Everybody knows that The Chronicles of Narnia are about Christianity, but did you know that The Lord of the Rings is about Catholicism? No shiitake. Turns out “author” is just another way to say “sneaky bastard who tries to ‘teach you something about life’ by slipping allegories and hidden themes in when you least expect it.” While the lesson might be as simple as “life sucks,” authors are still doing it, and have been for centuries. So you will never again be in the dark regarding an author’s true intentions, here are seven great books and their secret agendas:
1. Stalin and His Regime Are a Bunch of Pigs
The Book: Animal Farm. A bunch of animals on a farm free themselves of the tyranny of man, only to be tyrannized by…pigs.
The Author: George Orwell, who hated Stalin before it was cool.
The Allegory: This one’s pretty easy to spot if you know your history. George Orwell actually had trouble getting this novel published during World War II. Turns out no one wanted to publish a book calling the Allies’ biggest ally a Berkshire boar. Orwell couldn’t get Animal Farm published until after Stalin and Soviet Russia’s true nature became apparent, by which point he was no longer hipster.
2. Catholicism Beats Everything
The Book: The Lord of the Rings, a book about a quest to destroy a controversial, seductive piece of jewelry.
The Author: J.R.R. Tolkien, who thought Catholicism was pretty great and wasn’t too happy when his book became ultra-popular among hippies.
The Allegory: There’s the basic connection of the One Ring being evil’s corrupting power; Gandalf being Jesus Christ, who is reborn after defeating a powerful demon; and Aragorn being…also Jesus, returning to rule the world. But did you know that Gandalf also symbolizes the Pope, and the seven gifts that Galadriel bestows on the Fellowship are a symbol for the Seven Sacraments? That’s not all; other Catholic symbols in the trilogy include the constant war between the East and the West.
3. God is a Pissed-Off Tiger
The Book: Life of Pi, a book about a kid who grew up in a zoo and ends up getting trapped on a boat with a tiger in the middle of the ocean. #whimsy
The Author: Yann Martel, who sums up the meaning of Life of Pi like so: “Life is a story…You can choose your story…A story with God is the better story.”
The Allegory: The main character practices Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam in an effort to get closer to God. His relationship with the tiger he’s marooned with is an allegory of a relationship with God. First, Pi is unaware of the tiger’s presence under the tarp. Then, he tries to escape the tiger. But eventually he ends up offering the tiger sacrifices (food), and by the end of the novel, they’ve developed a deep relationship. Then the tiger leaves, which symbolizes something depressing (probably).
4. The Universe Sucks
The Book: Moby-Dick, about a captain of a whaling ship who is freaking obsessed with killing this one specific white whale.
The Author: Herman Melville, a guy who wasn’t super stoked on existence.
The Allegory: Every character in Moby Dick sees the great white whale as symbolizing something. To Ahab he symbolizes pure evil; to most others he’s a manifestation of their anxieties; to someone analyzing the novel he could symbolize an unknowable God…but none of it matters, because Moby kills them all in the end. This means that, alternately, he could symbolize an indifferent universe. In the end, he’s pretty much pure depression wrapped in whale blubber.
5. Communism Will Destroy Happiness and Individuality
The Book: A Wrinkle in Time, a fantasy–science fiction novel about three kids who travel across the universe to save their father from a malevolent evil.
The Author: Madeleine L’Engle, who wrote the book during the Cold War.
The Allegory: Yes, we know that A Wrinkle in Time is a straight-up narrative about good, evil, and the triumph of love. But L’Engle made final-stage world Camazotz a fauxtopia, where there’s no individuality and one mind (IT) controls everything. Add to that the fact that one of the “dictators” of Camazotz is a man with red eyes, and there’s your anti-Communism theory right there.
6. War is Not a Game…or Maybe it Is?
The Book: Ender’s Game, a story about a kid who goes to school in space to learn how to win at everything.
The Author: Orson Scott Card, a guy whose views on war and genocide are weirdly unclear.
The Allegory: (BIG-TIME SPOILERS AHEAD) This is one of the more obvious ones, but also one of the more complicated. Games pervade the entire book—from the game of astronauts vs. buggers Peter plays with Ender, to the fantasy game Ender plays at Battle School, to the final test where Ender finds out that all along, the games were the actual war. So, in the end, war isn’t a game…but it sort of is. Card never really makes it clear, so we’re left to draw our own conclusions.
7. Education is Super Awesome (and Boredom Can Be Easily Overcome By a Healthy Appreciation of Learning)
The Book: The Phantom Tollbooth, about a bored kid who gets transported into a world where only knowledge and artsiness will help him.
The Author: Norton Juster
The Allegory: …is really obvious. Milo, our main character, is trying to overcome boredom when he gets transported to a Carroll-esque land, where he travels through places like the City of Words and the Mountains of Ignorance. Milo has to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason and basically learn some common sense. And he’s not bored at the end! Yay, learning!
What’s your favorite book with a not-so-hidden message?