Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Second Author

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis were my favorite books for a long portion of my childhood. I think I reread those puppies twice a year from about age 8 all the way up to age 12, when I discovered Tolkien.

One of the books, The Magician's Nephew, is set in Edwardian England, and since my Theodosia books are also set in this time period, I thought I'd give TMN a quick reread to see if I could pick up any period details that were particularly evocative.

I was quite looking forward to reading the book as it has been ages since I've looked at it. I remember being so enthralled with the incredible world C.S. Lewis had built, how he described them in such detail, how rich and dense the language was. I couldn't wait.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that, indeed, there weren't paragraphs and paragraphs of description or world building, but rather very simple, albeit elegant, sentences.

And that's when it hit me: Much of the description and world building that I remembered from those books had been put there by me. My own imagination had filled in all the lovely white space C.S. Lewis had left between the words.

Which really crystallized something that's been rolling around in my head for years; that it takes two authors to complete a book. One is the original author who wrote the words on the page, but the second, equally important author is the reader herself. What she "reads" and interprets in the white space of the novel is just as critical to her reading experience as the words the first author put on the page.

I also wonder if that isn't part of the drive for so many authors to be published; that unspoken sense that their work isn't complete until a reader, some reader somewhere, has read it.