The Shadow of the Wind is a novel about people who love books. Books and written texts are central to the novel, not only as objects of interest and passion but as sources of knowledge and insight that can’t be found in other artistic mediums or in everyday life. Moreover, the events of Daniel’s life mirror those he reads about in Carax’s work or in written accounts of Carax’s youth. In a sense, these books within the book are more trustworthy guides for Daniel than the shifting and unreliable actions of those around him. Ultimately, the great extent to which books reflect and relate to “real life” in the novel is a testament to the enduring and incorruptible nature of literature, especially in a dangerous and unreliable world.
While no medium can convey pure, unqualified truth, books and written texts are the novel’s most reliable and trustworthy sources of information. When he first reads The Shadow of the Wind, Daniel feels that through reading the book he has accessed a truth that is both eternal and directly relevant to his life. Characters from the book proceed to appear in his real life, such as Lain Coubert, Julian Carax’s demonic alias, reinforcing the idea that literature can be viscerally present in one’s lived experience. The sense of the reliability of literature only heightens as the novel progresses. When Daniel interrogates people verbally about Carax, he usually finds them deceitful or evasive, wishing to hide information or cast events in a false light. However, when he eventually coaxes them into telling the truth, their confessions are related in an italicized, mini-novelistic format, as if Daniel is reading a novel within the novel. This stylistic trick creates a strong association between truth and writing, even within the world of the book itself.
The strongest example of this pattern comes from Daniel’s interactions with Nuria Momfort. When he first speaks with her she completely misleads him, trying to protect Carax. Her eventual confession comes in the form of a typed manuscript which she sends Daniel just before her death. The written truth is totally different and much more trustworthy than the oral version with which she presents Daniel when he first meets her. Daniel’s instinctive affinity for the written word, combined with Zafón’s habit of presenting characters’ sincerest and most insightful thoughts in manuscript form, suggests that for Zafón, written literature is often more reliable or “true” than the things people do or say in reality.
The novel’s portrayal of literature as truthful (even when it’s fictional) is especially important given that other popular art forms are easily manipulated to disseminate untruths or serve political purposes. Fermín and other characters often reference the newly invented television (which Fermín calls the “Antichrist”) not just as a challenge to the book business, but as something that threatens human development rather than facilitating it. News disseminated through newsreels and radios is known to be controlled by the government. Entertainment provided by radios consists of soap operas that allow people to “gaze at their navels” or propaganda programs designed to encourage patriotism or piety, like the game show With a Little Help From the Lord. Notably, Fumero uses the fascist-controlled newspapers to obscure the circumstances of Nuria Momfort’s death and frame Fermín for her murder. This untruth contrasts starkly with the unbiased truth Nuria presents in the manuscript she sends Daniel, which proves crucial to understanding Carax’s past.
Ultimately, The Shadow of the Wind doesn’t just praise books for the personal enjoyment and fulfillment they provide, but also because they are a source of comparative truth in a world that is often profoundly untrustworthy. The shifting narratives that different characters provide Daniel about the past and Carax’s youth mirror the shifting social and political narratives that emerged in the decades after the Spanish Civil War, each one serving a different agenda and biased in its own way. Therefore, truthfulness in literature is shown to be an antidote to the political confusion that has overtaken Spain.
At the end of the novel, Daniel’s bookshop is holding on but not quite thriving. Bea says that “the art of reading is slowly dying.” While the novel is elegiac about the possibilities and revelations offered by literature, it’s not optimistic that people will continue to make use of them in years to come. Already other mediums like television are in ascendance, delivering narratives that are more palatable and uncomplicated.
In The Shadow of the Wind, the literature characters read has an uncanny ability to affect what they do and what happens to them. This trend isn’t meant to mirror how people actually interact with literature; there are no Lain Courberts jumping off the page to stalk avid readers. Rather, literature’s influence on real life, and its strong association with truth-telling, hold up the art form as something on which to rely when events of the world or other media disseminate incomplete or biased forms of truth.
Reality and the Written Word ThemeTracker
Reality and the Written Word Quotes in The Shadow of the Wind
Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down the pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.
After a while it occurred to me that between the covers of each of those books lay a boundless universe waiting to be discovered, while beyond those walls, in the outside world, people allowed life to pass by in afternoons of football and radio soaps, content to do little more than gaze at their navels.
I couldn’t help thinking that if I, by pure chance, had found a whole universe in a single unknown book, buried in that endless necropolis, tens of thousands more would remain unexplored, forgotten forever. I felt myself surrounded by millions of pages, by worlds and souls without an owner sinking into an ocean of darkness, while the world that throbbed outside the library seemed to be losing its memory, day after day, unknowingly, feeling all the wiser the more it forgot.
I imagined Julián Carax at that age, holding that image in his hands…and for a moment I thought there were no more ghosts there than those of absence and loss, and that the light that smiled on me was borrowed light, real only as long as I could hold it in my eyes, second by second.
Julián lived in his books. The body that ended up in the morgue was only a part of him. His soul is in his stories. I once asked him who inspired him to create his characters, and his answer was no one. That all his characters were himself.
Fumero was very keen on movies and went to the cinema at least twice a week. It was in a cinema that he had understood that Penélope had been the love of his life. The rest, especially his mother, had been nothing but tarts.
He hated the man who had caused this calamity, this trail of death and misery: himself. He hated those filthy books to which he had devoted his life and about which nobody cared. He hated every stolen second and every breath.
It was Laín Coubert, just as I’d learned to fear him reading the pages of a book, so many years ago…I saw how the hand of the angel pierced [Fumero’s] chest, spearing him, how the accursed soul was driven out like black vapor, falling like frozen tears over the mirror of water.
Bea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it’s an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day.