Writing Quasi-Allegories (Allegory Pt 3)

As I noted in my previous post (Part 2), a full-fledged allegory is hard to write.

The whole whole point of an allegory is that the reader may start out interested in it as a story, but by the end the reader shouldn’t care about the story. The reader should be interested in the moral lesson instead.

Pulling this off is difficult. It requires following a lot of limits that storytellers aren’t used to normally following.

However, you don’t necessarily have to make an entire story allegorical. Many authors write quasi-allegories. In these works, the story has sections that are allegorical (didactic tone, important lessons) and other sections that are simply good narrative.

For example, G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday follows Gabriel Syme, a Scotland Yard detective who infiltrates a terrorist organization.

Until the last three chapters, the story is a combination of a spy thriller, an adventure story, and a comedy as the hero tries to stop the organization.

Then in the last two chapters, we discover the organization’s leader, codenamed “Sunday,” is actually Syme’s boss at Scotland Yard.

When Syme and his fellow detectives catch up to him, Sunday describes himself as “the peace of God.”

The story suddenly becomes allegorical. Sunday represents God. Syme and his friends, who each react to Sunday in different ways, represent differing philosophies.

Looking back you see how Chesterton set the stage for this twist in earlier chapters. But that doesn’t change the fact that most of the things that precede it (car chases, sword fights, witty dialogue about how to speak in code) have no allegorical elements. So, The Man Who Was Thursday is a novel with an allegorical ending, not an allegory all the way through.

Similarly, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia (which I mentioned in the first post in this series) has many allegorical elements.

In the first book, Aslan is clearly God. His choice to let the White Witch kill him represents Christ’s crucifixion. Edmund, the child Aslan dies for, clearly represents Judas and later humanity as a whole.

However, Edmund’s siblings don’t seem to represent any Biblical characters. For that matter, the children’s journey (going through a wardrobe into a magical land) doesn’t represent humans entering heaven or anything like that. So, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is a great fantasy story with allegorical moments.

Symbols are clues in the story hinting at a whole other level you didn’t realize was there. Allegories are moral lessons cleverly disguised as stories until the storytelling recedes and you become engrossed in the moral lesson. Quasi-allegories stands between those two options, providing something you can enjoy as a story or as a moral lesson.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this brief article series on allegory versus symbolism. Please comment below if you have any allegories or thoughts on allegory you’d like to share.

4 thoughts on “Writing Quasi-Allegories (Allegory Pt 3)

  1. Pingback: What’s An Allegory (Allegory Pt 2) – G. Connor Salter

  2. Vern

    Chesterton’s allegorical twist reminds me of Aesop’s Fables. Which of course are allegorical parables, most of the time. The movement from Perception to Meaning always intrigues me. I wonder if Chesterton planned his ending before he began. Or just stumbled upon it…


  3. Pingback: Breaking a Genre Gently: Thoughts on What Makes Art Work – G. Connor Salter

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