Lines to Love: The Dean Koontz Edition


I adore a well executed metaphor.

Sometimes, I can’t quite grasp at the metaphor I’m reaching for. When this happens, I revert to the dictionary- the good ole Oxford English- to gain clarity on the definition and perhaps insight into something about the word that conjures a specific image to mind that I can work with. 

You can learn a lot about a word from its dictionary entry- a lot more than just a meaning, that is. Words are elemental. They possess energy and history. The entry is merely the introduction. Then there’s the pronunciation, the form, the frequency of use, the origin, the etymology, etc., to say nothing of the variety of definitions that give a greater scope to the word’s history. (Obscure definitions are perhaps the most enlightening. They give understanding to something that no longer exists in that capacity, shedding light on how the word has now come to be utilized.)

Dean Koontz is king of weaving a character’s particular experience or thought into a metaphorical light that gives gravitas to the moment. He brings life to settings and inanimate objects through metaphor as well. Sometimes his metaphors are humorous. Other times they are poignant. And, sometimes, they are simply beautiful. A thing of beauty should be appreciated forever. 

Today I want to pay homage to an author who has penciled metaphors (and a few similes) that have touched my heart with their beauty, tickled my funny bone with their humor, and stirred my imagination with their eloquence.

Here are a few examples of his expertise: 

“A city is half beast and half machine, with arteries of fresh water and veins of foul, nerves of telephone and electrical cables, sewer lines for bowels, pipes full of pressurized steam and others carrying gas, valves and fans and filters and meters and motors and transformers and tens of thousands of interlinked computers, and though its people sleep, the city never does.” 

- Innocence

“In fact, time teaches us that the musical score of life oscillates between that of ‘Psycho’ and that of ‘Sound of Music,’ with by far the greatest number of our days lived to the strains of an innocuous and modestly budgeted picture, sometimes a romance, sometimes a light comedy, sometimes a little art film of puzzling purpose and elusive meaning.”
 - The City

“Kyoto, the spiritual heart of Japan, was a thousand years old yet as new as a fresh idea: a fascinating hodgepodge of neon signs and ancient temples, plastic gimcrackery and beautifully hand-carved stone, the worst of modern architecture thrusting up next to palaces and ornate shrines that were weathered by centuries of hot, damp summers and cold, damp winters. By a mysterious combination of tradition and popular culture, the metropolis renewed her sense of humanity’s permanence and purpose, refreshing her sometimes shaky belief in the importance of the individual.”
- The Key to Midnight

“Recognizing the structure of your psychology does not mean you can easily rebuild it. The Chamber of Unreasonable Guilt is part of my mental architecture, and I doubt that I will ever be able to renovate that particular room in this strange castle that is me.”
- Odd Thomas

“The room was illuminated only by a fat candle in an amber glass on the corner desk. Each time a draft found the flame, melting light buttered the limestone walls and waves of fluid shadows oiled the corners.”
- Brother Odd

“The sun, nurturing mother of the earth, poured a scalding milk upon the day, boiling some of the blue from the sky and leaving the heavens faded.”
- Odd Thomas

I aspire toward this sort of writing, but it takes practice. Lots and lots of practice. (Actually, if I’m honest, when I read lines like those above, I try not to get discouraged. I mean, he does it so well. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there. He writes metaphor in such an organic way, it feels as natural as breathing, like he merely opened up his digital document and exhaled brilliance on the page.)

I saved my favorite quote by him for last. It comes from my favorite book by him, too. (I’ve read and re-read this book so many times that I can remember large portions as though I’d read it only yesterday.)

Love was a sacred garment, woven of a fabric so thin that it could not be seen, yet so strong that even mighty death could not tear it, a garment that could not be frayed by use, that brought warmth into what would otherwise be an intolerable, cold world- but at times love could also be as heavy as chain mail. Bearing the burden of love, on those occasions when it was a solemn weight, made it more precious when, in better times, it caught the wind in sleeves like wings, and lifted you.
— False Memory

So… now I’m off to go about some of my own writing, with the hope that I will make a small inroad into touching this sort of literary greatness. Small beginnings, my darlings. Small beginnings. Let’s only hope that the metaphors and similes I come up with aren’t hackneyed and lacking in originality. Or worse, tortured. Or else, these lines by Koontz will come and haunt me: “Please don’t torture me with cliches. If you’re going to try to intimidate me, have the courtesy to go away for a while, acquire a better education, improve your vocabulary, and come back with some fresh metaphors” (Odd Thomas).

What about you? Is there a metaphor or simile you’ve read that you remember or love? Please, share it so we all can enjoy it.