Tag Archives: abracadabra

Meaning of Abracadabra in “Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie


Not too long ago, I went to a lecture by Salman Rushdie at the University of North Carolina – Asheville. He was so inspiring that I ended up purchasing a copy of Midnight’s Children (click here to read my thoughts on his lecture). Since I was reading Infinite Jest at the time, it took a little while to get around to it, but I finally did so and finished reading it the other day.

Anyway, the book is amazing and rich in imagery and symbolism. I filled several pages of reference notes in my journal as I worked through the novel. So then the question became: What do I write about? I didn’t want to just write a summary, so I decided to focus on the word “abracadabra,” which is also the name of the last chapter in the book, and share my thoughts on how this word ties in to the overall story.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the etymology of the word, it is Aramaic in origin and roughly translates to something like “I create as I speak.” So the mystical power of this word is that magicians and occultists can use it to conjure or create with the use of a word, similar to the power of the Judeo-Christian god who created all existence from a word (see Genesis).

So here is the passage that I feel is key to understanding what Rushdie is doing on a grand scale with the book.

… yes, and Aadam heard it too, with his flapping ears he heard the rhythm of the magic, I saw his eyes light up as I accepted, and then we were in a third-class railway carriage heading south south south, and in the quinquesyllabic monotony of the wheels I heard the secret word: abracadabra abracadabra abracadabra sang on the wheels as they bore us back-to-Bom.

Yes, I had left the colony of the magicians behind me for ever, I was heading abracadabra abracadabra into the heart of nostalgia which would keep me alive long enough to write these pages…

(p. 519)

At this moment, the protagonist of the story, Saleem Sinai, realizes the mystical power of the written word, that words are magical symbols that can create connections between the past and the present and the future, and that through the use of words, he is creating a mythology that is eternal. These connections, or correspondences, are the building blocks of the myth, because mythology uses symbols to explain things on a grand or cosmic scale. And what I find most fascinating is that what we have here can be described as a meta-abracadabra, since we have Rushdie using the magical power of words to create a story that is a mythology of modern India, but within the story is another story about Saleem using words to write his own myth establishing the correspondences between his life and independent India.

Since I wove in the concept of correspondences, I want to add another quote from the book that elaborates on correspondences.

As a people, we are obsessed with correspondences. Similarities between this and that, between apparently unconnected things, make us clap our hands delightedly when we find them out. It is a sort of national longing for form—or perhaps simply an expression of our deep belief that forms lie hidden within reality; that meaning reveals itself only in flashes.

(pp. 343 – 344)

I firmly believe in the concept of correspondence. All things are connected, and sometimes those connections are obvious, and sometimes they are hidden, as in symbolism. But connections exist all around us, and the power of the written word can help us realize those hidden connections. Abracadabra!

Although this book is rich with symbolism, it is very readable, a terrific story, and has some of the most beautiful use of synesthesia I have ever encountered. I highly recommend reading it. As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading engaging stuff.


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“The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown

I recently went to an estate sale that advertised a huge collection of books for sale. Upon arrival, there was practically a small bookstore’s worth of books, mostly hardcover, all for $1 each. I gathered a stack and this was one of the books I picked up. I figured I couldn’t go wrong for a dollar.

As with other Dan Brown books I’ve read, there were things I liked and things that annoyed me. It’s becoming a cliché for me, how Langdon miraculously saves the day. I picture him as Indiana Jones. All he needs is a whip and a hat. The other thing that annoys me is Brown’s writing style. I call it the Doritos style of writing, where chapters are broken into little bite-sized chunks that keep you snacking. The book is 509 pages long and contains 134 chapters, which averages out to under 5 pages per chapter. It’s like it was written so that you could quickly read a chapter while sitting on the toilet.

OK, now that I have gotten my pet peeves out of the way, I have to confess that there were things about this book that I enjoyed and found very interesting, and I believe these are the things that make Dan Brown such an appealing writer. He skillfully weaves deep and arcane information into his stories, and he does so in a way that is accessible. I found myself looking things up on the internet, particularly references to artistic and literary works. The man has clearly done his research and has done it well. I was particularly fascinated with his incorporation of the works by Albrecht Durer, as well as the George Washington Zeus sculpture.

Another thing I found fascinating was Brown’s inclusion of metempsychosis (p. 391). I wrote a paper in college on metempsychosis, so this is a subject with which I was familiar. I can say it is not a topic that appears often in popular fiction, so kudos for incorporating an idea that I personally find very interesting and is in no way hackneyed. In addition, Brown also correctly explains the source of the “magic word” abracadabra (p. 408). The word is derived from the Aramaic phrase, avrah kadavrah, which translated means “I create as I speak.”

There is a great quote near the end of this book: “Time is a river… and books are boats” (p. 488). I love this quote and I can completely relate. Books provide us with a way to explore our past, present, and future, which is why I am such an avid reader and I encourage others to read widely. So keep on reading!!

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