Real Fiction

Exploring the nexus of reading and writing


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When Does Boyhood End?

Over the years, I have read and re-read these books:

Robert Pirsig (b. 1928) and his son Chris (1956 - 1979)

Robert Pirsig (1928-2017) and his son Chris (1956 – 1979)

There may be a common thread among all these, and there certainly is in the last two. In each of these two, an old Greek teaches a much younger Englishman how to grow up, according to each mentor’s way. In The Magus, the pupil never quite gets there.

I recently was perusing the editor’s introduction to the revised 1978 edition of The Magus where I read that Fowles was influenced in his life, generally, and for the writing of this book, by his childhood love of three books:

This lead me to look for these books on the Internet and this search brought me to an obituary of Fowles, he having died in November 2005. I hadn’t heard of his death and it briefly saddened me. I was fascinated by this obit and a book review of his biography by Eileen Warburton. Then I came upon this 1996 article by John Fowles, himself, on the influences underlying The Magus. What riches the Internet brings us!

John Fowles

John Fowles

I read the three favorite books of Fowles’s youth, the first two being much quicker reads than Great Expectations. As I began this last of the three, I was surprised to see that I had not previously read the book, despite (or perhaps because) my father carried richly-bound Dickens books with us whenever we moved, which was often. How many times have we read in general literature reference to “Miss Havisham”?

I was prepared to hurry through ‘Expectations’ as I had the other two but found myself bound to slow down to closely read the rich dialog and unsurpassed characterizations. And what characters with such names: Mr. Pumblechook, Mr. Wopsle, the heartless Miss Estella, Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt whose name we are never shown, “Old” Orlick who is not much older than Pip the young principal of this story, the hapless Pocket family, the lawyer Mr. Jaggers, and many more.

Through the reading of these books, articles, and obits I am now able to appreciate The Magus even more fully. As a sometimes writer, I find it enlightening to learn how an author’s life experiences affect his writing.


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The Rational versus The Non-rational

Two books read, and not for the first time:


I have read Steppenwolf no less than three times, and each time I feel like I am reading it anew. I almost never expect it, yet it is true that I discover things in each re-reading of Steppenwolf (and of other books by Hermann Hesse, and of books by other authors) that I cannot remember having read before. Such is the hallmark of a “good book” in my estimation—a story of many layers that reveal themselves, over time, to readers who continue to grow toward union with, or at least intimate knowledge of, the author or his concepts.

I have re-read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig so many times that I have abstracted and transcribed the philosophical parts to more efficiently revisit and study the essence of the story.

I see as a common thread in these two books the argument (as in ‘Zen…’) and struggle (as in Steppenwolf) between the rational and non-rational.

Pirsig termed the arguing elements in man as the “classical” and the “romantic” view of the world. Pirsig’s character, “Phaedrus” (who is really the author, himself) reconciles the dual nature of man (i.e., the rational and non-rational) into the realization that “quality” is the over-arching idea that unifies them, or at least provides a framework for balance between them.

In Steppenwolf Hesse shows the man of highly-developed intellect, but of little worldly knowledge or appreciation, becoming aware of the pleasures and values of imagination and sensuality. Another way of viewing Hesse’s character is that he becomes aware that life is mostly or merely an illusion, to be better appreciated by the non-rational than by the rational aspects of one’s nature.

I think/feel (“classical”/”romantic”) these two authors, and other creative people, are the more qualified to help us understand this dual nature in man, and its terrors and delights. I say this having just again scanned a book I recently bought because of its title: Left Brain, Right Brain: Perspectives from Cognitive Neuroscience, by Springer and Deutsch. Through the employment of the scientific method we have learned much about the different functions of the left and right hemispheres of the brain and of the corpus callosum that connects them.

But the poet will bring a concept to life, while the scientist will bring us the “facts” of life.