The Story Behind the Image
A reflection on a book cover.
I have to say, I struggled with the cover design of book two of my series, Daughter of Odysseus: Searching for Ithaka.
I know book covers are important; they are the introduction to the book, the image and design that encapsulates the words within the pages. They can entice, inspire and fascinate. They can be truly illustrious or downright tacky.
I hope I don’t fall into the second category.
I ahhed and ummed about the final product and still do, to be honest. But I believe the book cover for Daughter of Odysseus: Searching for Ithaka, captures the story, its themes and motifs in vivid ways.
It is a cover rich in symbolism, from the owl sitting on top of the Greek column, to the mask floating within the waters of the sea; floating within the trail that represents the ship travelling and searching for home, for Ithaka.
Bird symbolism plays an important role in book two. Each part has a bird symbol: the cardinal, the owl, the peacock and the eagle. I chose the owl for the book cover because of its supernatural connotations, its association with the goddess Athena and its links to the concepts of Wisdom.
Athena was she who guided Odysseus throughout his journeys. She encouraged him, protected him, ensured he grew in wisdom and certainly stature. She transformed him physically many times, from a lowly beggar to a man akin more to a god.
The idea of Wisdom is also important. It is a theological and philosophical concept, appearing in the Old Testament through the Book of Proverbs, for example. Wisdom is symbolised as a woman calling passers-by to hear her voice, to discern truth and to walk in the paths of righteousness and justice. She is the opposite of Woman Folly and indeed is so important that the Bible says that she was with God at the beginning of Creation. Thus, Wisdom is associated with creation and her principles and laws can be found even in the lowliest of ants.
Although bird symbolism plays a key role, it does so in a subtle way, enhancing the theme and motifs of each part and giving us further insight into the life of Christine, the people around her and her journeys. The bird can appear at any given moment; in a painting, on a necklace, within the embrace of a lush forest:
From this scenery of pure loveliness, Christine caught a glimpse of a bird arrayed in the robes of heaven. She rubbed her eyes and looked again; sure enough, she could discern none other than a peacock standing erect; his dazzling cloak of feathers lying flat and encircling his body, his head with its shimmering blue upright and looking towards the bus, his coat of a hundred eyes that her ancestors would have seen as symbolising the ‘all-seeing God’—eyes that encapsulated the glories of the heavens above.
Such nobility, such grace, such confidence! This image of the peacock infused within her vivacity of spirit, mind and body. It inspired her to believe in her own self, to embrace the dignity and self-assurance that, surely, was buried deep within her and now ready to find fruition.
The column, of course, represents Greece. What could it represent otherwise? A land of crumbling ancient columns from temples dedicated to the gods and goddesses worshipped by my ancestors. Majestic structures of symmetrical perfection and aesthetic wonder. This is a book in Greece, about Greece, and ultimately the role Greece plays and has played in the history of humanity, as well as in the life of Christine. A mysterious land, multi-faceted, ancient yet intensely secular and materialistic. A world of pure spirituality and terrible moral corruption. A land of holy monks and not so holy people. A land rich in natural beauty, yet oftentimes full of people blind to this beauty.
The musical notes emanating from the trail of the ship, from within the deep recesses of the waters, symbolise the Sirens. The Sirens were water nymphs who, although bewitching to sailors, had the power to lure and destroy. It was their singing that held the power and that so entranced the traveller of the sea to forget their homes, their wives and children, only to be led to their death.
‘Woe to the innocent who hears that sound!’ Odysseus is warned.
Indeed, so powerful was their beauty and bewitching charm that Odysseus had to be tied to the mast in order to still be able to hear the Sirens singing. Of course, he begged to be untied upon hearing their voices, as he succumbed to feminine temptation and all its trappings.
There are metaphorical sirens in Searching for Ithaka trying to lull Christine away from her journey and from that which she is searching for. These sirens manifest themselves in many ways: through the people she meets, the moral corruption permeating Greece (and enticing her), the promises of pleasure and hedonism and materialistic superficiality. The temptation to not be who she truly is, to find a false Ithaka detrimental to her well-being and her soul. A temptation that leads to her spiritual death.
Parallel to these musical notes, on the back cover, is a golden mask floating menacingly in the waters. It is gold and shimmering and brilliant.
The symbolism of the mask is well-known: concealment, falsehood, illusion, disguise, deceit. There are masks all around Christine: on the people she meets, within herself, and ultimately, the mask she has created about the land of her ancestors, Greece. Masks that she must tear away and find the truth; masks that reveal a rotting body and a distortion of reality:
‘Look beyond the veil Christine,’ she could almost hear it say. ‘With Wisdom by your side, learn to see what others do not; tear off the masks of those around you—of the world around you. But most importantly, tear off the mask you are now wearing and look deep into your own self.’
A Book Cover should never be just a pretty picture or an afterthought. It must capture the story within and in a sense, be its own story. I hope I have achieved this.