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Ancient Symbology in Fantasy Literature
William Indick
McFarland, 203 pages

Ancient Symbology in Fantasy Literature
William Indick
William Indick is an associate professor of psychology at Dowling College in Oakdale, New York. He is the author of several other books on psychology and cinema, and has written for numerous psychology journals. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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A review by Nathan Brazil

'Only myths aspire to address the ultimate questions of our existence.'
Intended for both academic readers and laymen, Dr. William Indick has produced a small book about big ideas. Specifically, the archetypal symbols which are the basis of fantasy fiction, from the fairy tales of the Middle Ages to the million-selling genre of the present day including such celebrated works as King Arthur, The Lord of the Rings and the inevitable Harry Potter. Traditional myths are used for guidance and as a starting point, from which the author offers insight based on his psychological interpretation of the figures and themes addressed. Individual chapters are dedicated to important, reoccurring archetypes such as heroes, royalty, various users of magic, and the magical beasts. Each analysis is interpreted according to classic psychoanalytical studies.

Potential readers who are now thinking that this is a stuffy, highbrow work, may like to reserve judgement. I found it to be carefully written work, providing an expert view in a manner that, while not intended for those who have trouble with more than two syllables, stayed the right side of accessible. Indick explains in a manner that is revealing, without becoming patronising or intellectual to a point where, for most people, focus might begin to wander. Indeed, the author clearly loves his subject and takes care to ensure that readers stay with him, and by so doing learn something worthwhile. In particular, that a myth is not there to instruct us as to how we should live or what we should think, in the inflexible manner of a political ideology or religious doctrine. But rather, a myth is at heart intended to present us with symbols that are both guides and inspirations. Islands in the stream of consciousness from which we can -- and in most cases should -- decrypt our own interpretations. Many archetypes are given space here, including traditional hero figures, and classics of fantasy literature such as the Bothers Grimm. When discussing Grimm and other classic fairy tales, Indick presents as clear view of the intended meaning, as opposed to the saccharine sweet, blatantly sanitized Hollywood versions that are sadly more familiar today. One example that I'd like to mention being the hourglass of red sand owned by the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. A prop which, originally, symbolizes the blood synonymous with female maturity.

Ancient Symbology in Fantasy Literature pulls off a rare trick by being useful as an aid to those interested in serious academic study, and as a source of entertaining enlightenment for more casual readers. I can recommend the work to readers who would like to scratch beneath the glossy surface of fantasy literature. The glimpses of unreality on offer are the literary equivalent of a digital camera shooting RAW in preference to JPG; subtle details are available for those who wish to tease them out, and those details can make all the difference in seeing what is actually present.

Copyright © 2012 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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