I’ve been so focused on my reading about reading (and about books) recently, that I’d nearly forgotten that I’ve actually read fiction recently. Or rather, not that recently, as I haven’t read any in nearly three weeks (although I intend to rectify that problem shortly).
In addition to being the year of my return to books in general, this also appears to be the year of my return to books past in particular. In some ways I feel guilty rereading old favorites—there are simply so many good books I’ve yet to read, why should I return to those I know well? There is, however, a great comfort in the familiarity of old books—a sense of returning home or returning to a simpler time and place. I also take encouragement in this suggestion from Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature’s 50 Greatest Hits (Jack Murnighan): “Don’t have literary one-night stands. Go back again and again; the really good ones get better and better.” Of course, I am ready to acknowledge that Murnighan likely had in mind a higher class of literature than the favorites I have most recently re-read, but in some ways the truth still holds. Except for the most simple and shallow of books, there seems always something more to find.
I find this especially true in The Chronicles of Narnia, which I am slowly revisiting. Other than the first, most famous book, I believe I have only read any of the books once previously, most likely when I was still in elementary school (I can’t recall with certainty). Although the parallels between The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and the Gospel accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus were obvious to me at the time (as well as those of the creation story in The Magician’s Nephew with Genesis), I did not really recognize any of the other Christian themes or allusions made within the series. After all, I was mostly reading them because they were fun and I had an insatiable thirst for books. Reading them now, though, most recently having finished The Silver Chair, I can see a greater depth, the more subtle messages that are easy to gloss over as a child. For example, the adversary in The Silver Chair, who holds Prince Rilian captive and seeks to prevent Jill and Eustice from his rescue, is seen in two forms—that of a “most beautiful lady” and that of a vile green serpent. The ideas of duplicity and that evil may be disguised in beauty are not so complicated as to confuse a young reader, but point to a deeper meaning than simple surface reading suggests. The serpent imagery is also suggestive of the serpent that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden—as that serpent brought her death, so this serpent kills Rilian’s mother. These readings are not necessary to the enjoyment of the story, but do add another level of enjoyment to be discovered on a subsequent read.
The other reread I finished recently, L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle is not so deep. It is a simple story of a young woman’s yearning for freedom and love, and how she eventually finds both. As I was also beginning to read Reading Like a Writer at the same time, in which Francine Prose advocates “close reading,” I found myself attempting to slow down and really absorb the words of the story, instead of the hurried pace I more typically take. I found this to enhance both my enjoyment and appreciation of the story. Montgomery includes many poetical passages describing the woods surrounding the town of the story’s setting. By slowing down and looking at these passages closely, I was able to appreciate the beauty and whimsy of the descriptions. It also drew me to contemplate the hurried nature of contemporary life and the separation of so many of us from nature. We close ourselves off from nature, perhaps seeing it only through a television screen. Our ancestors, in contrast, were often intimately familiar with the world outside their doors, lacking the many distractions we have and the “modern conveniences” which allow us to ignore the natural world almost completely. After finishing this book, I am inspired to find and read a work (perhaps a series of essays?) on nature. My mom, an avid gardener, has several such books I could choose from, I am sure.