Much has been said by other CSFF bloggers about the beauty of Jeffrey Overstreet’s writing. They’re right. Even Publishers Weekly, reviewing Auralia’s Colors, called his writing “precise and beautiful.”
But what makes writing truly beautiful? It starts in the roots, in the word choices themselves, in the rhythms as they grow into something more. And it leads to greater things — to characters, to conversations, to story itself. To images that don’t fade.
In my first post of this month’s tour, I said that Overstreet’s writing would leave readers with memories. Now that I’ve finished Auralia’s Colors and am partway through Cyndere’s Midnight, I still think it’s true. And not least among those memories will be certain images — images that stand out starkly, beautiful in their own strange ways, meaning different things to different readers.
In “The Heiress and the Oceandragon,” Cyndere mourns her dead by the fog-enshrouded ocean when she hears panicked cries that an oceandragon has been sighted.
“Cyndere!” they were calling into the mist. “Heiress! Where is she?”
The sound of their panic blew past.
Cyndere splashed out of the tide.
There it was. A jagged line of darkness ahead, like a mountain range. As it took on detail, she heard its hollow groaning.
The oceandragon’s gargantuan form loomed, its snout resting on sand, head large enough to swallow a herd of wild tidehorses. The fog withdrew, and she could see the spiked tip of its tail curling about and resting on the sand beside her, ten times the size of the harpoons her father had hurled at seawraiths and horned whales.
But then the scene turns and becomes one of those images, one of those clear, strange visions that means something. I’ve read far beyond this chapter, but this image remains.
She stood still, waited for the dragon to writhe and twist and thrash down upon her. “Is this what took you down into the sea?” she whispered to her father. “Is this what you saw as the ship came apart?”
The fog thinned.
The oceandragon’s eyes were hollow, the head but a skull. Its sides did not heave; they were no more than rows of towering ribs. Its tail, a chain with links of bone. Perhaps it had been dead an age. The sea had carried it into the inlet by night and cast it onto the shore, having taken every scrap of its flesh, offering up its unbreakable skeleton.
That reverberating moan — it was only the wind moving through the skull’s cavities.
“Beautiful,” she said.
As writers, as readers, what do images mean to you? I’m not simply talking about description, but about those moments in description that suddenly stand in sharp relief, that linger, that turn into memory, that mean things. Imagery is as old as words, and a single image can tell more than pages and pages of them — the cracked Stone Table in Aslan’s How; the “shadow of his wings” in David’s Psalms; a barren mountainside I vividly remember from George MacDonald’s Heather and Snow, where a boy went out to walk with the Bonny Man and the angels.
Images may be beautiful or strange or frightening, or all three at once, as I think the image of the oceandragon’s skeleton is. You who have long been readers: what images still linger in you?