The Word “Familiar” Doesn’t Act Quite So
Sometimes a title can simply serve as a heading for a novel. Other times it serves as some sort of foreshadowing, or a revelation that can only be understood after the whole of the novel has been read and digested. In the case of Danielewski’s The Familiar, I can’t say that I have any idea as to where he plans to go with the significance of this title in reference to his work. Something that stuck out to me in the first 200 pages was the hint that some animals may be play a part as partners to humans, a similar role to the typical familiars seen in popular myths of witches where they act as their loyal helpers and protectors.
After a class discussion it was made clear to me that Danielewski is one to decorate his books in a fanciful way, weaving a number of significant and colorful design choices into his novels that help to both illuminate and enhance his reader’s experience. While the novel as we are reading it is still in its developmental stages and the design changes that Danielewski is bound to employ in his finished version of the novel are still unknown, it is important to note the subtle nods to these design elements that can be seen in this incomplete version. The one that stands out most prominently to me at this time involves the presence and peculiarity surrounding the word “familiar”.
On separate occasions in the text, this word is used in a variety of different stories and contexts. Despite the variability of its use, the slightly faded coloring of it from the makeshift cover of the novel to its place in the text seems to consistently remain the same. This occurrence of the word is sporadic, most notably in a considerably close cluster on pages 124, 135, and 175, though as far as I know every use of said word has been presented in a slightly faded hue. Another interesting feature includes word not only being faded, but the only part that retains such discoloration is the strict root of just “familiar” (i.e. in the word familiars, the s is not included in this color deviation).
I first interpreted this trend as a nod to the kind of shadowy presence that an animal familiar typically is thought to have considering it is a creature that protects and aids its master/partner silently from the sidelines. Despite this being a possible basis for the word’s faded nature I think that the traditional animal definition for the word “familiar” will probably play out in a bigger way in the text considering the evolving use of animals in these early stories. As to what kind of connection this might actually have to the word or title, though, I am still quite unsure and very curious to find out.
Apart from my assumptions, I think that more questions can be asked concerning this trend. What significance might this discoloration lend to within the scope of the novel? Does it serve as a nod to the title, or will it hold some deeper meaning that can only be discovered upon further reading and analysis of the novel? I’m very interested to see how the word and the stories continue to evolve throughout the rest of the novel.