Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mid-grade Allegory

The other day while I was checking my e-mail a thing popped up saying that several people, whose names I didn't recognize, wanted to connect to my yahoo account so we could chat.  I took the `no' option but it occurred to me that those people might have found me through this blog.  If someone wants to contact me please either leave a message in the blog comments, or mention blogger in the tag-line of any e-mails you send.  I'm too paranoid about computer viruses to answer if I don't know where you're coming from.

And now on to a real topic.

I've had my eye on Lian Tanner's Museum of Thieves for some time now, so when I saw a copy at my local Border's going out of busyness sale I snatched it up.  The book is wonderfully inventive.  The author take an abstract idea -that modern parents are overprotective- and makes it concrete.  In the city of Jewel, children are chained by the wrist to their parents or guardian until they come of age. 

The book reminded me of Jeanne DuPrau's City of Ember.  Both take an abstract idea and turn it into something that can be seen and touched.  In other words- allegory.  I started a mental list of mid-grade allegories that I've read over the years.  There's Norton Juster's Phantom Tollbooth, Carol Kendall's Gammage Cup, David Ive's Monsieur Eek.  It's almost enough, I think, to count as its own sub-genre.

There's always a danger of making allegories so obvious that they become anvilicious (to use a TV. Tropes term) but when done right, a touch of allegory can make some really innovative fantasy.  

Because the author is trying to turn the abstract concrete, he or she can use surreal situations and have them fit the context of the story.  (Remember the spooky faceless man in Phantom Tollbooth?  Or the staircase to infinity?)  Everything in an allegory is literal.  Juster's watchdog is a dog with a watch in his back.  Tanner's children are literally chained to their parents.  DuPrau's city is very much in the dark. 

Another power of allegory is that the author builds their story around a theme.  He or she can explore an idea from every possible angle and in that way bring new perspective to the reader's attention.  For example, in Museum of Thieves, everyone is overprotective because if their child gets hurt they get thrown in jail for being bad parents.  The adult in Jewel have also grown up chained to a parent or guardian so they are overly willing to look to authority for protection and easily give way to fear.  

Different angles.

I've been enjoying the (slight, nearly unnoticed) rise of allegories in mid-grade fiction.  They're so different from everything else, and that I find incredibly refreshing.

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