REVIEW: “The Old Marvellous” by John Crowley

Review of John Crowley, “The Old Marvellous”, in Tod McCoy and M. Huw Evans, eds., Pocket Workshop: Essays on Living as a Writer (Hydra House Clarion West Writers Workshop, 2021): 79-85 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This piece has less practical advice and more ideas and issues to reflect on. Crowley’s focus in his essay is the distinction, and relationship, between allegory and symbolism. It’s hard to talk about allegory without talking about Christian theology, and there is rather more religion, and reference to C.S. Lewis, than one might have expected to find in an anthology of advice about writing. Crowley makes the astute point, though, that while “realist fictions are full of struggles between persons whose moral and spiritual parts are mostly hidden or unfixed”, in fantasy fiction these “same moral or spiritual energies” are embodied and made explicit in the story itself (p. 82). That doesn’t mean that all fantasy fiction is allegorical (nor that all allegory is religious) but that allegory is always much closer to hand for the writer (and reader!) of fantasy fiction than of realist fiction.