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Foreshadowing is a subtle hint of suspense to come. A classic example of foreshadowing is in Moby Dick. In chapter three, Ishmeal contemplates the painting in the entryway of The Spouter Inn:
"But stop; does it not bear a faint resemblance to a gigantic fish? even the great Leviathan himself?"
"The picture represents a Cape-Horner in a great hurricane; the half-foundered ship weltering there with its three dismantled masts alone visible; and an exasperated whale, purposing to spring clean over the craft, is in the enormous act of impaling himself upon the three mast-heads."
"Deeply Distressed" by Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917) ~ inspired by the above scene from Moby Dick.
Another example is from the popular novel A Game of Thrones. The dire wolf that the Stark boys found dead with an deer's antler in its throat was a hint of things to come. Okay, no spoilers for those of you just watching the series or reading the books.
Prophecy is a common component in Shakespearean and Greek tragedies. Two classic examples are Macbeth and Oedipus Rex. In Macbeth, three women, known as the weird sisters, tell Macbeth of his future rise to power. Would he have ever killed Duncan if they had not told him this destiny? There is also a component of clairvoyance and sight, in that the weird sisters are all blind, though they can see through the veil of time though a single eye they share.
"The Three Sisters" by Henry Fuseli (after 1783)
In Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Oedipus's parents are given the prophecy that the babe will grow up to kill his father and marry his mother. To prevent this, the parents commanded him to be killed, resulting in his caregiver sparing his life and giving him away to be raised by others. Would Oedipus have come back to make battle with is father if he knew of his true identity? The theme of clairvoyance and sight becomes apparent when Oedipus gouges out his eyes for his inability to see the truth.
Prophecy is often used in modern literature. The inscription on the ring in The Lord of the Ring trilogy might be considered a prophecy:
"One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all
And in the darkness bind them"
Prophecy is also a theme found in the Harry Potter series. J.K. Rolling utilizes prophecy throughout her books. In The Order of the Phoenix Harry learns of his mortal connection with Voldemort through a prophecy stored at the Ministery of Magic. Readers don't fully understand this prophecy until the final book, The Deathly Hollows. Again, I won't spoil it for those that haven't read it.
Finally, onto dramatic irony. Often confused with the previously discussed terms, dramatic irony means that the reader knows something that a character doesn't. A classic example of this takes place in act one of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet:
"Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love"
Though the readers know in the first few lines the lovers' fate, the characters never realize that their love will end in tragedy. Also, when Romeo is about to commit suicide, thinking Juliet is dead, the readers desire to tell him she is really asleep ~ thus... suspense.
An example of contemporary fantasy that incorporates dramatic irony is the Dragonlance Legends series by Weis and Hickman. In the final book A Test of Twins, Raistlin seeks to defeat the evil goddess, but the reader knows all along that he will fail.
Foreshadowing, prophecy, and dramatic irony are alive and well in contemporary fantasy. In my novel Brother, Betrayed, the hint of things to come begins with the title. Readers and authors that immerse themselves with classical examples of these literary elements will find more enjoyment and understanding when they are used in modern literature.
Please add comments of other examples you have read!
[This post is dedicated to my brother Michael, who told me he thought that modern literature has evolved out of using prophecy.]
TAGS: Shakespeare / Macbeth / Romeo and Juliet / tragedy / play / dramatic irony / prophecy / foreshadowing / J. K. Rolling / Harry Potter / The Order of the Phoenix / The Deathly Hollows / George R. R. Martin / A Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire / Starks / dire wolf / The Lord of the Rings / The Fellowship of the Rings / J. R. R. Tolkien / Dragonlance Legends / Margaret Weis / Tracy Hickman / Raistlin / Oedipus Rex / Oedipus / Sophocles / Moby Dick / Ishmeal/ Deeply Distressed / Albert Pinkham Ryder / Prologue / by Howard Shore / The Three Sisters/ Henry Fuseli / Danielle Raver / Brother, Betrayed