Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

Fantasy Motif Metaphors: Magical Powers as Exceptionality in Disney's the Incredibles and Zizou Corder's Lion Boy Trilogy

Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

Fantasy Motif Metaphors: Magical Powers as Exceptionality in Disney's the Incredibles and Zizou Corder's Lion Boy Trilogy

Article excerpt

While works of the fantasy genre convey literal stories which make sense according to the laws of their fictional worlds, the very impossibilities of these narratives invite further readings of their 'secondary or tertiary levels of meaning' (Bleiler 1983, p.vii; also see McGillis 1996a, p.72; Walsh 1981, p.38). Such readings have been generated through the analytical lenses of allegory, parable, fable, symbol and metaphor. A specific focus upon the operation of metaphor in recurrent fantasy motifs enables a precise analysis of fantasy's secondary levels of meaning. Such a methodology scrutinises fantasy's engagement with cultural assumptions and ideas, highlighting the ideological implications of fantasy and thus verifying fantasy's inherent relevance to reality. This article aims to illustrate the value of this methodology by analysing the motif of magical powers as exceptionality in Disney's The Incredibles (2003) and Zizou Corder's Lion Boy trilogy (2003-2005).

Fantasy Motif Metaphors

Stith Thompson famously described a motif as 'any item in tales' which is 'out of the ordinary, something of sufficiently striking character to become a part of tradition, oral or literary' (1966, 1: p. 19; also see 1950, p.753). Such a definition of motif has been criticised for being 'both vague and ambiguous; it variously refers to theme, plot (tale type), actor, item (object), or descriptive element' (Apo 1997, pp.563-564). However, motif is a useful term when separated from theme (Daemmrich and Daemmrich 1987, p. 188; Abrams 1993, p. 121). A motif is best distinguished as a concrete plot element or image at the level of story which conveys an abstract concept or theme at the level of significance. The power of fantasy motifs lies not in their contribution to storyline, but in the figurative significances they carry.

A motif metaphor is a particular manifestation of conceptual metaphor. In their pioneering work on conceptual metaphor, Lakoff and Johnson argue that 'our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature' (1980, p.3). Conceptual metaphors thus permeate our cultures and the ways we think about the world in which we live. However, such metaphors are often only studied in terms of their manifestation at a micro-level in linguistic metaphors embedded in words, sentences, or phrases of texts.

Such an approach is of little use in analysing the figurative function of fantasy as a discourse or genre, for in most narratives in the contemporary fantasy genre the language describing fantastic events is meant to be interpreted on a literal level for the purpose of story. When we read, for example, about a human character transforming into a lion this is not meant to be interpreted as a mere figurative expression of courage but as a literal description of a fantastic event (cf. Black 1962, p.33, p.36). There may be such meaning in the event but the figurative significance is not conveyed through linguistic metaphor. It is evident in the motif structure.


A practicable methodology for analysing motif metaphors reworks well-known terminology. The basic structure of linguistic metaphors framed by Richards (1936) and developed by Black (1962) is theoretically superimposed onto the operation of fantasy motifs. Richards conceptualised linguistic metaphors as composed of three parts--the tenor ('the underlying idea or principal subject which the vehicle or figure means'); the vehicle (the figurative expression or conveyance), and the ground (the common signified or area of relationship shared by tenor and vehicle) (1936, pp.96-100). The meaning of a linguistic metaphor is a product of the interaction between the meanings of the vehicle and the tenor (1936, p. 100).

Black further developed Richards' 'interactionist view' of metaphor (Abrams 1993, p.68). In the context of motif metaphors, his most useful idea is his suggestion that the vehicle of a metaphor carries a system of associated implications which serve as a filter through which to understand the tenor. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.