There are perils in the world of literature that games have so far seemed to avoid. Overanalysis is one of those perils. This is a very serious disease that we may hope never reaches the gaming industry. It is an insidious disease that does nothing but confuse the reader/player and suck a lot of the fun out of a good story.
For instance, did you know that Little Red Riding Hood is vibrant portrayal of feminine oppression in the Middle Ages? Personally, I have lived most of my life with the unenlightened view that it is the most recent version of an old peasant?s tale. Despite the best efforts of several educated people, I still hold that opinion.
How about The Epic of Gilgamesh. That particular tale holds very deep meanings, with every last monster and giant being symbolic for something. What each monster is a symbol of really depends on who you talk to, but I have been repeatedly assured that this tale is much more than it appears to be on the surface. Personally, I still think it is a pretty neat adventure story that really should be made into a movie. Preferably with Sean Connery as Gilgamesh. Again, many educated people have tried very hard to convince me that I am very wrong in this, and that such things as the theological conflict between monotheism and polytheism are the real driving forces behind the epic.
For myself, I think the names in the story are hard enough to say without tossing in more multisyllabic nonsense.
I could go on making examples out of just about every well known tale too old to have made a best seller list. And many that have made those lists are given this same treatment.
Is there something wrong with a story being just and simply that, a story? Certainly we can learn much about the people that created the ancient tales in my examples, but there is a point at which reading meanings into them becomes simply ridiculous. For instance, from Little Red Riding Hood, we can guess that the forest was not a safe place to be. From Gilgamesh we can reasonably reason that the time was dangerous, and that some events may have been explained as the work of the gods or monsters. Such conjectures are a far cry from attempting to say that the woodsman is in reality a symbol of the male ego. I do not see why the woodsman has to be a symbol for anything; why can he not just be a woodsman?
I think we risk losing something every time a story is analyzed to death. Not all literature has to have a meaning. Sometimes a story is good simply because it is a good story. That opinion, however, seems to be the one opinion that is not allowed. Rather than merely appreciate an epic for the enjoyment it brings, a substantial portion of our society has to weave into the fabric of the tale a secretive psychological meaning. I am afraid that such analysis in fact lessens the story, rather than making it greater. Instead of happily enjoying a good fairly tale, I am confronted with the same highly charged political disputes that have graced our newspapers for decades. Instead of literature providing an escape from reality, that peculiar segment of our culture is attempting to force on unwilling entertainment a more significant reason for existence that simply is not there.
Pick up an unabridged version of the Huckleberry Finn. Flip through the pages that precede the story, and find there the few lines that Mark Twain penned before the story ever begins. Then look over the lists of banned books, and find that same title. Mark Twain clearly stated he did not want the reader trying to find a meaning in what he wrote. So what has our culture done? We have banned this book, in part because of a meaning we have forced on it, clearly against the will of the author. Hunt down an unedited copy, and you will quickly see why I am afraid that by forcing on unwilling literature the politics of our times, we risk damaging that literature for generations.
Some authors and works I readily concede are symbolic and do contain meanings that are only available to those who give them thought. C.S. Lewis laced his wonderful fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia with subtle Christian theology. Robert Heinlein has written several novels in which he seems to be making a point of some kind, foremost in my head being Stranger in a Strange Land I have no idea which of the myriad of points I have been told he was making he was really making; I read it because it is a really good book.
If a book makes me think, like Heinlein does, then it is a good book that makes me think. If has a subtle lesson, like Aesops Fables, then it is a good book with a lesson. If even the most radical psychoanalyzing guru cannot find a hidden message, then it is a good book without a message or a moral or a meaning. But it is still a good book, and I think it should be read and appreciated for that.
Quality literature does not need anyone to justify its quality. Bringing enjoyment is justification enough for any story. If, like some, the story has a message built in, then credit the author for giving the reader thought-provoking enjoyment. I am not convinced, though, that asking ?What is the author trying to say?? is a valid treatment for every tale. If the answer to the question is merely ?I hope you enjoy yourself,? then I wish it could left at that.
I am not optimistic though, that our culture will ever stop overanalyzing everything it comes in contact with. That, in turn, makes me wonder what will happen when that peculiar segment gets bored with literature and starts in on movies (which has already happened), and games.
I can hear it now… “The Diablo series is more than a leading cause of carpal tunnel among gamers! It is really an insightful portrayal of the struggles inherent to a misunderstood younger sibling growing up in a hostile society!”
But that is a different story altogether.
Disclaimer: Salem?s Fire was written by Luke Blaize during 2002-2004, and hosted by Diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.