Friday, February 25, 2011

Easing into a story

When authors tell stories, they assume the reader starting at the beginning and going to the end. But that's generally not true for me. Consider how I've absorbed the Harry Potter series so far. Roughly, it breaks down into these steps.

1) Knowing the general cultural buzz and mapping the characters onto standard genre figures. Boy who finds out he's special. Geek girl sidekick. Gandolf figure. Gentle giant.

2) Overhearing Molly read the books to the kids, while I am doing other things. Occasionally I am called on to read portions of the book. I distinctly remember reading the scene where Hagrid shows our heroes his brother in the woods in book 5. This before I know much of anything about the story.

3) Watching all the movies with the family, in order, except for the one that isn't out yet.

4) Getting books 1 and 2 on CD for Christmas. Listening to book 1 while driving around for the holidays. Notice that this is the first time I actually hear a whole book from beginning to end.

5) The present day: Listening attentively every night at bedtime while Molly reads book 5 to the kids and listening to book 2 on CD when I drive to work.

I bet a lot of people learn stories in ways similar to this. Its not introduction, conflict, climax, denouement. Not boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again. Even now, now that I am trying to get the story in order, I am missing things. I missed a chapter of book five because they read it while I was working, rather than at bedtime.

This seems like it should be significant for aesthetic theory. But I'm not sure how.

In any case, I still don't know what happens in the second half of the last book, so don't tell me.

1 comment:

John Emerson said...

That's nthe standard exposition for myth, legend, and epic -- getting the story piecemeal, with occasional stretches of consecutive narrative which all presupposes other narratives not yet told, or not recently told.

For this reason, when epics etc. are written down they're transformed into something different, because a beginning, end, and direction of narrative must be specified.