Neil Gaiman’s novel-length fairytale Stardust employs an omniscient narrator and occasional authorial interjection–both play a crucial role in not only the telling of the story, but also in the reading of the story.

The omniscient narrator was common in ye olde Literature (think Austen, Bronte, etc.), but is actually kind of frowned upon in modern writing classes.

Instead, fledgling authors are encouraged to use first person or limited third to allow the reader to get close to the character.  There’s nothing wrong with getting inside a character’s head, but sometimes it’s nice to not have to deal with someone else’s neuroses (I don’t know about you, but I have enough of my own, thank you).

Authorial interjection, also known as breaking the fourth wall (although that’s more of a stage term, the first three walls being the right, left and back sides of the stage, the fourth being the invisible one between actors and audience), is much more common, but sadly almost always relegated to a comedic special effect in contemporary literature.

Gaiman’s use of these techniques serves to make the story feel more old-timey, more like a fairytale that our grandparents might have told us when we demanded they tell us a story before bedtime.

But more than putting us into the proper frame of mind, the use of the omniscient narrator creates suspense and tension, and is perhaps the most important device in the story (it’s a device because it’s used to present the story in a particular way, and it comes with certain expectations, like the main characters falling in love and living happily ever after).

Without an omniscient narrator, we would know only as much as Tristan, the main character, and half of the suspense would evaporate before it had a chance to even condense in our minds, since the forces wishing Tristan evil often do themselves in before they have a chance to do Tristan any harm.

Since we know more than Tristan, we often get the urge to yell at him for being stupid, or for not following advice or directions.  Plus, it makes us feel nice and smart and quite good about ourselves for being so smart.

While the few instances of authorial interjection are used in situations where the characters are not in any grave danger, they don’t fall into the category of comedy for comedy’s sake.  These instances serve to pull the reader more fully into the world of the narrator, and by extension, the characters the narrator brings to life for us.

Any emotional distance we may have felt from the characters because of the narrative filter is replaced by a closeness with the narrator.  By speaking to us directly, he’s made us a part of the story.  And how can you feel distant from a story of which you’re apart?

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