“In truly good writing no matter how many times you read it you do not know how it is done. That is beacause there is a mystery in all great writing and that mystery does not dissect out. It continues and it is always valid. Each time you re-read you see or learn something new.” ― Ernest Hemingway
Fred on the Head has posed an interesting question: Do you re-read?
To this I can only plead: Guilty.
There are about a dozen works I find myself returning to, and for exactly the reason Hemingway cites above. In fact, three of Hemingway’s works are on my list: The Snows of Kilimanjaro, The Killers, and The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. For me, they never lose their power to amaze and teach. Even when my intention is to analyze, I end up getting lured in once again by the robust narrative.
Mishima’s Patriotism leaves me reeling each time I experience it. What a show: breathtaking eroticism and rapturous prose made all the more vivid and potent by the blunt reality of sepukku. Whoa.
Among the classics, I keep returning to A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Beowulf more than any of the others. And I’m in the process of travelling to Mordor once again with the Fellowship of the Ring. I’ve almost finished The Two Towers, and am just as carried away by Tolkien’s imaginative world-building as the first time I experienced him.
All good friends I could never get tired of.
I was greatly pleased by the news that J.R.R. Tolkien’s son discovered his father’s manuscript of an original translation of Beowulf and had it published. And this thoughtful review in The Catholic World Report is just as enjoyable. Tolkien’s inspired translation is a forceful reminder that whatever perversions and distractions may delude and ensnare modern man, certain truths endure:
At the least, we can say that there is more reality to Old English folklore than in the perverse fantasies by which Americans now live. When a society promotes disloyalty and monstrosity so far as to celebrate dragons and vampires and witches, when respectability-craving “conservatives” can always find reasons to compromise with the next phase of an ongoing anti-Christian revolution, when piles of gadgets and toys and luxury goods are offered in compensation for the loss of faith, family, and roots—why, in such times we could do worse than to recall Beowulf’s trusty kinsman Wiglaf, who lives by the dictum that “[k]inship may nothing set aside in virtuous mind.”
This reminds me of Sam Francis’ review of James C. Russell’s The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity, which argued that northern European Christianity was heavily influenced by the pagan worldview of its adherents. Unlike the “world-rejecting” Oriental religions, northern Europeans embraced and celebrated the world, including their past:
The saints and Christ Himself were depicted as Germanic warrior heroes; both festivals and locations sacred in ancient Germanic cults were quietly taken over by the Christians as their own; and words and concepts with religious meanings and connotations were subtly redefined in terms of the new religion. Yet the final result was not that the Germans were converted to the Christianity they had originally encountered, but rather that that form of Christianity was “Germanized,” coming to adopt many of the same Indo-European folk values that the old pagan religion had celebrated.
I think J.R.R. Tolkien would approve.