Like most high-school students,  I hated writing book reports.  They just sucked all the fun out of reading a good book.  Plus in those days they never let us read books we wanted to read, like The White Dragon. No.  I had to read stuffy old tomes like The Scarlet Letter (I ask you, how did Hawthorn write a short book about adultery and manage to make it so dull?).  And then we were supposed to talk about the uses of symbols and allegories in the books.  I remember after my last English class I thought if I ever heard the words symbol and allegory again, I would scream.

But that was homework. They were books I wasn't particularly interested in.  Later I discovered that when a book I do like has deeper stuff hidden under the surface, or takes a description of one thing and uses it to say something profound about another, I love it.  It's like finding the Easter Eggs hidden away on certain websites or in some video games. 

The Bible is full of symbolism and allegory.  You probably know, for example, that many Biblical references to marriage are really talking about our intimate relationship with the Lord.  In prophecy, Israel is sometimes called God's wife, and in the New Testament, Christians are the bride of Christ. We even act out the symbols.  Baptism is a symbolic death to sin and resurrection to new life in Christ. In the Old Testament, where you see two of something, look closer.  Often you'll see ways that they represent something along the lines of Adam vs. Christ, or works vs. grace. If there are two cities, the first mentioned, Babylon, is made of bricks (made by men) and bitumen, and its tower represents man's effort to work his way to heaven. Jerusalem, by contrast, is a city of peace. It's eternal, its name means "teaching of peace," and its temple is made of stone, which is not man-made.  When the temple was built, the stones had to be hewn at the quarry so that no sound of labor (works) could be heard at the sacred site. If God called two peoples, the first, Israel, are people of the Law (works), while the church are people of grace. 

So when I started writing Mirror, I wanted to layer in symbols and allegory. 

The first allegory is the mirror itself.  What do mirrors do? They show us what we look like, right? Only everything is reversed.  The image faces in the opposite direction we face.  Put a written word up to a mirror and it's backwards.  So Turris is a mirror world, because the people there came through the mirror. If you pay close attention you'll notice little clues, like the sun rising in the west and setting in the east. 

In the legends of Hadlay's people, the mirror is the instrument of man's fall from grace.  It is, symbolically, the forbidden fruit. 

What did the forbidden fruit do, and how is a mirror like it? 

In Genesis we're told that God made man originally without a knowledge of good and evil, and he said that this was good.  Does this surprise you?  Most people assume that God hard-wired man with a conscience, an innate sense of right and wrong.  But that's not what Scripture says.  According to the Bible, God didn't want man to have a moral compass.  He wanted to be our moral compass.  He wanted us to live in such communion with him that he guided us at every turn.  When Eve and then Adam took that first bite of the fruit, their eyes were opened, and they began to judge themselves. They realized they were naked and picked fig leaves to cover themselves (by the way, the Hebrew word for "fig" is very close to the word for "work!"). But think about it:  before they ate the fruit, God knew they were naked, and apparently wasn't concerned about it.  It was only after they became aware of it as sin that he required them to cover themselves.  Before they ate of the fruit, they really had only one law to keep: don't eat that fruit, because God's best for them was that they remain ignorant of sin, like toddlers racing naked through a crowded room. When a 3 year old does it, we know he has no clue why he shouldn't, so we think it's cute.  When a 30 year old does it, we arrest him for lewd behavior. Once you know better, you're accountable, and your sins are held against you.  God didn't want to hold things against us.

After they ate, Adam and Eve had more and more rules to keep as they found new things to feel guilty about.  By Moses' day, there were not just the big ten commandments, but there were a total of 613 laws, and the New Testament is even tougher. It's not only "don't commit adultery," but "don't even think about it."

But let me ask you a question: if the first two, arguably most perfect people (since they were made by God directly) couldn't keep one commandment, how are the children of the fall, with our inherited, flawed natures, ever going to keep over a thousand? 

The whole point of the law is to teach us the need for grace. When we finally fall down, exhausted and depressed because we are incapable of keeping all the rules, we do the one thing God really wants of us. We cry out to him for help.  And he's there ready to give it.  In a sense we go back to the original state in Eden, in that we are also no longer held guilty for sin. Rather, if we walk by faith in Jesus, his righteousness is credited to our accounts.  No, we can't run around naked, or sin just because it's not held against us anymore.  We need to go back to that intimate daily communion with God, so that he can be our guide, as he intended from the start.

So how is a mirror like the forbidden fruit? Like the fruit of the tree, when we look in a mirror we see ourselves, and we see the flaws and most of us try to do something about them.  We try to change what God made and said was good.  Don't get me wrong—I have nothing against prettying yourself up; if I don't wear makeup it's because I'm usually too lazy to bother, not because I think there's something wrong with it.  I'm talking about the symbolism here. Just as we see things backwards in a mirror, the fruit made Adam and Eve see things backwards. They started trying to make themselves like God, when according to Genesis, they already were like him.  When they heard his voice, they tried to hide—as if they could hide from an omniscient God!  The fruit distorted their understanding, just as a mirror can distort what we see.

And here's something else: In the Bible, while the tree of the knowledge of good and evil brought about the fall, it was also a tree (the cross) that brought grace.  And in Mirror, the mirror also becomes the instrument of redemption. And when the kids finally receive that redemption, they no longer see themselves in the mirror. They see Sirach. 

What do you see when you look in a mirror? Do you see a hopeless sinner, someone ugly who can't make themselves pretty? Or do you take pride in your beauty, as the Pharisees took pride in their lawkeeping, blind to the fact that they were farther from God than the whores and tax collectors who flocked to Jesus?

Or do you see what God meant you to see?  His image. His son.

And for extra credit, when you put the word N'de up to a mirror, what do you see?