Symbolism in Angel’s Fury and Phoenix Rising, by Bryony Pearce
I remember as a student being faced with an exam question about the symbolism in a novel and wondering, as I am sure so many do, whether the author really intended to put in all the things that I pulled out. Was it accidental that the character was always moving from light to darkness, or that she saw flowers before each crisis or that the weather was foreboding in various scenes? Surely the fact of a chair being knocked over, was not a deliberate ploy on the author’s part to represent the destruction of a key aspect of the character’s id?
Well, I can’t answer for other authors and I can’t deny that some of the things in my work that readers might spot were happy accidents or my unconscious mind rendering lovely links between ideas. However, as a writer, I am very deliberate about the use of symbols, themes and motifs in my work.
Take, for proof, these two pages I dug out from my notes.
This first is the crib sheet I kept near me when I was writing Angel’s Fury. As you can see my most important themes were Repentance and Inversion. I also used the motifs of ornaments, cosmetics, stars, mirrors, music, alcohol, wet and dry and weaponry to highlight important points in the novel and foreshadow forthcoming events.
I am also very careful with my character names. The name of the protagonist in Angel’s Fury, for example, contains a great deal of information about the character: Cassie’s real surname is Smith and both Smith and Farrier mean blacksmith, as does Faber, another surname in the book (this basically gives away a giant plot twist regarding who Cassie was in her previous life). A smith is a metalworker and the ability to work metal is one of the gifts of Azael to man, indicating Cassie’s link to the fallen angel from the very start. The actual meaning of the name Cassiopeia is ‘she whose words excel’; it is Cassie who has to persuade the other children to escape the Manor and it is her story we are reading. Furthermore, Cassiopeia was a queen whose vanity is said in some sources to have resulted in the drowning of Ethiopia. She certainly caused the kraken to be called upon her city (- the water motif, which is so important to Cassie’s history). The queen was set in heaven as a constellation and is upside down for half of the year (according to Jewish lore, Azael’s brother was set upside down in Orions’ belt as a punishment), so this once more links her to the fallen angels.
Orion’s belt appears again and again throughout the book (from literal viewing of the constellation, to Cassie being given three handmade chocolates by a German shopkeeper, all are decorated with stars). The children have a particular affinity with the constellation and it appears throughout their lives. Azael himself is said to have taught man charms, conjuring formulas, how to cut roots, the efficacy of plants, how to make weapons, how to work metals, how to make jewellery, how to use make up, how to brew beer and how to play music. I use these ‘talents’ as motifs throughout: for example, the twin town to Cassie’s (Kurt and Zillah’s home) is called Hopfingen (hops are used to brew beer) and the lady in the fountain is holding an arm full of hops. When they are trying to escape from the Manor the children plan to meet in a pub (the Blacksmith’s Arms).
Below is a photo of the page I have in the front of the notebook I used to help me write Phoenix Rising.
As you can see, the main theme that I am addressing throughout the book is trust / mistrust. The motifs that I use to highlight issues throughout are light and dark (also clean / dirty and light / dark colours).
For example, Toby begins the book dirty (covered in soot), but as he grows up and his character develops, he becomes cleaner in appearance (the soot represents childhood, ignorance, a layer of protection which has to be burned away in order for adulthood to emerge). It is dark below deck, light above. The weather vacillates between threatening storms and blazing sun (both negative weather systems). The rival pirates wear black uniforms, the good guys have red scarves, there is no colour on the rival pirate ship. And so on.
I think that it is important, as a writer, to know the themes at the heart of your work: to know yourself what it is really about.
Angel’s Fury is the story of a girl who has lived before, but who finds out that all of her previous lives have been manipulated by a fallen angel who wants to destroy mankind. But it is ABOUT forgiveness and redemption.
The Weight of Souls is the story of a girl who sees dead people, who has to avenge the deaths of murder victims and solve the murder of one of her classmates. But it is ABOUT bullying and its effects.
Junk Pirates is the story of a boy who lives on a pirate ship in a dystopian future and who is seeking a ‘promised land’ where his crew can be safe from those who would destroy them. But it is ABOUT growing up and the value of trust.
If I know this from the outset, everything I do within the book can be aimed at informing the reader and making the text into a cohesive whole.
I love literary allusion and symbolism, I love to spot it in the novels that I read, and so everything I write is riddled with it.
I hope you have as much fun spotting the themes and motifs in Phoenix Rising as I did putting them in.
To find out more about Bryony or her work, please visit her website www.bryonypearce.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @BryonyPearce.
A huge thank you to Bryony and Jessie at Little Tiger Press.
In a future world where fossil fuels have run out and democracy has collapsed, an outlawed pirate crew fight for survival on their ship, the Phoenix, kept afloat by whatever they can salvage or scavenge on the debris-filled seas. Toby has never known anything other than life onboard the Phoenix and he’s desperate for adventure. But when trouble comes hunting the Phoenix down, Toby realizes that what you wish for isn’t always what you want. He meets beautiful Ayla from the Banshee, a rival pirate ship and sworn enemy of the Phoenix, and his world is thrown into disorder. How can he know who to trust and what to believe? The future rests on him making an impossible choice…
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