July 18, 2018 at 2:35 pm #41649
@karthmin I agree with Kate, this is good stuff.
One revelation it gave me was that my story idea was starting to develop into grim fantasy, though definitely on the lighter end of the spectrum. I suppose that’s okay though. At the same time, if I really do want epic fantasy, I’ll need to watch myself.
Btw (tagging @kate too), I thought about Till We Have Faces, and from what I can remember, almost all of the symbolism there was in the visions, which are hard to replicate consistently in a massive series. I think besides that, the only two symbols (which did a ton of heavy lifting for the theme) were the one line “how can they meet us face to face till we have faces?” and the other line, “Now you are Psyche”. Is this analysis on target?
You also made me realize that I wrote a symbolic, nonallegorical work pointing to the gospel without even knowing it. It’s the story of a character from a novel told through his diary entries.
👖 🐢🐢🐢🐢🐢July 18, 2018 at 9:27 pm #41683
@Daeus-lamb good analysis. I think I caught a few deeper, better hidden symbolic threads, but I also think I was a little more familiar with the myth it was taken from than you were. I haven’t studied it (at this point, don’t intend to :P) but I know the basic structure/storyline.
For a story like that, I think the whole symbolic weight just rests on pulling it off in a way that capitalizes on all the thematic moments of the original myth, while deepening them and delving into implications the original myth didn’t touch on. That myth has been around forever (and, at least in Lewis’s time, was a big staple of a classical education, along with all the other Greek myths) and is very much a part of the general consciousness, so in a sense it itself is already one giant symbol.
INFP-A. If you can't be brilliant, odd will do.July 24, 2018 at 9:27 pm #42128E.B. Raulands@e-b-raulands
*door creaks open slowly*
Hello? *looks around and sees no one inside*
I’m not too late to put in a good word for allegory, am I?
I’ve really enjoyed reading this thread over the past week, and I think I agree with many of the points made throughout the posts. However, I do differ on a couple of topics, so I hope it’s okay if I make a few belated observations.
The first point I wanted to make was in regards to the purpose of art. I believe Karthmin used illumination in medieval texts to illustrate the idea that the most art can do is point to Truth, which must be preached didactically. While I do agree that the Gospel should be presented as clearly as possible, I also believe that art is fully capable of making this presentation. To me, art is a picture frame; it can be gorgeous in itself but is only truly beautiful when it frames Truth. We can try to present symbolic truths to the reader and hope that he investigates God because of them, but how can we plant seeds of truth into his mind when he cannot receive it? As it’s been declared before, only the Gospel can change people, so unless a person has already been transformed by this ultimate Truth, how can he be convinced to pursue God by smaller truths? Truly great art must present Truth to its readers (Pilgrim’s Progress and Paradise Lost being good, albeit imperfect, examples). These works are not beautiful simply because they’re artistic; they’re beautiful because they demonstrate man’s state before God and how He redeems the sinner’s heart! If a work of art can clearly present this Truth to its audience and one person is saved from Hell because of it, won’t that work of art be worth more than all the treasures of the world in the eyes of God?
With that being said, fantasy is a challenging genre to present the Gospel in because the characters face unnatural forces and answer to a god who may not be our God. The question, then, becomes whether the Gospel can be presented in fantasy at all; Christian authors turn to symbolism and allegory for the answer. I favor allegory because the strong connections between Christian orthodoxy and fantastic elements turn the story into a living sermon. Terms like “redemption” and “temptation” aren’t words anymore; they are living beings who create, destroy, and mold both character and storyline alike. They aren’t abstractions anymore; they’ve become powerful forces that can violently affect our world just as much as the fantasy world they’re presented in. Allegory also allows the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be the God of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. The setting may have changed, but He’s still the same just, gracious Father we want others (both fictional and real) to know and love like we do. Consequently, this fact also means that the plan of salvation for individuals doesn’t change because of their surroundings. They must still answer to God for accepting or rejecting the love He offers to them (and to our readers). Allegory, like symbolism, has the potential to confuse. However, if it’s written prayerfully and with God’s blessing, allegory will have the power to illuminate the mind to Truth, which is the ultimate goal of the Christian fantasy writer.
*scans the post critically* Okay, I’m pretty sure that’s everything. Thank-you so much for reading this post (I really did try to make it as brief as possible), and I hope it was edifying! =)
- This reply was modified 3 years, 11 months ago by E.B. Raulands.
To the glory of God and for the advancement of His kingdom.July 27, 2018 at 1:47 pm #42334
@e-b-raulands great thoughts. Thanks for thinking this out so carefully and precisely. You’re right. I agree entirely that the ultimate Truth of God’s existence, love, and redemption can be clearly and beautifully portrayed in a story with great effect. It can be tricky, but it can definitely be done.
I’d like to offer a few little thoughts on the difference between allegory and symbolism though, and see what you think. The way you’re looking at it, as I gather, is that because symbolism is more vague than allegory it can be less powerful. If a heart hasn’t been opened by the truth of the Gospel, how can it find any of God’s beauty or eternal nature elsewhere? In a sense, this is true— only with the truth of the Gospel can all the pieces ultimately fit together. But I’m not quite sure that because symbolism neglects to spell out the Gospel in so many words, it has no power to move a rebellious heart towards God.
It isn’t only those who are saved that can see His handiwork and glory in it. Only those who know Him personally recognize what they see, but that doesn’t mean the unsaved aren’t also touched by it without understanding it, and moved to want to know more. In the same way that a Christian and an atheist can be moved to tears by the same symphony or sunset, a symbolic story beautifully done can touch the heart of the unsaved just as profoundly as the heart of a believer.
I think this is because saved and unsaved alike all have something in them looking for God— something He put there to remind us that we’re destined for an eternal home, and to thrill us with a deep sense of awe and belonging when we glimpse little bits and pieces of eternity, even if we don’t recognize it for what it is. We all respond to these glimpses with the same sense of wonder, openness, and longing.
So then, you might ask, if we need an open heart and the truth of the Gospel, even setting aside all that touchy-feely eternity stuff… how is a symbolic story adequate?
While the truth of the Gospel, spelled and acted out to completion, is a powerful ingredient in any story when done well, I don’t think it’s always necessary. The aim of a story is merely to open the heart and be used by the Holy Spirit to convict. I say ‘merely’ because it’s a little arrogant to assume that even a story that included the truth of the Gospel in full could save a man’s soul just like that, all on its own. That isn’t our job. Thankfully we have the Holy Spirit to help us with that bit, and He isn’t confined by the limits of human experience and expression. It’s our stories He uses, not the other way ’round.
Setting aside that, men looking for salvation never go to storybooks. They seek out intellectual and moral proofs, and well they should. The most a story can hope to attain (and it seems so belittling to phrase it as though it was something small and unimportant) is open a heart the way music does, and touch the pieces of the man’s life that already have God’s fingerprints on them, and wake him up to start looking for the truth.
INFP-A. If you can't be brilliant, odd will do.July 27, 2018 at 4:36 pm #42353
Hey @e-b-raulands! I don’t know if I’ve met you before, but hi. I just want to start off by saying that I’m a big fan of well-done allegory.
I happen to agree that stories can present the gospel, but if they do believe it still has to be didactic. Personally, I don’t think The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is ever going to save someone unless they already know the gospel and the book merely reminds them of it. Allegory by nature isn’t the gospel, it just points to it — like symbolism can.
Now, while I’m at it, including the gospel didactically in novels often ends up feeling like someone snipped out a sermon and glued it in the pages. It doesn’t have to sound like this, but it takes skill to avoid that and even if you have that skill it doesn’t fit in every story that’s worth telling.
Symbolism, as in the case of Till We Have Faces or my story The Diary of Nameless, can point to the gospel (it seems to me) just as effectively as allegory. Other stories, like The Lord of the Rings, are less clear in the direction they point but at least but still offer great instruction to those with ears to hear. But, as we’ve mentioned, it would have been better with context. This is probably what you’re thinking of when you say “symbolism”. Yet, within the context of The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s world is a mixture of allegory and symbolism. His world is not a pagan world with Christian symbols (something I don’t believe in) but has an allegorical version of our God and humanity’s fall. I think Kate, Martin, and I would probably favor this blending of allegory and symbolism for the sake of context, except in stories which defy realism, such as the first two I mentioned in this chapter.
👖 🐢🐢🐢🐢🐢July 29, 2018 at 4:25 pm #42437Martin Detwiler@karthmin
@daeus-lamb My cover is blown! You used my real name when everyone thought I was actually called Karthmin!!
Funnily enough, although Karthmin is a name fabricated from the language I began creating several years ago, it was put together to have roughly the same meaning as Martin. A friend took the limited vocabulary that I had created at the time and used it to form translations of our English names. The one I ended up with was Karthmin (karth =war, min=man – ‘war-man’ ‘war-like’ ‘courageous’; as I said, roughly equivalent to the meaning of Martin). Fun fact, Karthmin also contains all the letters in my real name, with the addition of K and H. But aaaanyway, back to the topic of this discussion. 😉
About your story idea becoming grim fantasy. I honestly would love to see a thoroughly Christian author tackle the genre. I’m not saying you should, because it sounds like your plans for the story aren’t exactly in that direction, but it’s something I would love to read. Like you said, it’s okay to have some grimness in epic fantasy, I think that most mythic fantasy is that way, so it isn’t entirely out of place.
By the way, when I read The Diary of Nameless, I totally thought you were going for the symbolic approach on purpose, and that’s how I interpreted it! It lent a level of meaning to the story that was really fascinating, turning a clever storytelling device into a powerful symbol.
Concerning Till We Have Faces (tagging @kate), I agree with Kate that the myth itself functions as a massive symbol within the story of TWHF. In addition, I think that the characters themselves function as symbolic representations of different ways of approaching the world/reality, and different ways of approaching love. Both of those (what is real? what is love?) are central themes of the story, but the characters function in such perfect coordination with those themes that they became, in my opinion, symbols in and of themselves. For example, when you think of the Fox, you can’t help but think of the ideology he espoused.
This is rather similar to the way that Gollum can be interpreted as a symbol of the sin nature – withered, wicked, self-contradicting, and self-destructive
@e-b-raulands I believe I came across a little unclearly in some of my first posts in this thread, because I think I fully agree with one of your points, which is, if I may take the liberty to quote you, “While I do agree that the Gospel should be presented as clearly as possible, I also believe that art is fully capable of making this presentation.”
Because I personally prefer symbolism over allegory (somewhat strongly), I think I came off in a way that gave the impression that I believe art cannot or should not present the Gospel allegorically. I apologize for the undue emphasis, because I agree that art definitely can do so, and can do it very well. I think we are all familiar with The Chronicles of Narnia, which tends to approach things rather allegorically. I love the series, and I think the effects it has had on the culture and within Christian circles have been both powerful and positive! While I may not prefer allegory, I think there is absolutely a place for it within the spectrum of powerful Christian literature. In fact, we need more of it!
We may differ in our opinions about which of the two (allegory or symbolism) does a better job at showcasing the truth, but I think all of us here agree that both methods of storytelling can be effective and powerful. Each brings with it a set of advantages and disadvantages, and as Daeus has pointed out on a few occasions, some stories contain elements of both!
In light of what I brought up concerning the characters in Till We Have Faces (how I think they are functioning as symbols), I thought what you said here was quite fascinating:
“I favor allegory because the strong connections between Christian orthodoxy and fantastic elements turn the story into a living sermon. Terms like “redemption” and “temptation” aren’t words anymore; they are living beings who create, destroy, and mold both character and storyline alike. They aren’t abstractions anymore; they’ve become powerful forces that can violently affect our world just as much as the fantasy world they’re presented in.”
It seems that we are talking about a very similar idea here, but where I’m calling it symbolic, you’re saying, “Allegory!” The difference, as I see it, lies in this: Within their respective literary contexts, symbols aren’t stated as symbols, whereas allegories are.
Let me explain further. Consider Aragorn. His overall story arc is that of a returning king. I interpret this as a symbol of one of Christ’s roles. To me, I don’t put deity onto Aragorn, but thinking of him in that light gives greater depth to the story as I experience it. Seeing Aragorn returning in victory, crowned, and wedded, is almost an outlet to actualize in some small way my longing for Christ’s return in victory, and the wedding feast that I will participate in with Him and all other believers as His bride. But all that aside, is Aragorn, objectively speaking, a symbol of Christ? Within tLotR itself, no. He is Aragorn, and that is that – and as a story element, he’s a very engaging, effective character that brings out many, many great themes of the story. But the story doesn’t give him as a person a larger significance. But we can. That, to me, is the power of symbols. For me, Aragorn taps into my longing for Christ to return, or, to paraphrase Kate, it touches a part of me that already has God’s fingerprint on it, and wakes me up to the beauty and wonder of it all over again.
Right off the bat, I will acknowledge that this means that the interpretation of a symbol is up to the reader, and there is a weakness to this. It means that I can write a story full of symbolic characters and story-lines that can be richly interpreted in light of the Gospel, but someone can read it and miss all of that. [As an aside, however, I’m not writing to that audience; I’m writing to the audience who will catch the symbols and think about them.]
But now let’s move on to an allegorical character who also represents Christ: Aslan, the Son of the Emperor over the Sea. Not a Tame Lion. Mysterious, beautiful, wise, divine. He is an allegory of Christ, and on several occasions within his literary context, it is made clear that he is simply God under a different name. There is a direct, one-for-one relationship in the books between Aslan and the character of which he is a symbol.
The strength of this method is that the interpretation of Aslan is not up to the reader. Aslan is Christ under a different name because he’s in a different world, and it’s as simple as that. Aslan can also tap into the parts of us that have God’s fingerprint on them and light them up – and I have experienced that with these stories in several different places. In the past, I identified closely with Edmund, so the story of Aslan’s self-sacrifice affected me deeply. The final scenes in The Last Battle also have woken up in me a longing to discover what awaits when Christ returns and we will be with Him for all eternity, traveling “further up and further in” to the splendor of God’s wisdom and majesty and being.
For me, as a Christian reader, the difference between Aragorn and Aslan – between symbolism and allegory – is not huge. Both characters have in the past (re)awakened in me a desire for the return of Christ and the glory that follows, and I’m sure will continue to do so. There is a level of reward when I find beauty in a symbol that isn’t there when I find beauty in an allegory (there’s something about working it out and coming to that moment of appreciation for a nugget of truth), but there is a level of clarity in allegories that isn’t there in symbols.
In my opinion, the lack of clarity works in favor of symbols because it gives the author greater freedom in the way he tells his story. Aragorn can mess up, be human, and still be for me a symbol of Christ (who never messes up). Aslan literally can’t do anything wrong, or it would be heresy. [Incidentally, I believe we do run into this issue in The Last Battle when Aslan welcomes the ‘earnest seeker of truth’ who worshiped Tash his whole life.]
I’m not saying this restriction is a bad thing, per se, but allegories do confine the author to only things that directly correlate to the Truth being allegorized; it’s a fact of that kind of story-telling. For this reason, I think it is much easier to fall into the trap of becoming preachy or sermonizing.
On the other hand, because of the freedom that symbolism brings, it is much easier to fall into the trap of becoming unclear and therefore ineffective – only telling a good story that doesn’t have any deeper meaning or worth.
I think we can actually find a balance between the two in what Daeus classified as ‘allegorical’ in some of his early posts under this topic, but more specifically in his last post in this thread. It was very helpful to me when he put it that way.
Personally, I think Symbolism with a touch of the Allegorical is perfect. But that’s just me. 😉
At the end of the day, I think @kate touched on something very critical in her response to E. B. Rauland, which is the importance of the Holy Spirit‘s work to make any truth effective in people’s lives. I really thought you put it well, Kate.
Because the principle here is true of the Bible, it is all the more so true of our books. No story, however Christian in symbol or allegory, can save. Apart from the Holy Spirit’s work, even the Bible does not save. In light of this, we have to be careful when setting goals for Christian art/literature and determining the ultimate purpose of our writing.
To put it as a syllogism (which is kind of dry, but does put things quite clearly and in order):
1. The source of all Truth is God; because the format that God has communicated Himself to me is via Word, I will use the Word (i.e. the Bible) as my only source for Truth.
2a. I purpose to write stories that the Holy Spirit can use in people’s lives; because the tool that the Holy Spirit uses to illuminate people’s souls is the Truth, I will write stories that reflect, illustrate, and showcase the Truth – stories that are spun, dyed, and woven in an atmosphere of Truth.
2b. In order for the Truth to take effect in someone’s life, the Holy Spirit must open their spiritual eyes to see the Truth for what it is; therefore, if my stories contain Truth (whether in symbolic or allegorical form), they will be enabled to see and benefit from it if the Holy Spirit works upon them.
3. (via negative) If the Holy Spirit does not work upon someone’s heart, they can be exposed to any amount of Truth (in the Bible, in allegory, or in symbol) and remain unaffected.
Therefore, the goal of my storytelling is not to convert people. The goal of my storytelling is to tell truly awesome stories with the Truth so thoroughly embedded into them that it can easily be used by the Holy Spirit to push people towards Gospel realities if they do not know them, or back to them if they do. At the end of the day, those who have ears to hear will hear. Those who don’t, won’t. And the difference is in the hands of God, where it belongs. 🙂
I’m just trying to create beautiful tools that He can use.
myths don't dieJuly 30, 2018 at 3:33 pm #42512
@karthmin Ooops! Hopefully you’re not a CIA agent who’s going to have to come kill me now. 😬
By the way, very well and thoroughly put.
👖 🐢🐢🐢🐢🐢July 30, 2018 at 7:02 pm #42554EricaWordsmith@ericawordsmith
Symbolism and allegory. *We all step off the cliff into the oblivion of writerly conversation*
I think as long as the worldview is not humanistic, and the symbolism is clear, then it is fine. It took me a while to get comfortable with The Witch King of Angmar, just because I’m a little squeamish about dark magic, but after the worldview cleared it for me I am much more comfortable with it. My own books (poor neglected things, school and summer camp just stole them from me) have a mixture of the two. It is allegorical in a sense, but there is a lot of symbolism. Like, not everything has to be clear like there doesn’t have to be every single character from the Bible with a changed name. There are things in that world that are specific to that world that aren’t from our world, but the worldview is intact. Like my creation of the world is in some ways a lot different from what happened in this world. The biggies in my mind would be these:
1. There is a sovereign deity that defines right and wrong. That is the biggest
2. There is a clear definition between good power and dark power. Meaning dark power comes from the fell and fallen and good power comes from either the sovereign, or powers given by the sovereign to others. All other powers can be natural to that world (like there can be abilities that are just created within that world without having to come from a power source of light or dark. Basically science of that world)
3. Humans do not look to themselves for their salvation. Even LOTR explains how there were higher powers at work. Bilbo was meant to find the ring.
I could go on, but basically those are my big ones. As long as those are the basic foundational things, you can build on top of that and put much meaningful symbolism or beautiful allegory on top of that. Worldview is the biggest thing to remember when writing fantasy.
Tek an ohta! Tek an cala!August 4, 2018 at 7:47 pm #42928August 5, 2018 at 9:38 pm #42947August 5, 2018 at 9:45 pm #42948August 6, 2018 at 8:28 am #42963August 6, 2018 at 1:49 pm #42990Thomas (CrØss_Bl₳de)@thewirelessblade
I’m reading (Skipping over) all this and wondering: Would this topic count as a novel yet?
*Forum Signature here*August 6, 2018 at 2:26 pm #42993August 6, 2018 at 11:45 pm #43056E.B. Raulands@e-b-raulands
You made a wonderful point about how art can awe both believers and unbelievers, and I couldn’t agree more! I think awe was originally intended to invoke praise for God; while twisted from this purpose, awe is still, as you described it, one of God’s fingerprints that awakens a desire to find Him. (There’s a great article I really loved from Answers in Genesis called “Wired for Awe” that discusses this topic more thoroughly than I can.) I also wholeheartedly agree with your statement that only the Holy Spirit saves people. The Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that it is the Holy Spirit Who draws the sinner’s heart to Christ. Without His work, we are truly lost.
While God may not call us to save individuals, He does call us to preach the Gospel. He expects us to tell everyone we meet about salvation in Jesus and will hold us responsible for failing to do so. Since I believe reading an author’s work qualifies as a contact (albeit indirect) between reader and writer, the issue I have with excluding the Gospel from a work is that this exclusion seems to be a deliberate failure to fulfill God’s command. Every piece a Christian creates might not be able to contain a clear presentation of the Gospel; however, if a work is long enough to address the Gospel and is written for the unsaved, doesn’t the Christian have a duty to place the Gospel in that story?
It’s true that men don’t go to storybooks for answers about salvation, but I also believe most don’t know where to begin their search for God either. Art is a vehicle for truth and can present proofs of the Gospel to those who have not heard the truth and may never hear it again. If we can present the Gospel to the reader, he won’t have to go and search for God on his own; the Holy Spirit can immediately begin His work and save him even before he puts the story down!
BTW, I love your signature! 🙂
Believe it or not, we actually have met before! (Our families helped put lunches together at the Ohio Scriptorium.)
There are several points I agree with you on. Allegory cannot save individuals (except perhaps in rare cases such as Pilgrim’s Progress); as much as I love Narnia, none of the stories present the Gospel clearly enough to make salvation possible in and of themselves. I also agree that mixing allegory and symbolism is the best method for presenting a fantasy world (it combines the best of both methods).
However, I don’t think I can completely agree that every story worth telling might not contain the Gospel. Stories that are written for entertainment purposes or are too short to adequately describe salvation can be worthwhile, and stories intended for a saved audience may not have to contain the Gospel. But I believe the best and most worthwhile stories will contain the Gospel to some degree or another. Just as the believer constantly lives in the awareness of God, so also will the stories he writes be permeated with redemption. But I don’t think the Christian author should be content with simple permeation; I don’t even think he should be satisfied with symbolic allusions (although I do enjoy symbolic stories and believe there is a place for them in Christian literature). To me, the Gospel should break through at every practical opportunity given it. It shouldn’t escape the reader’s notice. It should be so integral in the storyline that the inclusion of a straig
I almost hate to use it, but the treatment of the Force in Star Wars is a good example of what I’m trying to say. In almost every film there are some kind of didactic explanations about what the Force is and why it’s relevant; some films, like The Empire Strikes Back, have prolonged discussions about the Force’s power. There are always examples of good and bad uses of the Force consistent with these explanations. Even when the Force isn’t being mentioned, the audience still knows it’s actively participating in the fate of the universe. The Force holds the entire world of Star Wars together; you can’t escape it. If secular movies can have such an overpowering worldview and yet still be one of if not the most popular storyline in film history, shouldn’t the Gospel be just as active in a Christian’s story?
I probably should’ve put this in my original post, but I do believe symbolism is an effective storytelling method. I also agree with your points about the freedom symbolism grants the writer as well as the satisfaction gained from figuring out symbols in a story. (I really enjoy reading The Hobbit, but I appreciated the story a lot more when some of the symbols/themes were explained to me in The Christian World of The Hobbit.)
You mentioned something in your post that is very key to my view of allegory and symbolism:
I will acknowledge that this means that the interpretation of a symbol is up to the reader, and there is a weakness to this. It means that I can write a story full of symbolic characters and story-lines that can be richly interpreted in light of the Gospel, but someone can read it and miss all of that. [As an aside, however, I’m not writing to that audience; I’m writing to the audience who will catch the symbols and think about them.]
I believe audience is the key factor in deciding whether to use allegory or symbolism. If an author is specifically addressing an audience that is already saved, he should probably use symbolism because the subtleness of the form might be able to re-sensitize the believer to doctrines better than an obvious allegory would. (The parable Nathan told King David about the poor man’s sheep is a good example, although it might fall more into the category of allegory). However, if the author is writing to an unsaved audience, I would prefer allegory because the audience is unfamiliar with Christianity and will need a stronger one-for-one between the elements in order to more easily understand the spiritual ideas conveyed.
For me personally, sermonizing is a lesser sin than confusing a reader into thinking that the story I’ve created is “a nice story.” As you said at the end of your post, I want my works to be beautiful tools that God can use, and I want them to be the most effective tools they can be. For me, they will be the most effective tools when they contain didactic truth (specifically the Gospel) already in them. To be completely honest, if I had to choose among symbolism, allegory, or didacticism in a fantasy (or any other) work, I would favor didacticism. However, since all three are at my disposal, I think a blending of all three produces the best kind of godly as well as artistic work.
To stray from the topic, have you ever read Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories”?
Thank-you for the etymology on your username, by the way! I found it very interesting! And concerning the inadvertent revelation of your true name, at least now I know for certain that we know each other in “real” life, if that’s any consolation. (You look like my brother with a beard. 🙂 )
To the glory of God and for the advancement of His kingdom.
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