Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Symbols and Symbolism

In literary scholarship and criticism, any of a broad range of linguistic, cultural or personal signifiers suggesting extratextual meaning. Particularly in fantastic narratives, an early prevalence of one-to-one symbolic correspondences in Myths, Fables and Allegories led to a widespread tendency to read any symbolic fantasy as allegory, and authors from George MacDonald to J R R Tolkien complained about the "allegorization" of their texts. In many fantasies, the use of symbols is more akin to what C S Lewis called "sacramentalism", which is very nearly the opposite of allegory – "for the symbolist, it is we who are the allegory" (Allegory of Love 1936). Although the historical Symbolist movement in France, Russia, and England may have had little direct progeny in Fantasy literature, the sense of rebellion against social realism and the validation of personal and hermetic symbols almost certainly helped liberate fantasy from the stigma of apologue and broaden the possible range of its symbols. [GKW]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.