Most of my phone call this morning with old pal Betty Carter revolved around gossip, grandchildren and the pleasures of being a Scorpio in an unsuspecting world, but Betty did advance a question that I thought might be of interest here. "Have you noticed," she asked, "that most of the book debate this year has been about allegory?" and went on to mention The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Gossamer, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. It's true that each of these titles has inspired strong reactions; also true that what's often being debated is "the lesson" of each story, both its nature and effectiveness. All stories have lessons, of course, but these three seem particularly fixed upon "the representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form," my digital AHD's definition of allegory.
Betty also included Jeannette Winter's picture book Mama in this group, but I'm not so sure about that one. Fable, maybe, except it's practically nonfiction. (And, jeez, that's another discussion. While looking back over the year's books for our Fanfare list, we're finding many whose adherence to a given genre seems distinctly optional.) But like the novels above, it's brought the knives out. Why is that? I'm all for a little sharp carving, but I'm wondering if there's something in the nature of allegory itself that prompts the strong response.