Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Re-reading books

So, I've been enjoying going through the expanded edition of LETTERS of JRRT. 

One passage that made me really realize how different the experience of reading differs from reader to reader came in a letter from Tolkien to a reader (11 April 1956; LETTERS page 359).  Tolkien writes (emphasis mine):

. . . I am a very 'unvoracious' reader, 

and since I can seldom bring myself

 to read a work twice I think of the 

many things that I read -- too soon! --

Nothing, not even a (possible) deeper 

appreciation, for me replaces the bloom 

on a book, the freshness of the unread.

 Still what we read and when goes, 

like the people we meet, by fate   

This made me realize who different JRRT's experience is from my own. If I like a book, I will read it again, sometimes repeatedly. Such was the case with WATERSHIP DOWN, FACE IN THE FROST, THE BOOKS OF WONDER, PERSUASION, of course Tolkien, and many another. I don't do it as much anymore, but that's largely because my eyesight is worse and partly because I now have more books available.

It's interesting to note that this is one of the many ways in which Tolkien and Lewis differed. Lewis loved to reread old favorites, and counted occasions when his doctor ordered a few days of bed rest one of life's not so little gifts. This was a trait he shared with his brother Warnie, who from time to time notes in his diary about re-reading specific books.

As for THE HOBBIT and LORD OF THE RINGS: by this point I have no idea how many times I've read both. I'm always reading them, in a sense.

--John R.

Currrent Reading:

TALKING TO DRAGONS by Patricia Wrede (the sixth time I've read it, according to my notes).


Lucky for Tolkien that his fans didn't feel the same way.


Formendacil said...

It does sort of make one wonder if there might be some connection, at least as far as subconscious habits of thought go, to Tolkien's predilection to never finishing a text: an unfinished text can constantly be revisited or "met" for the first time, but a finished text is locked in. In at least one case that I can think of (The Fall of Gondolin), it's almost fair to say that not only could Tolkien not reread a text--he couldn't rewrite it either!

Marcel R. Bülles said...

Kudos on the wife's comment - indeed, many things would not have happened or exist without fans re-reading him almost all the time. :)

Which reminds me... Lost Road, ahoy!

Wurmbrand said...

Tolkien's non-rereading suggests that he would have little reason to keep books he didn't expect to refer to. Others will be much better informed about this than I, but my impression from O. Cilli's book, accounts of people visiting Tolkien (e.g. Clyde Kilby), is that he owned many scholarly books but otherwise didn't have a big personal library. Is this impression correct?

I can't find the reference now, but it seems to me that one of Walter Hooper's anecdotes was about someone who worked at The Kilns, or perhaps only visited, and said "The whole house is r-r-rotten with books!" But though I looked in various prefaces Hooper wrote to Lewis books, I couldn't find it, and I wonder now if this was recorded in an article or interview.

Dale Nelson

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Dale.

I haven't heard that one beforel, but it sounds like Paxford the gardener.

--John R.

Wurmbrand said...

I'm certain the anecdote exists, but I'll have to keep looking. Thanks for the Paxford suggestion.

Paul W said...

That passage stuck out to me as well. So much of Tolkien's views and life I find sympathetic, but this aversion to rereading is definitely a trait of his I don't share.

I have a hard time understanding it... and also quite believing it... he must have reread Beowulf many times as a scholar, and the same with poems like Pearl or Gawain... so I think his aversion to rereading was situational, and excluded scholarly study.

I too can separate my work reading from "leisure" reading, but still... it is difficult to imagine a scholar who doesn't enjoy rereading at least a little, otherwise the work would be so tedious.