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In literature, allusion is a reference to something that will be familiar to the audience; anything from a turn of phrase to a cultural icon, or even a mention of a familiar food. Allusion is a tool, used to anchor the readers and story in a certain time and place. It is also useful in creating its homophone: the illusion of a larger world.

Places like the galaxy far, far away and Middle-Earth are chock full of things that we never see, but are alluded to; “strong enough to pull the ears off a Gundark”, for instance, or “Ancalagon the Black.” Each of these allusions gives us a tiny amount of information about the subject. We know that Ancalagon the Black was a dragon. They also hint at things; Ancalagon the Black must have been a very nasty dragon to merit the nickname “the Black,” and for Gandalf to mention him at that point in the story, he must have been familiar even to hobbits. This gives Ancalagon a bit of a reputation. Having read the Silmarillion, I don’t recall seeing what Ancalagon did, exactly. I do remember Glaurung–also a nasty piece of work–but he wasn’t technically a dragon, he just took the shape of one. Unlike many of the throw-away references in The Lord of the Rings, we didn’t learn much about Ancalagon in the Silmarillion. We didn’t learn anything more about Gundarks until the Clone Wars (which some people don’t accept as canon.)

Throw-away references that may or may not be built on later are important. While the reader probably won’t mentally flag them “THIS IS IMPORTANT!” unless they are a major fan of the book or the series, they do create the illusion that there’s a bigger world off-screen or off-page, and if you do bring them back later, it will be an “oh. OH!” moment for the reader as they recall that you slipped it into the text earlier. (Here’s a hint: if it is important to your plot in any way, slip it in early and bring it up at least once before you need it. That way it won’t fall on your readers’ heads out of a blue sky. That tends to drive people away.)

These allusions are also marvelous in creating a character with a past. Like the infamous tomato sauce incident (I thought I told you not to experiment in the kitchen, Will! The New World hasn’t been discovered yet!), or the moments when Halt or Crowley mention something that happened in their youth without telling the full story, these allusions also broaden a character, just as they broaden a world. You create jucier characters, which readers love, that way. It’s a win-win situation all around.

Would Araluen be so interesting if we weren’t curious about what might be lurking in Russia (the John R. Flanagan equivalent of it)? Okay, maybe that wasn’t a good example. 😛 But would the oliphaunts have made such an impact if we hadn’t been already curious about Harad, after Gandalf mentioned it and that it was nearly always warm there? Would we have been so eager to find out what happened at Budapest? What about Halt and Crowley’s friendship and how they became friends, or why Marguerite was acquainted with Chauvelin at all?

Insert random reference that builds into your world here.

Your readers will love you.

Thanks for reading, and God Bless!

Remember how I made you ride the Cyclone at Coney Island?

Yeah, and I threw up?

This isn’t payback, is it?

Now why would I do that?

(Virtual chocolate for anyone who knows that quote!)