Word and image
Word and image

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3.2 Locating the reader in the fictional world

When we read a narrative, we create a ‘text world’ – described by Semino (1997, p. 1) as ‘the context, scenario or type of reality that is evoked in our minds during reading and that (we conclude) is referred to by the text’. Werth (1999) states that this mental space, drawn for us by the author, is one which we usually willingly enter into. When reading, we piece together a mental map from the description of a location and the way elements are described in relation to each other. Sometimes, authors draw actual maps for us. Maps help us to ‘find our feet’ by physically locating the narrative in an imaginary space; they are a fairly common strategy in literary texts. The degree to which maps insist to us that ‘this is where it all happened’ can vary: some maps are very detailed and complex (and can be vital to the reader in navigating the narrative); others are more lighthearted, such as that of the Hundred Acre Wood in A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh (Figure 7).

Figure 7
Figure 7 ‘Map of 100 Aker Wood’ from Winnie The Pooh (A.A. Milne, 1989; illustrator E.H. Shepard).

This map is poetic, in Formalist terms, for several reasons. There is deviation from standard English spelling (piknicks, 100 Aker Wood, drawn by Me and Mr Shepard helpd) and an absence of apostrophes. Other renderings of childlike speech and writing are found in floody place, sandy pit where Roo plays and, of course, heffalumps. The map also includes an unusual version of the compass. You may be able to think of other examples of maps in fiction, such as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, C.S. Lewis' ’Narnia’ books and Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Sunset Song.

Sometimes the illustrations in older books seem to be less concerned with explanation or elucidation, than with with providing visual support for the narrative, or perhaps with making a claim to authenticity. Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown's Schooldays (1949) uses illustrations in this way. Figure 8 shows an image entitled ‘A few parting words’ – a phrase that occurs in the verbal text on the previous page.

Figure 8
Figure 8 ‘A few parting words’ (Thomas Hughes, 1949, p. 62–3; illustrator S. Van Abbé).

The function of this illustration is not to tell us anything new or explain something unclear from the verbal narrative, but appears to signify ‘this is what happened, and this is exactly how it happened’. By showing us, rather than telling us, the author is appealing to what some see as our inherent trust of the visual (that ‘seeing is believing’). The book is also filled with images of parts of the British public school, Rugby, which the author attended and where the story is set (see Figure 9).

Figure 9
Figure 9 Detail of object from a page of Tom Brown's Schooldays (Thomas Hughes, 1949, p. 188).

One rationale for this use of an image is that the author supposes readers might be interested to visit the school, which still exists, and see the artefacts for themselves. But images can also make a claim to truthfulness or reality for the story: if the places and artefacts are real, then it might be easier to see the story in the same way. In linguistics this kind of claim to truthfulness would be termed ‘high modality’ – events or things are represented as if they were true and real. In semiotic terms, this image denotes a real-life artefact, but it also connotes ‘truth’, ‘reality’, perhaps ‘honesty’ – it asks us to accept its authenticity. We could therefore interpret such images as telling us something about the reliability of the narrator, or the judgement of a character, depending on what other information we have to hand as readers.


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