The Thief-Masterful Use of Foreshadowing
Ok, I’m going to take us back to our high school English classes and talk about literary devices…dun dun dun. But have no fear, because I’ll break it down in case you forgot, which I frequently do. Today’s star literary device is foreshadowing.
Crash Course in Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is when an author gives you little bits of information (or giant bits of information but you don’t know what’s coming so it doesn’t register) that suggest what is going to happen later in the book.
Why do we care?
Well, besides being really cool and difficult to write without being obvious, it can do things like change the tone of the book. If an author has foreshadowed the death of a main character, then you’re probably dreading the end of the book or maybe hoping for it depending on if you like that character or not. It adds layers that deepen the book and make it more interesting. If a book is only composed of what is on the surface then it’s not a very interesting read because it doesn’t take you on a journey of asking questions that make you think about deeper topics. It just spoon feeds you. And readers are not one-year olds. Readers need five-course meals with dessert and a spork for high efficiency!
Alright now let’s talk about this breath-taking masterpiece that Megan Whalen Turner created: “The Thief.” (See my Thief Overview for a plot summary) Foreshadowing was my favorite thing about re-reading this book because I totally missed so much of it, ok all of it. And as I didn’t read this for my high school English class (WHY???!!!) I wasn’t forced to go read it again and see all the beautiful things I had missed. Until I just causally did, because my TBR pile doesn’t’ exist. Shhh!
But let’s get some examples, because you don’t just want to take my word for it. So forewarning…there will be spoilers ahead.
Example #1: Gen reveals his entire identity.
One night while Gen and the Magus are arguing about what parts of a myth are original or added in, the Magus makes the assumption that Gen’s mother, who taught Gen the stories, was uneducated, because after all, that’s where criminals come from. The uneducated gutter. They would never come from the upper class. During this conversation the origin of Gen’s name comes up and Megan Whalen Turner masterfully reveals Gen’s identity.
Magus: “Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Gen is a family name. The title of King’s Thief is a hereditary one now in Eddis, and I think the current Thief is named Eugenides. Maybe you’re related.”…
Gen: “Eugenides,” I nearly stuttered, “was the god of thieves. We are all named after him.” (86)
On the surface the reader can take this to mean that all the thieves are named after the god of Thieves, but really when you stop to think about it that isn’t the most logical explanation. What is more logical is that Gen is claiming the title of King’s Thief, since that is a title that is strictly inherited and passed on. But the reader doesn’t realize this because it is causally dropped into the conversation and the intent is misdirected towards a different subject. What makes this amazing is that when you get to the end of the story and discover that Gen really is the King’s Thief you get this “ah ha” moment and all the pieces fit into place. This sort of foreshadowing builds unconscious suspense about the identity of Gen. The reader understands that there is more to this thief than meets the eye. Especially as he reveals his mother was educate so most likely so was he, but the claim to King’s Thief is so subtle that all the characters and the reader miss the extent to the claim that Gen is making.
Example #2 Sophos’s true identity.
Megan Whalen Turner is a genius, when it comes to the reveal of Sophos, because she drops HUGE hints all along the way and you never know because of the way that she devalues the comments. For example, poor Sophos is introduced as Useless the Younger and one of the first things the reader learns is that he doesn’t know how to build a fire, which is pretty crazy considering the world they live in.
“‘Haven’t you ever stayed out overnight hunting?” Ambiades asked, looking at kindling tightly stacked in a poor imitation of a campfire. Sophos cast an embarrassed look at Pol. “Not alone,” he said. “Well, Your Highness,” Ambiades teased, “if you stack all the wood one piece directly on top of another it won’t burn.'” (60)
Now the first thing this passage implies is that Sophos comes from a wealthy family because others have always done the menial task of building the fire for him. The second thing that this passage reveals is that Pol specifically is the one who has built the fire when they are hunting, which means that Pol has been Sophos’s guard long before this venture. Pol’s role as Sophos’s guard implies that Sophos’s family is more than just wealthy. They have influence and power and that makes Sophos a target, which is why he needs protecting.
Next Ambiades reveals the exact identity of Sophos, but here is the beauty of it. He does it in a condescending way so that it doesn’t seem to be legitimate information to the reader. Ambiades calls Sophos “Your Highness,” and his tone is completely mocking, but what makes it so amazing is that it’s the truth. Sophos really is royalty, but the reader totally misses this reveal because the intent is to foreshadow the actual reveal much later in the book.
These are just two tiny passages from the book and the entire novel is full of these instances. Many of which you miss until the second read through because of the masterful way that they are concealed. I love this novel so much and you should read it and appreciate its amazingness.
Do you have a favorite literary device? What books have epic foreshadowing and why do you think foreshadowing is important in writing today? Comment below! I would love to hear your ideas.
Turner, M. W. (1996). The Thief. Harper Collins Publisher.
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