Fantasy and metaphor

A few days ago, there was a discussion on Making Light about metaphor in fantasy in which the general argument seemed to be that those who see fantasy as metaphor don’t understand the genre. I found myself arguing that fantasy is in fact metaphor, because I think it is, until I realized that I was in fact using metaphor differently than most of the others there–apparently, the metaphor is often used as a synonym for a sort of thinly veiled allegory.

Fantasy is metaphor, I still think–it casts light upon human nature and the human world by using things that don’t exist anywhere in that world, and this is not a sort of unintended side effect of the genre; it’s something mre central. But even so, metaphor isn’t the only thing fantasy does, and the existence of metaphor doesn’t mean that the story itself stops mattering, or that I don’t immerse myself deeply in those stories when I read them.

All of which is an excuse to quote this bit from tnh‘s post today:

When everything in a story means a specific something else, and it means that something-else more than it means itself, what you have is allegory: a kind of writing almost no one does well.

Which is a really useful way of putting it. It’s not that everything (or many things) in a fantasy story can’t mean something else; it’s that the story can’t mean other things more than it means itself. That makes much sense to me.

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