I feel as though I must preface this post with a few facts:

  • I love to read. I also love to write about what I’ve read.
  • This is going to be a post about something I’m passionate about rather than something I’m irritated about.
  • I spent many years analyzing literature for a grade. Now I just do it because I can’t help it.
  • I’ve written a novel. This post describes part of the basis for that novel.
  • Please try not to be too upset if this is boring. I’m pretty sure my life will spiral out of control again very soon and posts will return to the self-deprecating hilarity this blog was always intended to be.

And now…onward.

The Mirror is, in literature, one of the most basic of devices available to an author. Literal and figurative mirrors show up in almost every work of fiction you can lay your hands on. I’ve always been interested in how characters mirror one another, how events are foreshadowed by subtle mirroring. I think this is largely unintentional in most writing, or else not viewed in terms of mirrors. Since I started working on my novel two years ago (almost exactly), I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about everything I read through the lens of the mirror (try to get past the awkwardness of the image that presents…I guess what I mean is, from the perspective of the mirror, or with the mirror guiding my thinking…but the ‘lens’ or the paradigm seems to best express what I am trying to say). I see mirrors in everything I read, in varying degrees.

My novel is based around the Victorian poem “The Lady of Shalott,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. In this poem, the tragic character Elaine of Shalott (described in multiple tellings of Arthurian legend), is cursed. The Lady is trapped in her tower room by a curse that predicts her death if she looks out from her window onto Camelot. She spends her days weaving scenes she sees only through a mirror reflecting the beauty of the world beyond her window. Elaine experiences life only as it is reflected through this mirror. Until she sees Lancelot’s image, Elaine, though dissatisfied, is willing to observe the world outside in this distanced way. When Lancelot appears in her mirror however, the Lady accepts the curse and takes the risk in order to see him for herself. The poem ends with her floating down the river in a broken old raft from Shalott to Camelot, dying.

I first read this poem my senior year of high school. I can say with absolute confidence that it has changed my life. Among other things, this poem began my interest in mirrors in literature. I knew that I wanted the mirror to play a central role in my own novel. As I shaped my novel around this image and Elaine’s poignant story, I began to think of ways to extend my own character’s story. What better way than to shape the continuing saga of my character around other works of literature where mirrors play a key role. My brain sort of exploded when I made my first list of such works.

  • “The Rape of the Lock” – Alexander Pope
  • Through the Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll
  • “Snow White” – the Grimm brothers
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling (an idea I won’t be legally allowed to shape my story around for a reeeeeeeeally long time because of copyright laws)
  • “Beauty and the Beast” – no idea

I’ve read extensively but I know I’m barely touching the surface of literary works where mirrors are of vital importance. The mirror motif is strong throughout the works of Shakespeare, but mostly in a figurative way – literal mirrors only show up here and there (most notably in Richard II). My brain is constantly processing all of the prose and poetry I’ve read that might possibly contain mirrors. It’s like a game for me.

Perhaps more fun, though, comes after I’ve located a work fulfilling my requirements. I love to consider all the different uses to which these mirrors are put. In “The Rape of the Lock,” the mirror represents vanity. Similarly in “Snow White,” the magic mirror is a symbol of vanity, but also of truth. In Through the Looking Glass, Alice’s journey inside the mirror explores the opposite nature of a reflection. The Mirror of Erised in the first installment of Harry Potter is the mirror motif used to represent the ‘ideal’ image. The magical mirror that connects Beauty to the Beast in their story is a tool to help Beauty ‘see’ the Beast in a different way. So many different uses for one symbol.

Its versatility makes it an ideal candidate for a over-arching image for a series of novels. While “The Lady of Shalott” and its inspiration stuck with me for eight years before I starting working in earnest on my story, I’m hoping that the mirror motif stays fresh in my mind until I feel ready to create the next installment of my Mirror Series. Frustratingly, I’m hesitant to proceed until I find an agent for the first novel. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another eight years. Of course, I have a feeling I won’t mind, in the end. More time for practice and blog posts in between.

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