Our third guestblog for the 18 days of Tesseracts comes from David Jon Fuller, whose story “The Harsh Light of Morning” is part of Wrestling With Gods: Tesseracts 18.
It’s funny how an idea can get stuck in your mind and stay there.
For me, the concept of what a symbol is wasn’t something I bothered thinking about until two separate times in my life. One, watching “Fright Night” in high school. Two, trying to understand what a theatre prof in university meant when he went on a tangent about the difference between a metaphor and a symbol.
But first: some backstory.
Vampires have always creeped me out. I do enjoy the fun recent incarnations (hello Angel, Blade, et. al.) but when you get right down to it, at their core they speak to a certain dread — usually, that people are prey.
But there is always hope — folklore gives us tools to strike back at the monster. The sign of the cross is one of them. A powerful symbol of Christ, and therefore, of good; it can drive back the vampire, an incarnation of evil if there ever was one.
Cue up “Fright Night,” with Chris Sarandon’s charming creature of darkness confronting Roddy McDowall’s horror expert, who tries to ward him off with a crucifix. The vampire crushes it and declares: “You have to have faith for this to work on me!”
Hm, I thought. Would that apply to any religious symbol?
I mostly ignored that, though, as I was becoming less and less religious the older I got (I was raised Lutheran, and have attended non-denominational churches), until a few years into university, when one of my professors clarified the meaning of two words he felt, I think, that we students had been flinging around carelessly. A symbol, he said, is something that stands for another thing — but its meaning isn’t necessarily set (crucial new piece of information, for me) — whereas a metaphor is a symbol whose meaning IS set (one thing is clearly meant to stand in for another specific thing).