Thursday, October 28, 2004

On Re-reading Books

(Taking a little break from Planets today)

An unliterary man may be defined as one who reads books once only...

The re-reader is looking not for actual surprises (which can come only once) but for a certain surprisingness... It is the quality of unexpectedness, not the fact that delights us. It is even better the second literature. we do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading. Not till the curiosity, the sheer narrative lust, has been given its sop and laid asleep, are we at leisure to savour the real beauties. Til then, it is like wasting great wine on a ravenous natural thirst which merely wants cold wetness. The children understand this well when they ask for the same story over and over again, and in the same words. They want to have again the "surprise" of discovering that what seemed Little-Red-Riding-Hood's grandmother is really the wolf. It is better when you know it is coming: free from the shock of actual surprise you can attend better to the intrinsic surprisingness of the peripeteia*.
~C.S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories, "On Stories" (1947)

peripeteia: A sudden change of events or reversal of circumstances, especially in a literary work.

3 Comment(s):

At Thu Oct 28, 08:02:00 AM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

Lewis is sooooo right here! I really enjoy books more the second time through. Especially those favorite books of mine that I like to read over and over again--I can relax and take my time and savor all the little details instead of rushing through it to see what happens.

His talk of "peripeteia" reminds me of Tolkien's "eucatastrophe".

At Sat Oct 30, 12:54:00 AM EST, Blogger Anamire said...

I agree. When you read books multiple times, you always pick up neat little details you missed the first time though. You can also form new opinions and ideas that you never thought of before. That makes it all the more interesting. I suppose you never really read the same story twice. :)

At Wed Jul 25, 07:15:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is lovely... Thank you for sharing - I didn't remember that one. I was looking for the thought on some books being dense on first, second and subsequent readings, and others becoming clearer with each reading, which is a great quote on the subject as well. One of these days I shall find it. :)


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