Monday, December 29, 2008

More on Stories ...

I mentioned that I'm reading, rereading actually, Of Other Worlds
by C.S. Lewis. The first essay in the volume is "On Stories" which I enjoyed reading immensely despite having read it several times before. I am one of those who like Lewis and Chesterton place a very high value on story. We are embodied stories each and every one of us. Whenever we write we are transmitting some of ourselves, our thoughts and imagination, into the marks that become transmitted meaning. I think of all of my many books as spirits frozen in time between the endboards of the books, waiting to speak just to me. There is simply too much in this essay to share in a quick note so I'll only mention a couple of the things I enjoyed.

Lewis talks about science fiction for example. He mentions reading David Lindsay's Voyage to Arcturus and there discovering what planets are really good for. I won't spoil the surprise in case you don't know.

He makes a great many insightful comments about story not merely as a sequence of events but as the state or quality or theme or perhaps atmosphere which the events bring to us in a way hardly conscious. He uses the title of Morris's The Well Between the Worlds to make the point — the title itself evokes a mythic atmosphere that any story is likely to be unable to live up to. Giants, Red-Indians, and Pirates are other examples. Lewis is quite clear that the kind of thing we find in current movies is not acceptable often because it simply is a fastpaced, frantic sequence of events failing to evoke the atmosphere. In the essay he cites, early on, King Solomon's Mines taking the filmmakers on for spoiling the story by changing the climax to enhance the excitement.

There is a lot of insight in the essay. One of the special moments for me is when he touches on the subject of reading. He says,"An unliterary man may be defined as one who reads books once only." This is a telling indictment of much current education and attitudes. You can't appreciate even the most simple work of literary art on a single reading. Indeed, you can't even grasp it that way. Reading opens pathways in the mind and sometimes they need to rest a bit so that rereading the same passage comes as a new experience, a broader widening experience that makes our understanding more complete. Lewis knows that in his bones. Most moderns have not fallen to it as yet.

He makes a most insightful comment about unliterary readers (but it strikes me that it covers all readers). Even a bad work can inspire because if it engages the imagination of the reader then as Lewis says "... He will, at a mere hint from the author, flood wretched material with suggestion and never guess that he is himself chiefly making what he enjoys."

Lindsay's book is a case in point it seems to me. It is abominably written as Lewis himself says and I would agree having read it only because of Lewis. But it is evocative and the conjuring of the imagination is an important part of reading and the experience of story.

I probably should mention that C.S. Lewis is a clear mind. He was also a Chestertonian or at least he was strongly influenced by Chesterton.

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