Matt Bell's 'In the House...' and 7 Memorable Allegorical Novels

Matt Bell’s evocative new novel, In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods (Soho), is only the latest in a long list of fantastic allegorical novels. Despite the fantastical features (anthropomorphism, anyone?) that these novels embody, the stories each illuminate themes that are, in fact, very substantial. Inspired by Bell’s visceral tour de force, we compiled a list of some great works of allegorical fiction. Read on.

Masterful Mythology and More

Matt Bell’s evocative new novel, In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods (Soho), is only the latest in a long list of fantastic allegorical novels. Despite the fantastical features (anthropomorphism, anyone?) that these novels embody, the stories each illuminate themes that are, in fact, very substantial. Inspired by Bell’s visceral tour de force, we compiled a list of some great works of allegorical fiction. Read on.

'In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods' by Matt Bell

The title of Matt Bell’s In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods presents a true test of memory and title capitalization rules, both of which fittingly pertain to themes in this inventive new novel; Bell traverses the intricacies of memory while constructing an utterly unique and non-formulaic tale. In the House introduces a husband and wife (their names are never explicitly spelled out, but hints are dropped throughout the story) who move to the titular house-in-a-secluded-locale for the sole purpose of conceiving and raising children. The result is an imaginative, mythological exploration of the very real trials and tribulations of parenthood—and all the love and grief that come with it.

'The Metamorphosis' by Franz Kafka

Published in 1915, The Metamorphosis virtually defined 20th century existentialist and fabulist literature. In this eccentric novella, Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, wakes up to discover that he has transformed into a grotesque insect. True to allegorical form, Kafka never explains why.

'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel

Yann Martel’s visionary tale takes place almost entirely on a lifeboat and focuses on two main characters: a boy named Pi and a ferocious Bengal Tiger. The novel explores the themes of spirituality and storytelling, pushing the boundaries of reality and believability in this cherished fable about a boy, a tiger, a hyena, a zebra, and an orangutan.

'Animal Farm' by George Orwell

The 1946 novella by famed dystopian novelist George Orwell takes place on an imaginary farm in England and is told from the point of view of the farm animals. Its overtly political message is a manifestation of Orwell’s staunch opposition to the rule of Joseph Stalin.

'Moby-Dick' by Herman Melville

The titular whale in Moby-Dick is one of—if not the—biggest (see what I did there?) symbols in English literature. But the great white sperm whale is only the starting point of Melville’s stirring masterpiece, which includes a profound examination of the conflict between good and evil, and the limitations of human knowledge.

'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' by Lewis Carroll

A little girl named Alice follows the White Rabbit down a rabbit hole—and thus, the renowned logician’s most famous story begins. Alice embarks on a host of whimsical adventures in the aptly-named Wonderland, as Carroll examines the meaninglessness of life through memorable characters such as the Mouse, the Caterpillar, and the grinning Cheshire Cat. The sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, picks up with Wonderland’s fantastical themes.

'Watership Down' by Richard Adams

Adams’ beloved 1972 novel features a small group of rabbits from rural England who leave in search of a new home. Drawing from the classical epics of Homer and Virgil, Adams leads Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, and Silver on a quest that addresses the dichotomies between freedom and tyranny, and between reason and emotion.