It may not be obvious from a first reading of Noble: A Faerie Tale, but I am quiet the symbolic writer. Symbolism in writing is something that has interested me for a long time, and thus I have liberally injected various symbols in my own writing for years. Let’s take a look at some of the symbolism that I have deliberately written into Noble. You, the reader, of course, my find other interpretations I never intended, but are there for you, nonetheless.
Faerie Tale Motifs: Noble was, obviously, inspired by the Cinderella story. One day, years ago, I was sitting in a Barnes & Noble café, reading The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales. After reading Cinderella, I decided that I wished to write my own faerie tale. (As you can tell, I prefer the Gaelic spelling of “faerie,” as opposed to the more common “fairy.”) I thought then that it would be fun to take the basic idea of the story, and flip it around so that the boy is the poor peasant, and the girl is royalty. It was then that the long journey from a short story to the novel you, hopefully, have sitting in front of you right now.
The Grimm Brothers did not create the tales in their now-famous collection. Rather, those stories come from the ancient Germanic oral tradition that was passed down generation-to-generation for hundreds of years. All Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm did was to write them all down for the first time.
By the time the two brothers were busy compiling their Kinder-un Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales), Germany had long since converted to Christianity, and so on the surface their tales reflected the Christian values of the time. But those stories pre-dated the Christian era by centuries, and so, in-between the lines, if one knows where to look, one can see the pagan roots of each tale. A few examples are as follows:
The Oak Tree – Ancient Germanic peoples worshiped their God, Odin (Norse), or Woden (Anglo-Saxon) in sacred oak groves.
Names for God – In Norse mythology, the chief-God, Odin, had many nicknames. The two most common were “Allfather” and “the Good God.” This can be seen throughout the Grimm fairy tales. For example, in Hansel and Gretel, Hansel tells his scared little sister, “Don’t worry, Gretel, the Good God will protect us.” At the beginning of Cinderella, Cinderella’s dying mother tells her daughter that “if you are pious, the Good God will protect you.” When reading this, most of us assume “the Good God” is a reference to the Christian God, but it is not. It is a reference to Odin (Woden).
Connection to Nature – There is a precedent in faerie tales, long before Disney, for the hero or heroine to have a strong connection to nature. Many centuries before watching woodland creatures do housework on the big screen; Germanic peoples were telling stories about rural folks who were connected to the land. While they weren’t necessarily whistling and singing to the birds, these characters had deep roots into the earth itself. Nature was their home, and they felt most comfortable in it.
Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey: Comparative mythologist, Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), wrote a best-selling book, called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In it, he outlined a “Hero’s Journey,” which was remarkably similar throughout the myths of many different cultures from around the world. Although the details varied from tale-to-tale, the basic outline was always the same.
A Herald Calls the Hero to Adventure – A character known as a “herald” calls the hero to adventure. Typically, the hero is from some small village in the middle of nowhere that no one has ever heard of. His life is simple and his world is very small. Though he usually wishes for more, he doesn’t much expect things to change. Then, suddenly, it does, when the herald calls him to adventure. In Noble, the oak tree acts as the herald, calling Lucas to adventure.
Refusal of the Call – Initially, the hero often refuses the call, or is hesitant to go on the adventure. Lucas says the oak tree, “I shouldn’t go,” and “what about me mum?” He is scared, and unsure of himself. After some prompting from the oak, Lucas finally accepts his adventure.
Descent into the Underworld – In most tales, Campbell found, there was a descent into the underworld, which, for the hero, was a metaphorical death and rebirth. You see, the hero has to die to his old self in order to be reborn into that which he is destined to become. In Noble, there are actually three different scenes which symbolize a metaphorical death and rebirth for Lucas.
The first is the dream he has at the beginning of the book, where Lucas falls into the earth. Recall that in the dream, there is an earthquake, and Lucas falls into a deep chasm. After hearing the voice of the caterpillar, he sprouts wings and then flies back out into the sunshine of the world above. This foreshadows the transformation that will happen to him later in the story.
The second is entering the Black Forest (named after the same Black Forest in Germany, in which so many of the Grimm faerie tales take place). Forests often symbolize the entering of the “liminal space,” as mythologists would say, which is a space in-between a metaphorical death and rebirth.
The third, of course, is when Lucas and Stefanie are literally deep underground when chained up in Thanatos’ castle. Escaping back to the surface represents a metaphorical rebirth.
Another piece of major symbolism in Noble is the second dream he has, before venturing out to rescue Stefanie. From the book:
Darkness completely surrounded Lucas. Nothing was visible. It was darker than the darkest pocket of the darkest part of the forest during the darkest part of the night. A flame lit in front of him. In his hand was a torch he did not even know he was carrying. The illumination cast off from the fire revealed rock walls. He could see no opening, and figured he must be deep underground.
As Lucas tread carefully through the rocky passage, he noticed bits of treasure lying here and there; gold coins, diamonds, jewels, and ancient artifacts. The further he traveled in the more the amount of treasure strewn about increased. At first, he encountered just tiny piles of the stuff that were easy to step around, but now the gold and jewels were so thick upon the ground he had to step over them.
Lucas was tempted to pick up some of the coins and stuff them in his purse. This could free me mum. But he feared that this was not his treasure to take, and so he pressed on. Eventually, he could see the tunnel opened up into a larger room. Before he could reach it, though, a loud, and foreboding, voice echoed through the cavern.
“Go no further, peasant boy. You will not like what you find.”
Before he could take another step, a column of flame shot out from the larger cave. Though it barely missed engulfing Lucas, the heat singed his hair and burned his skin. The air around him was now so hot it hurt to breathe. The fire was baking his lungs. He could feel himself suffocating.
Some might think this dream is foreshadowing Lucas’ fight with the dragon in a few chapters, but that is not what was intended. In mythology, dragons live in caves and hoard treasure. On one level, this can be seen as symbolizing greed. On a deeper level, though, the treasure can be a symbol for something much more positive.
In Jungian psychology, the underground, or underworld, represents the unconscious and literal treasure symbolizes psychological treasure. Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) and others, have noted that people don’t just repress aspects of their personality they deem dark, sinful, or evil, but also often repress the best in themselves. The Jonah Complex, as Maslow called it, is one in which one fears rising above ordinariness, and striving for great things.
In this case, the treasure in Lucas’ dream is, indeed, his take. It is his own greatness that has been repressed, his own best qualities which have remained, thus far, unused.
Coming of Age: Boy to Man – Finally, there is a consistent coming-of-age theme throughout Noble. In the beginning of the story, Lucas is still very much a boy. He carries around a toy sword, spends much of his time daydreaming, often up in his tree, and speaks and acts as a child. The Lucas at the start of the book is innocent and naïve. He has been brought up with good values, and so is eager to please and help others, but is easily taken advantage of.
By the end of Noble, we see a different Lucas, entirely. Now he is a young man, able to take charge of the situation, come up with plans, and direct others on what to do. Whereas before, he was shunned by his fellow townsfolk, at the end our tale he is one who commands respect, and is given it. He is looked up to for advice, and asked for guidance. By the end of the story, Lucas is acting like the Sir Luke he is pretending to be.