Books, allegory, and block-headedness


The book club with which I’m happily involved has chosen its next book.  Or, rather, I should say, “WE have chosen the next book.”  It’s a book that two of the six of us have already read, but were happy to read again, mostly to gain the perspective of the other members.  I had heard of the book, and for some reason, had really wanted to read it, so I heartily threw in my assenting vote. 

Now, I have it in my hands, and I’m hesitant to start.

It’s The Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  I don’t read reviews before I read a book;  I generally read them afterwards, if at all, so don’t tell me about it, if you’ve read it.  But, it seems to me that the book leans very heavily on allegory and metaphor.

The inside flap of the dustjacket reads thusly:

A boy

A tiger

And the vast Pacific Ocean


This is a novel of such rare and

wondrous storytelling

that it may, as one character claims,

make you believe in God.

I have thought, many times, that it’s a good thing I found God as a child, and now have a long and beautiful history of relationship with Him.  My faith is so real to me — my dear Father in Heaven is so real to me — that, honestly, it doesn’t even seem like faith.  It’s tangible.  It’s experiential.  It’s real.  If I hadn’t come to Christ as a child, and someone had tried to introduce me, as an adult, I’m positive I’d have balked.

Airy ideas are not my friends.  They never have been. 

I was scandalized when, at about the age 10, I discovered The Song of Solomon in my Bible.  My BIBLE!  I couldn’t believe it, and was so embarrassed, I couldn’t even ask my parents about its inclusion as a part of our sacred text.

Similarly, at about the age of 12, I was bewildered why my church would show, during the Sunday night adult service, an animated version of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.  I had owned a boxed set of the treasures of Narnia from C.S. Lewis for about two years, and had read all of them at least once, and most of them twice.  Yet, I had no inkling that the books were allegorical in the least.  It never dawned on me.  Ever.  I read them as purely mythical adventure stories.  And, golly, I’d been a Christian since I was four years old.  I knew the story of the crucifixion, and what its purpose was.  Yet, I didn’t grasp any parallels between it and The Lion…  Nor did I see illustrated similarities between any part of any of the Narnia books, and that of Christian life.  It wasn’t until my adulthood, really, that I saw any resemblance between faith/fact and fiction.  Now, I can see it.  Even now, as I write, the picture of Eustace becoming humbled by getting his dragon-skin layers cut and peeled off of him in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader grips my heart with a powerful conviction.  But, that didn’t happen until a few years ago, when my story-reading to the boys drove an intercept course with my spirit, and I was struck with Lewis’ truth.

So, I have a feeling that I’m not going to get as much out of Pi as I’m “supposed” to get, and all its deep, meaningful insights are going to sail right on by my concrete outlook.  All of this, I suppose, is rooted in pride, and not wanting to reveal my block-headed ignorance to the women in the group.  I just know I’m going to be frequently exclaiming, “Oh, I never saw that!” and other such expressions of lightbulb-moments as we discuss the book.  But, if there’s a group of women to do be revealed as a insightless dummy amongst, it’s that group of Godly, brainy, yet thoroughly gracious women. 

Still.  I can’t help but wish I had a copy of Mansfield Park — the last Austen novel I’ve yet to read — with which to distract myself.   

About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on May 14, 2008, in Books for children, Books I'm Reading, Christian Living, Christianity, Friendships, Introspective Musings, Memories, Movies. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I think the book holds up as an adventure/survival story, without needing to go to the allegorical too much. Though yes, it is there, so overtly at times that even the most concrete thinker will notice it. Mostly it is an engaging, “what next?” kind of read.

  2. Karen, honestly, I did not read this book as an allegory at all. I just so enjoyed the writing, the humor, the suspense – it was all about the plot, the character(s- if you count the animals) and the writing. Please do not fear – I won’t be re-reading for allegorical meaning – just for the items I mentioned. Relax into it. Dont’ try to “get” anything – I didn’t. And you know I LOVE allegory. But, not this book, for that. Really. Just enjoy. Love you, Kathy

  3. I loved it as a book. But I’m afraid it left me even more of a pagan after than before. Allegory is tricksy like that.

  4. I know this is not going to make me popular with you, but I’m not much for allegory, or even non-fiction for that matter. Unless it’s books for the kids, of course.

    Talk about block-headedness … I have never really been good at ‘getting’ metaphors, although it’s not like I’ve really tried working at it. I guess some people would say that’s a sign that I’m not very intelligent. I just like it when someone says what they mean. 🙂

  5. Melanie ~ Why would that make you unpopular with me? It’s not like I was planning on using you to help with my own allegory disability. 😀 I like it when someone says what they mean, too.

    Although, I must say that reading Jane Austen has given me a greater appreciation for gentle speech. I’m a recovering blunt person. More and more, I see the value in speaking the truth IN LOVE, in kindness, in gentleness, in deference to the feelings and situation of others. Historically, I have given more value to “saying what I mean” than to any kind of deferential preference, and that has resulted in many hurt feelings and broken relationships in my wake.

    NOT that I’m suggesting you’re the same, but I’m wondering if that base desire to say what I mean and have others do the same is rooted in the same place that makes it difficult for me to see the value/truth in allegory. Hmmm….

  6. I’m actually from the opposite pole … a recovering doormat who is learning to (occasionally) stand up for myself and set boundaries.

  7. The rabbis who taught us weren’t all that comfy with the Song of Songs, either. Their wives, however (who also were our teachers), were ever so slightly smug. makes you wonder, don’t it?

    Hmm. I read the Narnia books also, and not until I came across some of CS Lewis’ religious writings in college, did I figure Aslan out. But then I sat there muttering to myself all the way through the movie…

  1. Pingback: Now that I’ve read Life of Pi… « Only Sometimes Clever

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