What good is a story without any things I can picture and illustrate?
February 6, 2021 2:25 PM   Subscribe

I made a necklace with handmade clay beads in the theme of Alice in Wonderland. I would like to make more themed necklaces but I am really struggling to find stories with representative 'elements' I can depict..

I have tried searching but I can't find a way to phrase what I'm looking for succinctly and end up with suggestions of stories rich in "imagery" or "symbolism" which is not what I want. So please help me! What stories do you know like this? Can you give me examples of the elements you find recognizable?

I would like to find stories with multiple elements/objects that are easily recognizable/unusual. My Alice necklace has playing card suit and chessboard spacer beads. The main beads are a half-painted rose, a 'drink me' bottle, a mushroom, an 'eat me' cake, and a swaddled pig baby. Kind of hard to miss the theme unless you've never read the story.

Also open to songs, stage productions, movies etc. In short, please share with me any stories you can picture with elements and what those elements are. Thanks!
posted by RobinofFrocksley to Writing & Language (35 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Go classical? 12 tasks of Hercules. Chapters of the Illyiad (or Joyce's take of the the myths in Ulysses)?
posted by Gratishades at 2:30 PM on February 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think probably any fairy tale would fit what you are looking for? You can look at Disney stories, or if you don't want to be limited by that, check out Andrew Lang's Fairy Books series for ideas.

Example: East of the Sun, West of the Moon: White Bear, candle, castle, golden apple, golden carding comb, golden spinning wheel, sleeping potion, prince's shirt.
posted by toastyk at 2:33 PM on February 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sondheim's Into the Woods
posted by freethefeet at 2:43 PM on February 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I love Into the Woods!! Not sure what elements to pull from it though. Fairy tales are great, but only if they don't share the same 5 elements as all the other fairy tales. Please keep them coming!
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 2:47 PM on February 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wizard of Oz, each character has a built in token.
posted by phunniemee at 2:49 PM on February 6, 2021 [9 favorites]

Best answer: snow white - the crown, the mirror, the huntsman's knife, a miner's pick, the coffin, the apple
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:15 PM on February 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

the story of Joseph from Genesis is super visual and obvious to anyone with any kind of Bible familiarity

- the "coat of many colors"(actually just striped)
- the sun and moon and 11 stars bowing to another star
- the caravan (camels although historically it would have been donkeys) to Egypt (pyramids)
- the dreams (7 fat cows and 7 skinny cows; 7 fat wheat sheaves and 7 skinny wheat sheaves)
- the Pharaoh's seal of his promotion to vizier
- the golden cup he plants in Benjamin's sack
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:21 PM on February 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Alchemy Andrew MacLean's site Levity.com has a lot of symbolic images.
posted by effluvia at 3:28 PM on February 6, 2021

Iconic Item
Iconic Outfit
posted by oceano at 3:32 PM on February 6, 2021

Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen is pretty overtly a symbol-driven story. It is religious and I'm not and I still enjoy some of the set pieces.
posted by Glomar response at 3:39 PM on February 6, 2021

Best answer: Does it have to be a story per se? You could do a tarot-themed necklace with the major beads being a wand, a coin, a cup, a sword, and a fool’s cap, with numbered and crown spacer beads.
posted by ejs at 3:41 PM on February 6, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

boa constrictor
lamp post
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:43 PM on February 6, 2021 [10 favorites]

Best answer: A newspaper, a sled, and a snow globe make a good start for Citizen Kane

Narnia can be captured with a lion, a witch, a wardrobe, a lamp post, a silver chair, etc.

Lord of the Rings is full of special objects that signify it. The rings, the named swords and daggers, the two towers, the phial, etc.
posted by SaltySalticid at 3:47 PM on February 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Lord of the Rings: ring, dragon, mushroom, pipe, tree, leaf, sword, wizard hat or staff, eagle

And yeah fairy tales are definitely your friend here (icons may vary based on whether you're going for the Disney or Grimm version):

Cinderella: shoe, pumpkin, clock, fairy wand, dress, maybe music representing dancing/the ball?

Beauty and the Beast: rose, book, teapot, candle, beast face (lion?)
posted by rhiannonstone at 3:49 PM on February 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Harry Potter? Some of the symbols may be “typical” fairy tale or witch/wizard objects (sorting hat, broom, etc.) but there are more specific ones that would set it apart - golden snitch, hermione’s time traveler necklace, I’m sure there are others but it’s been a while since I’ve read them. The portkeys - wasn’t one a boot or something? Invisibility cloak. It may even be possible to do a separate theme for each book.

My other thought is his dark materials - the golden compass (alethiometer), subtle knife, etc. I’d have to look into if there are enough more besides the obvious few.

Sounds like a cool idea!
posted by sillysally at 3:49 PM on February 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Also maybe take a look at what people sell for charm bracelets. A lot of them may only be one on or two objects from a story (or not a story at all) but could lead to other ideas.
posted by sillysally at 3:51 PM on February 6, 2021

Best answer: Another cool idea would be for the book the giver with all grey/black/white objects except a red apple. But again I’d have to read the book again to see what the other objects would be.
posted by sillysally at 3:57 PM on February 6, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Your life.

Someone else's life.

I'm totally serious! This would be amazing.
posted by amtho at 4:25 PM on February 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

The zodiac is a obvious one.

Slightly more obscure and a lot more religious:

Pilgrim’s Progress, which is the source of many common phrases - the straight and narrow, the city on the hill, vanity fair

Passion of the Christ (the three days before Jesus’s crucifixion: temptation in the desert, entering Jerusalem, pontine pilate washing hands, crown of thorns, etc.

Moses and the Exodus - basket in the rushes, burning bush, plagues, parting of the Red Sea

Shakespeare is a rich vein to mine, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet first off.
posted by bq at 4:39 PM on February 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, collects 19th century jewelry with pictures of Venice made out of tiny pieces of glass. Would cities or other places work for you? I’m having trouble linking on my phone, but it’s easy to google.
posted by FencingGal at 4:49 PM on February 6, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: What fun! I'm getting a "codenames: pictures"-type vibe from this -- how can one person communicate a concept or phrase, by selecting a few pictures/icons that another person interprets as the same idea.

Movies with unique visual elements would be easy, where the visual imagery is already part of popular culture. E.g. "star wars". But imagine if star wars was a niche book that had never been translated into a movie, so there was no shared understanding of what concepts like wookie/stormtrooper/lightsaber looked like. Might be much harder to communicate the concept with icons. The world probably has an elegant sufficiency of star wars imagery, let's move on.

I just finished reading Octavia E. Butler's excellent Xenogenesis series -- more challenging to encode into images, since different readers will have different ideas of what the aliens look like, there isn't some pop culture rosetta stone movie adaptation to lean on (yet!). The plot revolves around alien and human interbreeding. Could perhaps communicate it to others who had read the series as the 5-person-family-unit. Could perhaps communicate it by focusing on illustrating human-alien hybrids ("constructs") -- humans/humanoids with sensory tentacles. That might be easier for someone to recognise than what the aliens look like, since each reader will have a different idea of that.

Movies with titles that can be encoded as pictograms are also easy. E.g. (lion)-(witch)-(wardrobe). If you're trying to communicate with people who aren't familiar with the story but might recognise the title, it might even be better to have the witch look like an archetypal generic witch, not a white-witch. Depending on who you are trying to communicate with, and what they already know, it could be better to encode the same idea using different ways!

Since the beads/icons are strung in order, there's the opportunity to use the ordering to communicate as well. E.g. Perec's book "Life: a User's Manual" has a plot line that goes like so:

> Bartlebooth [...] devises a plan that will both occupy the remainder of his life and spend his entire fortune. First, he spends 10 years learning to paint watercolors [...]. Then, he embarks on a 20-year trip around the world [...] painting a watercolor of a different port roughly every two weeks for a total of 500 watercolors. Bartlebooth then sends each painting back to France [..it is turned into...] a jigsaw puzzle. Upon his return, Bartlebooth spends his time solving each jigsaw [...] Each finished puzzle is treated to re-bind the paper [...then] the painting is sent to the port where it was painted. Exactly 20 years to the day after it was painted, the painting is placed in a detergent solution until the colors dissolve, and the paper, blank except for the faint marks where it was cut and re-joined, is returned to Bartlebooth.

(blank paper)-(luggage/ticket)-(artist's palette)-(watercolour painting)-(a few jigsaw pieces)-(watercolour painting)-(blank paper)

e.g. use the ordering to communicate the circular journey from blank paper to blank paper
posted by are-coral-made at 4:58 PM on February 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I feel like children's lit works especially well for this:

Phantom Tollbooth -- a tollbooth/toy car, a clock face, math symbols, a dictionary or something to indicate wordplay (a pastry labeled "half-baked"?)

Charlotte's Web -- spider web (with words, if you want to be obvious), pig, ferris wheel, axe (?), a tiny spider ready to blow away in her spider silk balloon

Tom Sawyer - raft, fence and paintbrush, cave

His Dark Materials - The American titles give you the main beads (golden compass, subtle knife, amber spyglass). Other recognizable images would be a hot air balloon, a polar bear, a golden monkey or ermine (or both)

The Sword in the Stone
Disney - squirrel, fish, bird, sword in stone, crown, wizard hat
Book - ant, fish, goose, sword in stone, crown, wizard hat

Princess Bride - Westley's mask, a princess crown, a fencing sword, a goblet, an ROUS

Heidi - sheep, a mountain, a picnic basket. I bet there are more, but I haven't read it since I was a little kid.
posted by natabat at 5:20 PM on February 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

You might also get some ideas by googling "emoji pictionary" - here's an example.
posted by natabat at 5:24 PM on February 6, 2021

Peter and the Wolf?
posted by saladin at 5:42 PM on February 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Bartleby the Scrivener

A writing desk, a quill pen, and four words: I prefer not to.
posted by chiefthe at 5:47 PM on February 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I’ve always wanted to make a bracelet with the theme of “My Favorite Things,” e.g., bright copper kettles, warm woolen mittens, etc. Schnitzel with noodles might be tricky but I suppose you don’t have to include every Favorite Thing.
posted by corey flood at 5:53 PM on February 6, 2021 [9 favorites]

The Sorcerer's Apprentice - Mickey and a dozen brooms
Around the World in 80 Days - various forms of transportation
Monopoly game pieces

Horatio Hornblower - many fully rigged sailing ships
Our Town - This one will be easy to create but hard to explain.
All Quiet on the Western Front - OK, time to stop...
posted by Cris E at 7:13 PM on February 6, 2021

A nativity with baby jesus, star of bethlehem, Mary, Joseph, sheep, Three Wise Men, etc
posted by The Toad at 8:25 PM on February 6, 2021

Aesop's Fables offers so many combinations.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:46 PM on February 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you know any children, or adults who enjoy silly games as much as children, you can ask them to tell short stories using emoji (or narrate their ideal day or their favourite holiday using emoji, or something like that). Then mine the results!
posted by quacks like a duck at 3:33 AM on February 7, 2021

Best answer: A lot of murder mysteries would lend themselves well to this. Inspired by a pair of Poirot earrings with little mustache beads I once bought my mom off Etsy, you could do Murder on the Orient Express with a mustache, a brain (little grey cells), a train, a snowflake, a knife, money.
posted by abeja bicicleta at 7:08 AM on February 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I’m on Moby-Dick at the moment which is popular with people who want not many symbols in their design: whale, or whale + whaling ship + little boats + harpoons + maybe a globe.
posted by lokta at 7:52 AM on February 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

I don't know if you're doing this for sale or for fun, but I would pay good money for a necklace with the Clue/Cleudo weapons on it.
posted by dogmom at 1:03 PM on February 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: This is so helpful, you all are filling up my sketchbook with ideas.

I have a Wizard of Oz necklace all planned out and am so pumped about it!!

I don't know if you're doing this for sale or for fun, but I would pay good money for a necklace with the Clue/Cleudo weapons on it.

Check your memail!
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 1:41 PM on February 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: a fairy cake, a cup of tea, a yellow bulldozer, a sperm whale, a bowl of petunias, a mouse, a computer.

Wind in the Willows: a toad, a mole, a badger, a water vole, a motor car.

You'd need a very long necklace for a hundred and one Dalmatians, and I guess it would be a bit too obvious anyway, but...
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:34 AM on February 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

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