The Magic Mirror; Twelve Allegories from a Neglected Reality

Game Of Thrones isn’t escapist, it’s an allegory of today’s new feudalism
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As important as they are in older tales, mirrors are even more integral to contemporary revisions of those tales by such writers as Angela Carter, Tanith Lee, and Terry Pratchett. Here, I examine the relationship between mirrors and the element of fantasy in revisions of fairy tales, using a few key fairy-tale revisions to argue that mirrors represent a form of fantastic tale closely identified with female power and creativity. Scholars such as Luce Irigaray and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar have detailed the ways in which mirrors in literature can stand for entities hostile to women in general and to the female protagonist in particular, but I will be arguing here that in feminist revisions of fairy tales, the mirror reflects women's fantasies, experiences, and desires under conditions often hostile to their expression.

In this way, mirrors not only represent fantasy stories in general, but also, according to my formulation, specifically stories of female fantasy, desire, and transformation. The historical association between femininity and the trope of the mirror is so strong that in her comprehensive and fascinating history of the mirror, Sabine Melchior-Bonnet asserts that "[f]emininity is a creation of the mirror" Melchior-Bonnet is referring not merely to the artifice contemporary women are expected to employ in creating a socially acceptable "feminine" appearance, but to the ways in which a misogynist culture identifies the evils of womankind with the evils of the looking-glass: "From the thirteenth century on, Eve is depicted brandishing a mirror" , Eve's connection with mirrors suggests the medieval emblem of vanitas, always depicted as a woman gazing at herself in a mirror.

Metaphor as a Basic Mechanism of Art (Painting) .

As is so often the case, women are made scapegoats for failings common to both sexes as well as bearing the blame for living up to patriarchal views of their worth, by valuing their own beauty. In turn, then, many feminist critics have justifiably developed analyses that focus on the mirror's role in subjugating women. With that said, in a historical time like that which corresponds to Spain, the present, past, and future are not mere points on a line that represents astronomical time. The time of Spain as an emerging generating Empire that is beginning to show the deep wounds that its enemies, the European predatory empires, are inflicting upon it, this time is historical time - a flowing, constantly interacting collection of millions of people, each one used to eating daily and in constant agitation and interaction.

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This flowing collection, this oceanic river of people who make history and are swept away by it, can be classified in three classes or circles of people theoretically well-defined:. First, there is the circle made up by people who mutually influence one another, supporting or destroying one another during the course of their lives - a circle whose diameter can be estimated as a hundred years - the years which correspond to what I call the historical present which is not, of course, the instantaneous, adimensional present corresponding to a flowing point on the time line.

Second, there is the circle of finite, but indeterminate diameter made up by people who influence the people of the present for better or worse and whom we take as references, molding them nearly completely, but without us being able to influence them in any way, neither profoundly nor superficially, because they have died. This is the constituent circle of a historical past , the circle of the dead, those who increasingly tell the living what to do.

Finally, there is the circle of indefinite diameter made up by the people influenced by those who are living in the present, with the latter nearly molding the former entirely by marking their paths, but without the former being able to influence those who are living in the present, because they don't exist yet. This is the circle of the historical future. We have been supposing - or if it's preferred, we depart from the supposition - that the references of the symbolic allegorical characters that Cervantes offers us on the stage of his most capital work must be placed in Spain.

Spain, however, is a historical process. So to affirm that Spain is the place in which the references of the stage characters - Don Quixote, Sancho, and Dulcinea - must be placed is still not saying much. To begin, we must determine the parameters of the present, the present in which our stage is situated, and with that perspective as a platform we can look toward both the past and the future.

Undoubtedly these parameters must be obtained following the method of analysis of the literary immanence - the immanence of the stage itself, the stage on which the characters act.

These indications are various and concordant and lead us to fix the date in which the characters act - the time "of the great Philip III". Even more precisely, there is the letter that Sancho, as governor of the island of Barataria, writes to his wife Teresa Panza, dated July 20, It must be concluded then that Don Quixote took off in search of Dulcinea in those days.

The central point of his diameter is found very close to - the date of the battle of Lepanto, in which the twenty-four year old Cervantes took glorious part. From his present , of course, Cervantes summons a stage whose reference is Spain, but not exactly the Spain of the Middle Ages as Hegel thought when he interpreted Don Quixote as a symbol of the transition from the feudal to the modern period.

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Don Quixote crosses a now unified peninsula without interior borders between the Christian kingdoms and even more, without borders with the Moor kingdoms: the Spain that Don Quixote crosses is subsequent to the capture of Granada in by the Catholic Monarchs. This, therefore, is the "literary stage" not the historical stage of Don Quixote. Nevertheless, Don Quixote does not yet walk across a modern Spain Cervantes's Spain - where the smell and noise of gunpowder were well-known, where galleons came and went to America - a Spain to which there is practically no reference in the book.

In the first chapter of the book, Cervantes takes great care to tell us that the first thing Don Quixote did before leaving his house "was to clean a suit of armour that had belonged to his forefathers and that, covered in rust and mould, had been standing forgotten in a corner for centuries.


Such a demonstration, of course, can only be explained if we admit that Cervantes had known and differentiated other specific cases - as he may have done with the insanity of the lawyer of glass in his short story of the same name, El Licenciado Vidriera. Understanding the symbolic meaning of a work of art, according to Arnheim , is the main task of a viewer who looks at a picture. I well take your point, though the last line seems a bit harsh. Literary representations of donkeys from the fables of Ancient Greece to contemporary iconic texts are explored to follow the donkey through the human imaginary. Blyden is amusing as he immediately loses his ego and begs for his life when confronted with real badasses, and the story is notable for its self-aware humor. He too is given to us from the same stage: a peasant from La Mancha, the head of a family made up by his wife and two children.

However, this past, as is natural for every historical past, continued to heavily influence the present, for the "dead increasingly tell the living what to do". Nonetheless, as I have said above, Don Quixote and his group don't operate in a medieval period, but rather in a modern one.

There are no longer Moor kings in Spain. Some Moriscos that were expelled even return to Spain, and meet with Sancho:. It seems as if Cervantes had deliberately wanted to return to a previous Iberian Spain, perhaps not before the discovery of America, but as least earlier than the massive Spanish entrance in the New World Peru, Mexico… and the repercussions that such an entrance would have in Spain itself.

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As such it isn't a Spain contemplated on the scale of a coeval political society, although the stage is placed in that political society which acts as its platform. This intemporal air comes from a society that, like the Spanish, has already matured as the first historical nation. Nonetheless, it still needs the care of knights armed with lances and swords, even in those moments when it is abstracted from its imminent political responsibilities those which oblige the mobilization of armies with firearms - today we would say missiles with nuclear heads.

For the interior, "intemporal" peace in which this society lives, the peace that knights believe themselves capable of finding if they dress up as shepherds, has nothing to do with celestial peace, given that bandits, murderers, thieves, liars, cheaters, and heartless, cruel scum will continue to rob, murder, steal, lie, cheat, and deceive.

When we want to come to some political interpretation of Don Quixote , how can we not take seriously this "intemporal Spain" that Cervantes would have artificially illuminated with the ultraviolet light presented above? The stage of Don Quixote refers to Spain, to the historical Spain, and to its political empire.

It does so not in an immediate way, but rather through the use of an intemporal Spain, one not unreal but seen simply under an ultraviolet light in which a civil society, set in the historical time that the Iberian peninsula lives, lives according to its own rhythm. Two types of philosophical-political interpretations of Don Quixote : catastrophist and revulsive. Difficulties spring up now when we interpret the figures of Don Quixote ; even supposing that their condition as allegorical symbols with ambiguous references that play a double role in political and civil society is admitted, as I have suggested, difficulties remain.


There are many interpretations formulated on diverse scales. Albeit briefly, let's examine some interpretations of the meaning of Don Quixote belonging to the group we have labeled as "catastrophist" and in whose stock a certain "pacifist naivete" is found. According to these interpretations, Cervantes, in his fundamental work, would have supplied the most ruthless and defeatist vision of Imperial Spain that could ever have been offered up. As clever psychological critics say, Cervantes - resentful, skeptical, on the border of nihilism and disappointed by the innumerable failures that his life handed him mutilation, captivity, prison, failure, and rejection - especially in his request to move to America, a right he felt he deserved as a hero in Lepanto - this Cervantes would have eliminated from his brilliant novel any reference to the Indies, as well as any to Europe.

And so if the graduate Sanson Carrasco said to Don Quixote that he was "the honour and mirror of the Spanish nation", it's easy to understand what he meant.

The Magic Mirror by FarFaria

For what is it that this mirror reflected? A deformed knight who goes on delirious and ridiculous adventures from which he returns defeated time and time again. Isn't this the reflection of the Spanish nation? Accordingly, Cervantes must be placed among those men inside the Spanish nation not outside who have most contributed to the development of the Black Legend although others have done so in a much more subtle and cowardly way.

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Nonetheless, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra himself must be the central figure of this list. Cervantes, with his Don Quixote , would have made a brilliant and hidden framing of the Black Legend to use against Spain while also contributing to its diffusion throughout Europe.

Montesquieu would have already advised of it: "The most important book that the Spanish have is nothing other than a critique of other Spanish books. In short, no Spaniard who maintains even an atom of national pride could see himself reflected in Don Quixote's mirror. Only a group of people as "inflated with pride" and "charged with rights" as Spaniards as Prat de la Riba, from Catalonia, was already saying in , could identify themselves with some of the abstract qualities of the Knight of the Sad Face.

Folch y Torres, another separatist who took great delight in Don Quixote's failures particularly insofar as these failures represented Spain's , went so far as saying, in the same year in which "Castilian Quixotes were so crazy to declare war against the United States" in the course of the conflicts with Cuba and the Philippines : "Let the Castilians keep their Don Quixote, for whatever he's worth.

What's more, this defeatist interpretation taken from Don Quixote and therefore from the interior of the Spanish empire, whereby both are the work of a megalomaniacal, cruel delirium, would not only have framed the Black Legend, but also would have fueled it as it was promoted from abroad by enemy powers France, England, Holland - those predatory empires and scavenging pirates that fed themselves from their infancy to their youth on the offal they went ripping off from Spain.

In this defeatist interpretation, must we then follow the path that Ramiro de Maetzu himself initiated when he advised to temper the cult of Don Quixote not only in schools, but also in the Spanish national ideology? If Don Quixote is a mad and ridiculous Spanish antihero, a mere parody and counterfigure of the real man and the real modern knight, then why is there this determination to keep him as a national emblem by celebrating his anniversaries and centennaries with such uncommon pomp?

Only the enemies of Spain - internal enemies above all, like Catalonian, Basque, or Galician separatists - could delight in the adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha. It would still be possible to try to restore a less depressing symbolism of Don Quixote, even while recognizing his incessant defeats. For these radical pacifists the adventures of Don Quixote could serve as an illustration, a reductio ad absurdum either in fact or in counterexample, of the uselessness of war and the stupidity of violence and the use of weapons.

Wanting to save Cervantes, the more audacious critics in this line might even dare to say that Cervantes, with his Don Quixote, has given to Spain and to the world in general an "ethical lesson" that teaches us of the uselessness of weapons and violence. Along this line, these naive critics could see in Cervantes a convinced pacifist who tries to demonstrate the importance of evangelical peace, tolerance, and dialogue along a path of reductio ad absurdum of counterexamples - weapons that turn out to be useless, regardless of the bearer's force of spirit.

This conclusion or moral is taken from the fallacious petitio principii premise that Don Quixote's weapons represent weapons in general. What if Don Quixote, through his peculiar and cryptic way of speaking, were insisting on the essential difference between firearms those with which the victory of Lepanto was obtained and the ancient knights' bladed weapons?

According to this interpretation, Don Quixote's failures with his rusty blades would immediately convert into an apology of the firearms that begin modern war, as seen in those first battles which Cervantes himself attended on various occasions Lepanto, Navarino, Tunisia, La Goleta, San Miguel de las Azores. Nevertheless, it is necessary to affirm that in any case the catastrophist interpretations of Quixote would affect Cervantes rather than Don Quixote. According to Unamuno's thesis, a resentful and skeptical Cervantes behaved as a wretch with Don Quixote, trying time and time again to project him as ridiculous.

He didn't achieve his goal, however, and that is best evidenced by the universal admiration which Don Quixote arouses, which is not due except for psychiatrists to him being a paranoid madman. For as many times as Don Quixote falls down and gets beat up, so too does he pick himself up and recover; in this way, he represents the fortitude, firmness, and generosity of a knight who lives not in a fantasy world, but in the real, miserable world where he doesn't give up when faced with misfortune.

Furthermore, in no way is it clear that Cervantes held the nihilist, resentful attitude toward the Spanish empire which Unamuno attributed to him. Cervantes always maintained the pride of a combatant soldier in Lepanto, where the Holy League headed by the Spanish Empire stopped the influx of the Ottoman Empire, "the greatest occasion that the centuries saw," as Cervantes said. In Don Quixote itself, we can also note that Cervantes approved of the Spanish policy to expel the moriscos and that he always showed himself to be a convinced subject of the Catholic Hispanic Monarchy.

Cervantes's method was subtler. His results were without a doubt more ambiguous because of that - so ambiguous that they allowed the enemies of Spain to transform him into a pretext for derision of its history and its people. Now let's examine some of the critical interpretations of Don Quixote that can be grouped together as revulsive. According to these interpretations, before anything else one can find in Don Quixote a devastating criticism directed against all those Spaniards who, after having participated in the most glorious battles - those "events of weapons" in which the Spanish Empire was forged - had returned to their homes or to the court as satiate hidalgos and knights ready to live off the rent in some intemporal world, content with the memories of their glory days.

They lived forgetful of the fact that the same Empire which protected their welfare, their happiness - their more or less placid and pacific life — was being attacked on all sides and starting to show alarming signs of leak after the defeat of its Armada. After the first great push of the Empire which is now starting to collapse , this mass of satiate people is in danger of producing the "I wan't but can't" of some strained knight, a knight for whom nothing is left but to wait, to wait for ridicule in trying to take up the rusty armor of his great grandparents, or the paralytic boats of the invincible Spanish Armada.

The lances and swords of his grandparents, or the bacinelmet Don Quixote himself makes, can then be seen as allegories through which Cervantes, without even needing to be aware of it, meant to represent the Spain that resulted from the ultraviolet light he used. According to this, Cervantes, with his Don Quixote, could have attempted or if what he had attempted was to unleash his skepticism bordering on nihilism at least could have succeeded in exercising the role of an agent of a revulsion before the government of the successive kings of Catholic majesties - Carlos I and even Felipe II, in the times of Lepanto.

What Cervantes would be saying to his compatriots is that with rusty lances and swords, with paralytic boats, with solitary adventures, or less still, dressed up as bucolic and pacific pastors, that with all of this the Spanish people would be destined to failure because the Empire that protected them and the one in which they lived was being seriously threatened by neighboring ones. Nonetheless, Cervantes would also be seeing - albeit with skepticism - that it was still possible to overcome the depression that without a doubt appeared in some of the characters - among them Alonso Quijano transformed as Don Quixote.

As such, Cervantes seems to want to stress in every moment that his characters effectively have the necessary energy - even if it had to be expressed in the form of madness. According to this interpretation, Don Quixote's message would not then be a defeatist message, but rather a revulsive one. Such a revulsion would be destined to remove satiate Spaniards from their daydreams - those who thought they could live satisfied after the victorious battle, savoring the peace of victory or simply enjoying their "welfare state" as Spaniards will say centuries later provided by a new order.

But this new order which Spaniards had succeeded in imposing on their old enemies came from beyond their borders - from the same America that Cervantes himself eliminates from Quixote. This perspective provides an explanation of why nothing is said in Don Quixote about everything that surrounds the peninsular enclosure with its adjacent islands and territories, of why nothing is said about America, Europe, Asia, or Africa. As such, Don Quixote, along with his follies, would be offering some hints of the path it would be necessary to follow. The first of these, before any other, would be to travel and explore the lands of the Spanish nation: Cervantes takes care that Don Quixote de La Mancha leaves his village in the fields of Montiel and crosses the Sierra Morena.

He even takes care to make him arrive at the beach of Barcelona the same beach, it seems, in which Cervantes saw how the boat carrying his patron the Count of Lemos took off to sea towards Italy, without Cervantes being able to catch it for a final chance.