Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Authors are fictional

Hundreds of thousands of people live in my library. Some are real, others are fictional. The real ones are the so-called imaginary characters in works of literature, the fictional ones are their authors.
Jacques Bonnet, Phantoms of the Bookshelves

From a reader's perspective, Jacques Bonnet has it right. It is the story's characters who are real. The authors are pure fiction. They aren't that important. It's the characters who matter.

In some cases, of course, the authors truly are fictitious. Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll and George Eliot were just made-up names. Those people didn't really exist. Yet Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway and Leo Tolstoy are hardly more real or more substantial. Each biography of these writers reveals something new about their lives and about their personalities. No matter how much we might study them, we can never really know them. Yet their characters are revealed in their totality. We know everything there is to know about them, including often what they are thinking about. As Bonnet says, "Hamlet is a great deal more present to us than Shakespeare, about whom we have only a few scraps of information."

I am reminded of The Great Divorce, the C.S. Lewis story in which visitors to heaven discover that the people there are much more solid, much more real than they are. As in heaven, so it is in the library. Things are reversed. It is the characters who are real. The authors are the ghosts.

No comments:

Post a Comment