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Please begin with an informative title:

Welcome to bookchat where you can talk about anything...books, plays, essays, and books on tape.  You don’t have to be reading a book to come in, sit down, and chat with us.

fall 2009 shop, grandbabies 048

A novel is a mirror carried along a main road.



If somebody thinks they're a hedgehog, presumably you just give 'em a mirror and a few pictures of hedgehogs and tell them to sort it out for themselves.

Douglas Adams


You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.

George Bernard Shaw


Mirrors are used in many different ways in stories.  I find them a potent symbol as well.

The mirror reflects back to us what we are like, and the mirror reflects truth we cannot hide from.  The mirror of our mind is shown by our actions or our reactions to events.  Some characters dare not look into the mirror and examine themselves, their actions or motives, and we often ask the question, “How can he look himself in the mirror after doing that?” as a judgment.

Books, plays and films are mirrors.  They show us something: a slice of life, a past society, a character's struggle, the history of a time, the future.  Biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, essays and letter collections are also mirrors of lives of interesting people.

Books often make me stop and reflect on my own life so I like Shaw’s comment above.

In the stories below mirrors or items used as mirrors are mentioned.  

What are your favorite mirror stories?  


You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).


1.  A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century by Barbara Tuchman


The title A Distant Mirror refers to the author's implication that the death and suffering of the 14th century reflects that of the 20th century, especially the horrors of World War I.

2.   Mordant’s Need by Stephen Donaldson


It tells the story of a woman named Terisa who travels from our modern world to a medieval setting where political and military struggles are entwined with the power of Imagery, a form of magic based on mirrors. The Mirror of Her Dreams, the first volume, was published in 1986 and A Man Rides Through, the second volume, was published in 1987. The books deal with themes of reality, power, inaction and love in the context of a fantasy adventure.
3.   Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs


"Magic Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?"
4.   Perseus and the Gorgon


Perseus (Greek: Περσεύς), the legendary founder of Mycenae and of the Perseid dynasty there, was the first of the mythic heroes of Greek mythology whose exploits in defeating various archaic monsters provided the founding myths of the Twelve Olympians. Perseus was the Greek hero who killed the Gorgon Medusa, and claimed Andromeda, having rescued her from a sea monster sent by Poseidon in retribution for Queen Cassiopeia declaring herself more beautiful than the sea nymphs…

Ovid's anecdotal embroidery of Medusa's mortality tells that she had once been a woman, vain of her beautiful hair, who lay with Poseidon in the Temple of Athena. In punishment for the desecration of her temple, Athena changed Medusa's hair into hideous snakes "that she may alarm her surprised foes with terror".

Athena instructed Perseus to find the Hesperides, who were entrusted with weapons needed to defeat the Gorgon. Following Athena's guidance, Perseus sought out the Graeae, sisters of the Gorgons, to demand the whereabouts of the Hesperides, the nymphs tending Hera's orchard. The Graeae were three perpetually old women, who had to share one eye and one tooth among them. As the women passed the eye from one to the other, Perseus snatched it from them, holding it ransom in return for the location of the nymphs. When the sisters led him to the Hesperides, he returned what he had taken.

From the Hesperides he received a knapsack kibisis to safely contain Medusa's head. Zeus gave him an adamantine sword and Hades' helm of invisibility to hide. Hermes loaned Perseus winged sandals to fly, while Athena gave him a polished shield. Perseus then proceeded to the Gorgons' cave.

In the cave he came upon the sleeping Stheno, Euryale and Medusa. By viewing Medusa's reflection in his polished shield, he safely approached and cut off her head. From her neck sprang Pegasus ("he who sprang") and Chrysaor ("bow of gold"), the result of Poseidon and Medusa's meeting. The other two Gorgons pursued Perseus, but under his helmet of invisibility he escaped.

5.   The Phantom of the Opera


The mirror opens and the Phantom takes Christine below to his hide away where he has an organ and creates his music.

6.   The Mists of Avalon  by Marion Zimmer Bradley has the pool used by Viviane.


The book follows the trajectory of Morgaine (often called Morgan Le Fay or Morgan of the Fairies in other works), a priestess fighting to save her matriarchal Celtic culture in a country where patriarchal Christianity threatens to destroy the pagan way of life. The book follows the lives of Guinevere, Viviane, Morgause, Igraine and other women who are often marginalized in Arthurian retellings. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are supporting rather than main characters.

The Mists of Avalon is in stark contrast to other retellings of the Arthurian tales, which consistently paint Morgaine as a distant, one-dimensional evil witch or sorceress, with no real explanation given (or required) for her antipathy. In this case Morgaine is cast as a strong woman who has unique gifts and responsibilities at a time of enormous political and spiritual upheaval as she is called upon to defend her indigenous matriarchal heritage against impossible odds.

7.   Elaine looks in the mirror and sees Lancelot in Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott  and dies of it.


The first four stanzas describe a pastoral setting. The Lady of Shalott lives in an island castle in a river which flows to Camelot, but little is known about her by the local farmers.

And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers, " 'Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott."

Stanzas five to eight describe the lady's life. She has been cursed, and so she must constantly weave a magic web without looking directly out at the world.  Instead, she looks into a mirror which reflects the busy road and the people of Camelot which pass by her island.

She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

Stanzas nine to twelve describe "bold Sir Lancelot" as he rides past, and is seen by the lady.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn'd like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.

The remaining seven stanzas describe the effect on the lady of seeing Lancelot; she stops weaving and looks out her window toward Camelot, bringing about the curse.

Out flew the web and floated wide-
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

She leaves her tower, finds a boat upon which she writes her name, and floats down the river to Camelot. She dies before arriving at the palace, and among the knights and ladies who see her is Lancelot and he thinks she is lovely.

"Who is this? And what is here?"
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the Knights at Camelot;
But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."

The whole poem is here:


8.   There is the Mirror of Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings  by Tolkien


A basin filled with water in which one may see visions of the past, present and future, appearing in The Lord of the Rings. Galadriel, an Elf ruler of Lothlórien, invites the story's hero, Frodo Baggins, to look into it. Galadriel cannot predict what the mirror will show and does not guarantee that its visions will come to pass.

Samwise Gamgee was also allowed a vision, which turned out to be a choice between returning to the Shire to prevent its destruction by technology or to continue on the quest with his master to prevent Sauron from destroying all of Middle-earth.

This recalls the ancient practice of water scrying or hydromancy: gazing into a shallow pool or bowl for purposes of divination. The Norns of Norse mythology used the Well of Urd as a scrying bowl.

9.   Harry Potter  has two mirrors.


The Mirror of Erised

The Mirror of Erised is a mystical mirror discovered by Harry in a back corridor of Hogwarts in Philosopher's Stone. On it is inscribed "erised strae hruo ytub ecaf ruoyt on woh si". When mirrored and correctly spaced, this reads "I show not your face but your heart's desire". As "erised" reversed is "desire", it is the "mirror of desire". Harry, upon encountering the Mirror, can see his parents, as well as what appears to be a crowd of relatives; Ron sees himself as Head Boy and Quidditch Captain holding the Quidditch Cup (thus revealing his wish to be acknowledged out of the shadow of his highly successful older brothers, as well as his more popular friend, Harry). Dumbledore cautions Harry that the mirror gives neither knowledge nor truth and that men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they see.

Dumbledore, one of the few other characters to face the Mirror in the novel, claims to see himself holding a pair of socks, telling Harry that "one can never have enough socks", and lamenting that he did not receive any for Christmas, since people will insist on giving him books. However, it is suggested in Deathly Hallows that what he really sees is his entire family alive and well and happy together again, much like Harry.

The Mirror of Erised was the final protection given to the Philosopher's Stone in the first book. Dumbledore hid the Mirror and hid the Stone inside it, knowing that only a person who wanted to find but not use the stone would be able to obtain it. Anyone else would see him or herself making an Elixir of Life or turning things to gold, rather than actually finding the Stone.

Two-way mirrors

In Order of the Phoenix, Sirius gives Harry a mirror he originally used to communicate with James in detention. That mirror is a part of a set of Two-way Mirrors that are activated by holding one of them and saying the name of the other possessor, causing his or her face to appear on the caller's mirror and vice versa. Harry receives this mirror from Sirius in a package after spending his Christmas holiday at Grimmauld Place. Harry, at first, chooses not to open the package, although he does discover the mirror after Sirius's death, by which point it is no longer functional.

It makes its second appearance in "Deathly Hallows" when Mundungus Fletcher loots Grimmauld Place and sells Sirius's mirror to Aberforth Dumbledore, who uses it to watch out for Harry in Deathly Hallows. When Harry desperately cries for help to a shard of the magical mirror (which broke in the bottom of his trunk), a brilliant blue eye belonging to Aberforth (which Harry, however, mistakes for Albus's eye), appears and he sends Dobby, who arrives to help Harry escape from Malfoy Manor to Shell Cottage.

10.   In the story of The Beauty and the Beast, Beauty asks to see her family in a mirror and when her father looks so sad, she asks to go home for a visit.  The Beast allows her to go with gifts and with a promise that she will return or else he will die.

11.   Through the Looking Glass  by Lewis Carroll


Alice is playing with a white kitten (whom she calls "Snowdrop") and a black kitten (whom she calls "Kitty")—the offspring of Dinah, Alice's cat in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland—when she ponders what the world is like on the other side of a mirror's reflection. Climbing up on the fireplace mantel, she pokes at the wall-hung mirror behind the fireplace and discovers, to her surprise, that she is able to step through it to an alternative world. In this reflected version of her own house, she finds a book with looking-glass poetry, "Jabberwocky", whose reversed printing she can read only by holding it up to the mirror. She also observes that the chess pieces have come to life, though they remain small enough for her to pick up.
12.    The Oracle Glass  by Judith Merkle Riley



With imaginative verve, intelligence, and exceptional detail, The Oracle Glass captures the rich tang of one of history's most irresistible eras. Spinning actual police records from the reign of Louis XIV into a darkly captivating story, it follows the fortunes of Genevieve Pasquier, a fifteen-year-old girl who has been transformed into an imperious, seemingly infallible fortune-teller... Genevieve is a skinny, precocious little monkey with a mind full of philosophy and the power to read the swirling waters of an oracle glass…

13.   Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell  by Susanna Clarke


Awards and nominations


Man Booker Prize
2004    Longlisted

Whitbread First Novel Award
2004    Shortlisted

Guardian First Book Award
2004    Shortlisted

Time's Best Novel of the Year
2004    Won

British Book Awards Literary Fiction Award
2005    Shortlisted

Hugo Award for Best Novel
2005    Won

World Fantasy Award for Best Novel
2005    Won

Locus Award for Best First Novel
2005    Won

Mythopoeic Award for Adult Literature
2005    Won

British Book Awards Newcomer of the Year Award
2005    Won

In the story there is a mirror.  I think it is Jonathan who uses it and walks through to other places.  I was very interested in the mirror and I hoped I would see it used again, but as I remember it was thrown into the story once and then never mentioned again.

Sadly, I felt as if this book was two different stories meshed together.  One story, I liked, and the other I hated.  I think if I had removed the pages I didn’t like, I would have had a wonderful story still left.  I gave the book away.  I know many of my friends liked it.

14.   We expect mirrors to be part of old houses and gothic stories.  At this site,  the mirrors in Jane Eyre  are mentioned:


Gothic Imagery 1: The red-room (her deceased uncle’s room) is dark like blood. It emits strange noises and has a large mirror that distorts Jane's appearance…

Gothic Imagery 6: Jane meets her double here, in this visitation to her room the night before her wedding. As we will see, it is not Grace Poole, but Rochester's first wife who is hysterical and insane, being watched over by Grace Poole in the upstairs attic…

In her visit to Jane's room, Jane is revisited with the greatest terror, only equaled by her time in the Red Room, for it is the only other time Jane ever passes out. This enactment of the trying on of the veil, and gazing into the mirror, is later reenacted by Jane the morning of the wedding.  When Jane looks in that very mirror, she says she does not recognize herself, but sees only, "a robed and veiled figure...the image of a stranger."

15.   In the movie West Side Story, Maria looks in a mirror and sings “I Feel Pretty”.  I have remembered that scene for all the years since the movie came out.

16.   In stories where strangers come, we see the town or people or situation as in a mirror through the stranger's eyes.  Though the view point character in Shane by Schaefer is Bob, the young boy, we see the whole family and the valley in the mirror of Shane's eyes and understanding.    

What other stories have mirrors?

Diaries of the week

Write On! the graceful infodump
by SensibleShoes

Thursday Classical Music Opus 37: Les Six and Francis Poulenc's Oboe Sonata+*
by Dumbo


Library Of Congress Puts Thousands Of Rare Recordings Online


The "National Jukebox," available on a streaming-only basis, unfortunately, is a massive trove of audio recordings. Music, speeches, humor readings--spanning decades of American history. The original words of Teddy Roosevelt. "Rhapsody in Blue" with George Gershwin on piano. Serious national gems.
site addy:

National Jukebox
Historical Recordings from the Library of Congress


plf515 has a book talk on Wednesday mornings early.

sarahnity’s list of DKos authors


Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Wed May 11, 2011 at 05:01 PM PDT.

Also republished by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter.


Which is your favorite mirror story?

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