For the past week or so I have been without internet so for entertainment I turned to my DVD collection. I watched Mirrormask. I first found this film years ago as surprise for my then girlfriend who was working on something Gaiman related. I loved the visual style, reminiscent of DiTerlizzi’s art, and the off-beat story.
It’s about a young girl running away from the circus to find a real life. Except it’s a journey to another realm, it’s a story about growing up and finding your place in the world. Except it is not. It’s the story of how parents justify the change in their daughter as she is getting older, and her eventual capitulation to their wishes for her. The film is a mother’s coma dream, we only see the real daughter through the windows of the mirrorworld as she eats chips, kisses boys and rebels in tiny teenage ways; I think I fell out of love with the film on this viewing as it presents an ultimately defeatist moral: children should not grow beyond what their parents want.
On Thursday 24 July, my second to last day working at RBS, one of my colleagues approached me to discuss writing. He had read one of my pieces of short fiction (Abyss) and wanted to talk about it. Full disclosure, he had asked about my writing the week before because he thought his daughter might be interested in it. This was not contact with a secret fan.
He was very diplomatic but I could tell what he wanted to say was that he didn’t like it. It was too odd. He did have some questions, specifically about the shark. What did it mean?
Here is a conundrum. I wrote Abyss in 2010-2011. I do not remember any specific symbolism I had attached to the shark. I could have just said that but it would have been a disappointment. Let me expand on the why of this.
The popular conception of the self includes a fixed notion of self, a person unaltered by the passage of time and experience. At core I remain the same person as the one who wrote Abyss. Alongside that is the somewhat semi-divine perception of the writer as someone communicating profound truth. We are taught from an early age to approach books as a source of exegesis.
So to answer the question I thought about the shark, about what it might mean now, and I settled on the Kantian sublime (or a loose understanding thereof). The shark represents that raw presence of nature greater than a human to which our initial response is terror but as a function of consciousness we expand to include. By allowing the shark and the ancient world to which it is attached, the characters become greater than they were.
Alternate answers could be that the shark is a manifestation of the hostile sea; or it represents the transition of a boundary, the cross over from sanity to madness; or it is a short-hand for intensely alien life outside human experience. It could be all those things.
What I am saying is that I am a liar, and also a little forgetful. You should not trust me on these things.