Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Reflections of Thought

Mirrors are imbedded deep in myth and legend, in superstition and occultology, in the psyche of introspection.
Mirrors - natural or chancy, fragile artifice - may represent paths, power tools, revelations, imprisonment, divination, transportation, deceit or dangers to the soul.
When writers think of mirrors they may first remember the admonition against the trite device of use: as a lazy means of providing physical description of a main character.
They may review also a mirror's use as a deeper tool: Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass, other familiar memories - via Disney or Little Golden Books - of mirror,mirror, on the wall, or remember effective motifs in favourite fantasy novels.

Among my collection of Quaint Old Books, I have The Reader's Handbook, revised 1919.
The frontice proclaims it a comprehensive collection "of Famous Names in Fiction, Allusions, References, Proverbs, Plots, Stories and Poems."
Seems there are a lot of famous mirrors in literature.

Alasman's Mirror: from Arabian Nights, a mirror ( called "the touchstone of virtue") It showed if a beautiful girl was also chaste and virtuous.

Cambuscan's Mirror: from Canterbury Tales, sent to the king of Tartary by the king of Araby and Ind. When consulted, it warned of adversity, identified friend or foe and revealed if love was returned.

Lae's Mirror: in Goldsmith's Citizen of the World. A looking-glass which reflected the mind as well as the body.

Merlin's Magic Mirror: Spencer's Fairie Queene. Also referred to as Venus's Mirror or the Mirror of king Ryence. it would show to those who looked therein anything that pertained to them.

Vulcan's Mirror: Sir John Davies Orchestra (1615). Made by Vulcan, revealed the past, present and future.

Kelly's Mirror: aka the devil's looking-glass, from Samuel Butler's Hudibraes. Dr. Dee's spherical speculum, similar in power to Merlin's Mirror and also equivalent to the pool mirror of Rider Haggard's She.

A comprehensive utility for the imagination.


M.E Ellis said...

I've cheated in one of mine and used the mirror for a character description.

I'm going to be looking out for mirror refs forevermore now!



S. W. Vaughn said...

Ooh, I want a Lae's Mirror!

(I did that too, M.E., though I'd like to think it was necessary for the story... you may recall the incident! :-)

MissWrite said...

Mirrors are eyes do for others, mirrors do for us--they make us examine ourself--and hopefully see what's inside as well as out.

MissWrite said...

And I want to thank you because you just sparked a little idea for a bit in a story I'm working on... if you ever read 'Core' maybe you'll smile when you see it.

Ric said...

Sometimes even modern writers use mirrors to good effect. The Mirror of Erised - J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter - shows the deepest, most desperate desires of our hearts. The mirror is moved to resist the temptation to keep looking at it. "It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live."

I used mirrors to indicate character traits.
"the harsh light in the restaurant restroom caused him to pause. The girl at his table was flirting and he was enjoying flirting back. But the reimagined youth, so strong in his mind, did not gaze back from the mirror. This was a much older man, who looked suspiciously like his father."

Bernita said...

Think that agents' condemnations usually apply to the mirror as cliche tool in the first couple of pages, Michelle.
Have seen it used effectively and unobtrusively elsewhere.

We shouldn't expunge all mirrors, Sonia. Damn, if someone has been beaten up, for example, of course they are going to survey themselves in a mirror.

One could say that writers are Lae's Mirrors, you know.

Lovely, Tami! Always feel pleased when something like that happens.

Bernita said...

Yes,Ric, there are many, many modern examples.
Mirrors - whether lake surface or silvered - are inextricable metaphors for our perception and understanding.
That's an excellent example of clever use.

archer said...

My all-time favorite mirror is the horrible one in Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen--the Devil's mirror that makes everything beautiful look horrible and everything horrible look even worse, and how it falls and breaks into a million pieces and one gets into the little boy's eye and another piece into his heart and--oh, hell, read the story again. You won't believe what you missed as a little kid. It's absolutely gut-wrenching stuff.

normiekins said...

brilliant post....and how amazing the average person views a mirror extrospect

Bernita said...

Vaguely remember that one, Archer, and my decision never to read it again.

Thank you, Normiekins. Writers try overt/invert/subvert/divert/revert to convey ideas.

Savannah Jordan said...

Like M.E., I also used the mirror for character description. But, I have always hated books that started with, "A flaxen haired maiden, of ample bosom and narrow waist..." I sketch out fine details, like eye colour and leave much to the imagination of the reader.

One of my favourite books was by Margaret Douglas, about a silver-eyed seeress, who could not look upon her own reflection lest she lose her magick powers. *sigh* I still love that concept.

Bernita said...

I prefer that other characters mostly provide the "mirror" for physicals, Savannah but love it when a mirror is used as a magical tool/talisman or reflects, as in your example, something of arcane theory.

Robyn said...

A fave sci fi story, Through a Glass Darkly, has a heroine from our world sucked through a mirror into another that has no mirrors, at least no clear ones. Her talent is being able to behold herself in the glass; all the people in the alternate world go mad if they see their true reflection.

Gabriele C. said...

Isn't there a mirror in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, too, where Harry can see his parents?

And Perseus' shield by which he defeats the gorgo Medusa. A motive used by Lars Gustafsson in The Third Castling of Bernard Foys (in case that book ever got translated, Bernard Foys tredje rockad) where he play with mirrors, memories and the distortion of both.

Bernita said...

An intriguing variant, Robyn! Tying mirror as mechanism (Alice) with mirror as perceptions of self.

That's the case Ric mentioned, Gabriele, the dangerous Mirror of Erised.
The book Savannah cited seems to reflect the Medusa myth.
Melanie Rawn in her Dragon Star series, uses mirrors in a variety of roles if I remember correctly, including imprisoning a sorcerer's soul.

spy scribbler said...

This isn't a book, so it doesn't count ... but one of my favorite movies, when I was growing up, was The Neverending Story. The mirror was the greatest test of a ... erm, boy who has to save the world. All these great and strong warriors before had died in front of the mirror, because they couldn't face their own true selves.

Details are a little fuzzy, but I even refer to that movie, especially the mirror scene, with students.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Neverending Story is also one of me and the DH favorites...reading that comment prompted us to watch it tonight!

I'm looking for a reliquary for my next WIP...The mirror thing could be an interesting twist!

Janie said...

My favourite mirror is the one belonging to Galadriel in LOTR.

I never realised there were so many mirrors out there!


Bernita said...

Perhaps a classic illustration of Lae's Mirror, my Spy?

I've always wanted to do a story involving a little house-shaped reliquary similar to the Ranvaig one, Bonnie!

A truly insidious symbol, Janie! And because of its cneturies-old associations, not one to be despised.
I suppose one could even argue that The Picture of Dorian Gray operates in essence as a mirror.

Ballpoint Wren said...

When I was a kid that was my favorite fantasy, to push through the mirror above our mantelpiece and explore the house inside it.