Objects in Fiction


Don’t object to this post, gangsters.

When one thinks of ‘objects’ in fiction, two questions may come to mind: how do literal objects drive a story’s plot, as well as, what impact do these objects have on fictional worlds or entities?

Think of the ring in The Lord of the Rings; the horcruxes in Harry Potter; the apple in Snow White. The mirror in Sleeping Beauty. Just thinking of the white rabbit and his pocket watch sends your mind reeling down the rabbit hole with Alice. And what about King Arthur and his round table?

I am drawing my philosophy on this topic from an excellent academic article in which the author explained the myth of King Arthur:

“People originally supposed that King Arthur was a real person, a British leader who ruled England after the departure of the Romans, until it was discovered that King Arthur is merely a figure of legend, a fictional entity. It was this discovery that licensed the conclusion that King Arthur doesn’t exist.”

King Arthur and his round table is so embedded in the stories many of us are told from such a young age; how could we forget that he didn’t really exist?

Fictional objects act as tiny portals of discovery for the reader. Fiction is, after all, how we acquire the things we may desire, but may not be able to access in real life. When we write fictional stories, we create these worlds in which those things are possible. We use dialogue to progress a plot and tell our readers more about the characters. We use narrative voice to give a point of view. We use objects to give meaning to our characters and the world they exist in. Sometimes our setting is a separate fictional object or entity, and other times it could be a true place where fictional characters tell their story in a non-fictional backdrop.

“Fictional characters belong to the class of entities variously known as fictional entities or fictional objects or ficta, a class that includes not just animate objects of fiction (fictional persons, animals, monsters, and so on) but also inanimate objects of fiction such as fictional places (Anthony Trollope’s cathedral town of Barchester and Tolkien’s home of the elves, Rivendell, for example). As stated, however, it doesn’t include entities located in the real world, although real entities do have an important role to play in works of fiction. Thus, neither London nor Napoleon are fictional entities, although the first is the quite essential backdrop to what goes on in the Holmes stories while the second plays an important role in the events described in War and Peace.”

At the Newcastle Writers Festival last month, I listened in on a panel discuss how reality influences the author’s fiction work. Stella Prize winner Charlotte Wood was on that panel. When asked by the panel why she had chosen fiction as her writing genre instead of history or memoir, Charlotte said that she had been moved by an event in the past, and wanted to explore it without stealing the voices of those who had suffered through an ordeal. She created fictional objects and characters, set within a true place, to serve the reader their desire for exploration.

What I can derive from this is that fiction is a separate entity because it allows us to follow our desires, fulfil ourselves with things we can not have in the real world, in a true place. Characters and physical objects in fictional entities hold a mirror up to ourselves, and allow us to see a different perspective. Once we return through that mirror, the symbolism of those objects is how we remember the lesson learned – lessons of power, control and possession. And change.

You might question the importance of fiction itself a little. And that’s okay.

Peace out.