Nightstand Books #10
I’m excited to bring you another Nightstand Books post this month. Especially excited this time because I’ve got books to share this month that I am actually currently reading! While both Phantastes and the Hobbit qualify as “old” books for me, meaning that I’ve already read them before, I recently picked them up again and this gives me an opportunity to talk about the re-reading of books.
Though I do not do it as often as I might like, I am a firm believer in value of rereading of books. When you read a story once it’s like traveling to a new destination for the first time. You take in the sights and sounds, you discover new vistas, probably take a few pictures, and eventually you go home. But when you reread a book you come back and find things you missed before. Ah, that cozy little restaurant on the corner! You didn’t realize it was there. Or that park next to the beach, you drove right past it the last time. You were too busy doing all those “touristy” things like absorbing basic facts about the plot and the characters. When you read it a second and subsequent times you get to enjoy all of the depth and subtlety that an author has woven into the story. It’s familiar, it becomes less exotic and more “your own”.
Granted some stories aren’t worth reading a second time and honestly those books probably weren’t worth reading the first time, but usually you can’t find that out except by reading it. So three cheers for re-reading old books. If you only ever pay attention to what’s new to you, you may read more books, but you’ll be missing out on the rich treasures that can only be gleaned by mining a story again and again.
Two masters of fantasy
I just finished re-reading The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien a few days ago. This is not only one of my most “favoritist” books of all time, as I’ve shared elsewhere, this was the book which really got me into reading and probably is the reason why fantasy remains my favorite genre. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my rereading of it. It truly does get better every time. This time, I was struck by just how humorous Bilbo was and how much he dominates the adventure in the second half of the book. The dwarves are basically just “along for the ride” once Bilbo gets his magic ring. And yet they have the nerve to cast him out at the end! Oh the irony! Still, what a great book.
I have just started my re-reading of Phantastes, by George MacDonald. I consider MacDonald the master of the fairy tale proper. Though it is now sort of considered a subset of fantasy, in many ways it is probably the mother of fantasy (though perhaps if we go back ever further, the fairy tale itself is a descent of myth).
It’s been a while since I read this one and I don’t remember many of the details, only that it was a wild and dream-like sort of tale with some dark overtones. It’s about a man taken off into “Fairy Land”. That probably sounds rather trite in our age, but it is a highly imaginative and engaging work and one I’d highly recommend. It is the kind of story which, as C.S. Lewis writes in the introduction, “hits us at a level deeper than our thoughts or even our passions, troubles oldest certainties till all questions are reopened and in general shocks us more fully awake than we are for most of our lives.”
Getting the lay of the land
The reason I chose these two books to read is because, as I mentioned recently, I am currently working on a fantasy novel. And what better way to equip myself for tackling this new project than to immerse myself in all the wonders of this marvelous. It’s like getting the lay of the land before heading into battle. It’s refreshing to drink deeply from the imaginative wells of other authors who have travelled ahead of you on the same journey.
As a writer, you are always learning, always honing your craft. My best work is always the one I’m working on at the moment, at least that is how it seems to me. And you learn so much from other authors. How they phrase things, how they write dialogue, how they pace things, the structure of their stories and the flow of their plotting. I’m only a few chapters into the revision of my novel and already I’ve added close to four thousand words! I just find myself wanting to describe things more, to add more narrative touches to make the world feel more inhabited and lived in. I know I should be trying to cut things out since I’m already over my word count goal, but I just can’t help myself. That’s one of the reasons I love fantasy and scifi. They lend themselves to these deeper sorts of treatments because much of what you are describing is unfamiliar to the reader. I’m an incurable “world builder” I suppose.
Hmm, I guess I didn’t really talk a whole lot about these two books, did I? Well, hopefully I’ve said enough for you to know that these are both wonderful books. I encourage you to slip a copy of one or both onto your nightstand sometime soon and travel to the imaginary lands of these two masters of myth and fantasy.