Ever wonder at the symbolism behind the poisoned apple in Snow White? Or in Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule? Did the authors choose the apple on purpose, aware of its significance, or was it coincidence? Whatever their intention, their use of it left a lasting impression on me.
Because the apple has influenced the world for centuries. Knowledge, protection, love, temptation; these are but a few representations. Literature and myths from nearly every culture are full of stories about this simple yet powerful fruit.
But what of other symbolic examples?
The harp for instance. People in ancient times believed it to be an instrument of truth, wisdom, and to communicate between realms. In Juliet Marillier’s Wolfskin, a harp is fashioned from the hair and bones of a slain man so he can “sing” the truth of his murder.
And let’s not forget names, animals, gemstones, trees—all of which represent different ideas. In Anne Bishop’s The Black Jewels trilogy, the jewels denote the hierarchy of power. What about the White Tree of Gondor and the horses of Rohan in The Lord of The Rings? Or the ring itself? Epic symbolism there. Harry Potter is saturated with it.
Do our readers need to know the meanings behind our symbolic choices? No. The power is there regardless. It will weave itself into their hearts and minds, and stay with them long after they’ve read your book. And one day, if they happen to discover what a stone, a flower, or constellation symbolizes, they’ll remember it from your book. And mayhap they’ll want to read it again with this newfound knowledge.
And that’s a very good thing, yes?