to say about this subgenre when I introduced it above, so I won’t add anything here. 🙂

    Those are my thoughts on the subject, and the only reason they may appear put-together is because they are so confused in my own head that I had to force myself into some kind of structured approach. XD I’d love to pursue this discussion further; it fascinates me.


    When it comes to the Allegory v. Symbolism spectrum, I thought further about that and would like to add a few points on the spectrum and see what you all think about them.

    Starting from the Allegory side of the spectrum, I have:

    Allegory stories.

    The best representation of this point on the spectrum is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Allegory stories can be understood/interpreted quite easily because every allegory in the story is basically labeled. There is a one-for-one connection between the elements/characters in the story and the elements of truth being illustrated. A little further down the spectrum, we come across:

    Parabolic stories.

    Parables are narrative illustrations of one specific truth/point. Each element or character in the parable corresponds to something in the real world. Parables do not stand alone, but are part of a larger discourse. Viewed within that larger context, the allegory is explicit and easily understood. I would view them as extended figures of speech – metaphors with a narrative structure. Examples: The parables of Jesus. Further down the spectrum, on the road to symbolism, we have:

    Allegorical stories.

    Slightly different from allegory stories, this kind of story could be seen as the expansion of the parable into a fully self-contained narrative that mirrors historical/biblical/theological events. There is no one-for-one connection, but the overall connection between the truth/event being ‘allegorized’ is clear and understood to an informed reader. The Chronicles of Narnia often contains this kind of allegorical storytelling. Next on the spectrum, getting very close to symbolic stories, are:


    Fables are short, to the point, and almost parabolic in nature. However, what separates them from parables is that they come in a self-contained narrative structure, illustrate general truths/axioms/proverbs, and the elements/characters within a fable cannot be traced to any specific elements in the real world, but are there to drive the point home. The only reason these stories feel so much like allegories is because the truth being illustrated is always provided very clearly at the end. But we still haven’t gotten to the symbolic end of the spectrum. That’s our next and last stop:

    Symbolic stories.

    Imagine taking five different fables, removing the pithy proverbs at the end, and combining them all together into one coherent story that explores the truths of those fables in a much larger storytelling format. That is the essence of symbolic storytelling. The themes and truths being explored in the story are not explicitly stated, but every element of the story has been woven into a tapestry that draws the themes out in different ways and either poses or answers questions about that theme or principle of truth. A discerning reader can approach these kinds of stories and come away with pithy, proverb-like truths (good always triumphs over evil; neither emotion nor intellect should rule our lives, but both in tandem; and etc…). Like a beautiful jewel, different hues will shine forth to the reader depending on the angle from which the story is viewed.

    What do you think of this expansion of the spectrum? Helpful, or not helpful?

    myths don't die


    @Karthmin wow… I love it! You should write an article on this and submit it for the blog. Seriously.

    INFP-A. If you can't be brilliant, odd will do.

    Martin Detwiler

    Thank you, @kate! I’ll think about it. 😀

    I haven’t gotten to wordstorm about writing for such a long time that I start to run away with myself… hence the 2:30 posting time. Haha! Although I suppose the 10 pm energy drink probably didn’t help anything, either. B)

    myths don't die


    @Karthmin lol. Wordstorming is one of the best things ever.

    INFP-A. If you can't be brilliant, odd will do.

Viewing 15 posts - 16 through 30 (of 52 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.

Pin It on Pinterest