Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Metaphor or Truth?

Sharon Wildwind

This is going to be the shortest blog on record. I’m up to my eyebrows in deadlines and my brain is fried. Hey, “up to my eyebrows” and "my brain is fried": are metaphors: ways of comparing two things, saying one is the other. Here are two quotes I collected at the World Fantasy Convention last year. I thought both of them were terrific examples of how, as writers, we write one thing and, as times change, the reader gets a completely different meaning.

Anyone got any other examples of where one thing was true when the book was written, but it’s a whole new ball game now?

Homer wrote of a “wine-dark sea,” and for centuries readers took this to be a metaphor. The sea can take you places in the same way that too much wine can take you places. But what if Homer was speaking the truth? Possibly, in Homer’s time
a) the water in the Mediterranean was actually wine-colored.
b) wine was a different color.
c) people’s eyes could not process the color turquoise. There is some evidence in painting to indicate that turquoise became a recognizable color in the 1600 or 1700s.
~Violette Malan, Canadian author

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” That’s the opening line of William Gibson’s Neuromancer. When that book was published in 1984, Gibson was referring to a mixed white-and-gray color, which was what a viewer saw on a dead channel. The metaphor was intended to set the tone for a dis-topian, cyber-punk universe.

As satellite technology developed, the color of a dead channel changed to a bright, electric blue. A reader who grew up after the proliferation of satellite television would see a very different image from what the author originally intended.
~Robert J. Sawyer, Canadian author


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

The most obvious one is "gay"--as recently as the Fifties, even the Sixties, it meant "cheerful and lively." As for the "wine-dark sea," Homer was talking not about the Mediterranean, which is turquoise, but the Aegean. I remember taking a ferry from Athens to Crete in 1966 and thinking that Homer got it right, not for the color of wine, but for the darkness of the sea, which was such a deep midnight blue it was almost black.

Sandra Parshall said...

Windows users know "the blue screen of death" all too well -- and unfortunately, it's the literal truth, not a metaphor!