Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Words And Texts

Sometimes one book reminds us of another, then reflection reveals the similarities. When a Superman comic had reminded me of a Robert Heinlein novel, I was surprised to realize the similarities: both works had a lunar setting and both referred to parallel universes.

Poul Anderson's The Night Face made me think of the science fiction-based superhero series, Green Lantern. Both works involve regular faster than light interstellar travel and a mysterious planet, peaceful but with a hidden conflict. This description makes them sound closely parallel, which is entirely misleading. In fact, it was another minor feature of The Night Face that initially evoked Green Lantern.

Any word can have a specific denotation, a general connotation and accidental associations. Thus, the phrase, "the Pope":

denotes the present incumbent, Bergoglio;
connotes an entire historical institution in the Catholic Church;
reminds me of my single visit to Rome decades ago.

An author skilfully deploys denotations and connotations but cannot control the accidental associations in his readers' minds. By the same token, a reader must not let his associations get in the way of the author's meaning. That I disliked something in Rome is irrelevant when reading an account of a Pope.

The unusual word "Oa" is the name of the mysterious planet in Green Lantern and is also an interjection used by a character in The Night Face. Associations cannot be more accidental than that.

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