Yesterday I finished rereading Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” after rereading “The Lord of the Rings” earlier this year. I hadn’t read Tolkien in 12 or 13 years, and I got SO much more out of the experience this time than I did before, even though I absolutely loved the books and Tolkien’s Middle Earth the first time around.
The books, all of them, felt so much more meaningful at age 30 than age 18. They felt different because I was different. I read them on a deeper level and found them more challenging and more meaningful because I had matured and learned so much.
The fact is, who we are and what we have experienced has a great effect on what we get out of reading a story.
Here are 3 reasons, related to the remarks above, to reread the novels you love best, especially if it has been a long time since you’d read them.
- YOU MIGHT FIND YOURSELF RELATING TO CHARACTERS YOU DIDN’T RELATE TO BEFORE. Oddly enough, this happened to me rereading “The Lord of the Rings,” and the character in question was Gollum. I never thought much about Gollum or felt anything for him before. Now, being older and (hopefully) a bit wiser, I was able to pity him more. I was more attuned to the role of providence in Tolkien’s tale, and thus to Gollum’s role in the salvation of Middle Earth. I was able to recognize him as a symbol of sin and the blindness it brings. When he was utterly incapable of feeling grateful for Frodo’s kindness or to understand how mercifully Frodo actually was treating him, instead of feeling simple frustration like before, I was stopped in my tracks, like a train had hit my heart. Having learned since my first reading that Tolkien was a devout Catholic, I read using a Catholic lens, and I realized, “I’m Gollum. I’m absolutely Gollum, and Jesus is Frodo in this metaphor.” It was one of the most powerful learning experiences I’ve ever had at the hands of fiction, and it’s not a lesson I could have taken to heart at age 18.
- IT CAN EVOKE A SENSE OF NOSTALGIA THAT LEADS TO SELF-REFLECTION. If you are anything like me, you are prone to getting lost in your thoughts, and you think a lot about the big questions of life. So revisiting a book you have not read in years but remember enjoying is apt to set you thinking about who you were the last time you read that book, and how you have changed since then, and what you have learned. Though not always comfortable, this is is a useful self-examination that can contribute to setting future goals and evaluating decisions you need to make in the present. Such reflection can encourage us, in a culture where most deep thought is sacrificed to the gods of superficiality, noise, and ego, to ponder in silence what we like about the person we have become, what weaknesses we still struggle with, where we want to go from here, and what we need to do to get there.
- YOU REALIZE JUST HOW MUCH THE READER MAKES THE READING EXPERIENCE WHAT IT IS. This is important for authors, and since the majority of my readers here are authors, I thought this worth mentioning. By comparing what you thought of the book the first time around and what you think of it now, and what stood out to you then and what stands out now, you realize just how dependent a novel is upon its reader. This can remove some of the pressure that we feel as writers as we learn we can’t control the interpretative process of our work and don’t need to. That’s a load off, for sure!