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Metaphoric language of marginalized travelers: 03/06/18

Inclusive reading report

In my exploration of the "crossing the cornfield" and the "road not traveled" aspects of the road narrative, I have been thinking of my approach as one as either "on road" or "off road." Primarily these stories have fallen into the "off road" variety, though some do stay on road via unexpected or even supernatural / paranormal detours. These exceptions and a lack of good delineation has made finding a unifying theme difficult.

Today though while thinking about other things (or rather, while doing the routine aspects of life) I had an epiphany. The unifying aspect of these narratives isn't the location or the method of travel (as many of these stories involve no travel whatsoever). Instead, the unifying aspect is the use of language, specifically metaphoric language.

To be told, marginalized stories need to be invisible or at least appear innocuous to the dominant voice. New languages develop out of the need to codify these stories: be it jargon, repurposed antiquated words, newly invented slang, imported words.

For the traveler who is barricaded from free travel, the truth behind their situation is often obscured through language. Just as the once straight road may now be full of false leads and blind alleys, the once plain language becomes poetic.

Take for instance two stories about people finding safety in un-mappable locations: Paper Towns by John Green and Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford. Paper Towns culminates with Quentin's desire to find Margo who has runaway from Orlando, leaving behind cryptic notes in the form of maps and other ephemera. Ghosts of Greenglass House is in part about the people who live adjacent to Nagspeake in their own self governing sanctuary, but it is set against a world that can't be mapped (except by two notorious map sellers) and a house that can't be blueprinted. In both cases, the final destination is one that is off map but the reasons are vastly different: from the mundane to the fantastical.

A paper town, as Quentin learns, is a false place on map, put there as a low tech form of copyright protection. If the town shows up on maps not made by the same company or cartographer, it's obviously an unpaid for copy. Margo has gone to one of these paper towns to get away from it all, figuring that she can't be found if she's hiding out in a made up place. Quentin, though, does manage to find her, having figured out her obsession with these map quirks. The getting to Margo then boils down to a straight-arrow drive north from Orlando and is really no more remarkable than any other road trip done by a young white male protagonist of means. Except for the times when Quentin is trying to understand Margo's world and her language, the text is as straightforward as the road to reach her.

At the other extreme, is Milo, who for the duration of his two stories, is literally trapped at home, but manages to metaphorically travel through his home and his un-mappable town through role playing. In this second book, through the stories of the carolers who spend a night and a day at his house, Milo learns more about the true nature of his home and surrounds. Readers who have read The Kairos Mechanism and The Left-Handed Fate will be able to piece together a clearer picture of how Milo's world works than he will. The answers are there but they are buried in the lyrical language of the Raconteur's Commonplace, quoted throughout the Greenglass House books, and in the stories visitors to the inn tell.

Thus both stories involve paper towns but the method of travel in the two are complete opposites. For Quentin and his friends, travel involves a full day and night of driving on an interstate highway, once a rather simple riddle is solved. For Milo, there is no actual travel, and for his companion, "Meddy" there is even less prospect of travel as she is literally and permanently anchored to the inn. Instead, their travel is metaphoric — through role playing, story telling, and poetic language.

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