The Wars by Timothy Findley

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Many novels have been written about the great wars, but few are as absorbing, captivating and still capable of showing all the horrors of the battle as Timothy Findley's "The Wars"1. After reading the novel, critics and readers have been quick to point out the vast examples of symbolism shown throughout the novel. Even the author himself commented at the vast examples of symbolism throughout the novel, "Everything in that book has a life of its own. It's a carrier too -- all the objects are carriers of someone else's spirit"2. Although the novel is very symbolic, the most bare-faced and self explicit symbols are the natural elements that are inscribed on Robert's gravestone, "Earth and Air and Fire and Water"3. The symbolism of the natural elements begins a whole framework of ideas as their meanings continuously change throughout the novel. They begin as life supporting and domestic symbols which completely change on the battlefields of Europe. For Findley, this is what war does: it perverts and changes the natural elements from supporting life to the bringers of doom and destruction. Throughout the novel, one of the most apparent transformations is the one that the natural earth goes through. As Robert enters the war, we are introduced to a horrifying side of the earth; mud. "The mud. There are no good similes. Mud must be a Flemish word. Mud was invented here. Mudland might have been its name. The ground is the colour of steel. Over most of the plain there isn't a trace of topsoil: only sand and clay"4. The obsessive description of the mud clearly shows how the nurturing earth has been changed on the battlefields. What was once natural, taken for granted and exposed to the corruption of mankind has now become an exquisite terror. Soon after, Robert is pulled in and begins drowning in the mud, "Suddenly his right foot went down. All the way down to the knee through the earth. Dear Jesus -- he was going to drown"5. Mud here is shown as the drowning agent, which...
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