Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Story Snippets: On Stories by C.S. Lewis (Sarah)



This week, I have something a bit different to share—a snippet on stories from one of my favorite authors (C.S. Lewis) on the value of re-reading and what makes a story meaningful, from his essay On Stories:

The re-reader is looking not for actual surprises (which can come only once) but for a certain ideal surprisingness. The point has often been misunderstood. The man in Peacock thought that he had disposed of 'surprise' as an element in landscape gardening when he asked what happened if you walked through the garden for the second time. Wiseacre! In the only sense that matters the surprise works as well the twentieth time as the first. It is the quality of unexpectedness, not the fact that delights us. It is even better the second time. Knowing that the 'surprise' is coming we can now fully relish the fact that this path through the shrubbery doesn't look as if it were suddenly going to bring us out on the edge of the cliff. So in 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. Till 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.

Lewis has much more to say on the theory of story, which you can read in the full essay online or in his book On Stories And Other Essays in Literature, but I love the idea of meaningful stories being worth revisiting. What do you think? Do you re-read to savor your favorite tales? Do you think a story must be re-readable to be worth reading the first time?

1 comment:

  1. I re-read favorite stories a lot, usually once a year. Lewis is right. The second or tenth or twentieth time through always you to savor all the details.


Please note that your comment hasn't gone through unless you see the notice: "Your comment will be visible after approval." We apologize for any difficulties posting comments or delays in moderation.