Symbols. How do you find them and what do they mean in fiction?
Webster defines symbol as: “a visible sign of something invisible.”
In Secret in the Stars, Herbert, the proprietor of the inn who passed away, returns as a ghost and asks Abi for help with a problem he had left behind. In her quest to help Herbert, Abi runs into obstacles, the most notable, the numerous doors throughout the story, some locked, some unlocked, and one hidden one.
The first door Abi encounters is the screen door in front of the inn. She peers inside to a gloomy hallway. Right away we are put on guard: this inn is creepy. Dee comes in and peers through the screen, protected at first by the thin metal barrier. It takes courage for Abi to cross this barrier and go inside.
When she’s hot on the trail of the only clue she has—the honey jars—she finds the red metal doors that lead to the cellar locked. That doesn’t stop her. She “borrows” the padlock key that’s never supposed to leave Dee’s office. She and Jess open the doors and head down the concrete steps.
They find the honey jars, and Abi discovers a secret door handle behind the jars on the shelves. Are there more clues hidden behind this secret door? Just as she is about to find out, Dee catches them.
Oh no. Abi’s questions aren’t going to be answered. Why did someone build shelves on a door? To hide something? What is behind the door?
Abi has made a big mistake. She should have listened to Jess’s advice to put back the key. If she had, they never would have been caught. Dee asks for the key back, and Abi and Jess are nowhere near solving the mystery.
In life we pass through many doors, such as passing tests at school, trying out for an athletic team, and participating in a contest. If our goal is to succeed, then we must try our hardest. Sometimes we fail. But the most important thing is that we tried. Our failure can spur us on to try again. We’ll be better next time.
This strategy works. It worked for Abi.
The strategy worked for me, too, many times. Have you ever been sent to the principal’s office? I have. As I stood before him, my principal sat in his chair, protected by his desk looming between us. I, on the other hand, had no protection.
Feeling so utterly exposed with nothing and no one to protect me, I had to make a choice. Own up to what I had done, or not, which would have been lying. I suppose like Abi I had courage, because I didn’t take the chicken way out. I told the truth. And because of that, I did not get in trouble.
I didn’t realize it then, but I had opened a very important door for myself. That experience helped me realize that to open doors in my life, I needed courage, and I needed to tell the truth.
Other symbols in Secret in the Stars were placed in the story to show other challenges Abi faces. I’ll give you some hints:
• Abi’s locket: Could her solid gold locket have a deeper meaning? Yes, much deeper! Her beloved grandmother, who also had passed away, is speaking to her, handing down wisdom from the ages. Abi discovers more about her locket in Book 2, Secret in the Mist, and in Book 3, Secrets of the Heart.
• Abi’s flip-flops: Symbolize Abi’s lack of knowledge of the outdoors and country living. This lack quickly changes in Book 2.
• The silhouettes: Represent the numerous facets of Herbert’s personality, and also shows Dee’s regard for him by her desire to create them.
Like you and me, Abi’s not perfect. But she does have a goal—to help Herbert. The symbols in the story help to reveal a deeper meaning in her life, which have to do with using her wits and courage in her pursuits. She winds up helping everyone in the story, including herself.
Here is the real hidden door! When flat against the wall, it looks like the shelves on the left. When it's opened, it rolls out on squeaky wheels. It is in the basement of a house I once lived in, and is the inspiration for the secret door in Secret in the Stars.