The exceptional in fiction

Just as all except bores relate in conversation not what is normal but what is exceptional – you mention having seen a giraffe in Petty Cury, but don’t mention having seen an undergraduate – so authors told of the exceptional. Earlier audiences would not have seen the point of a story about anything else. Faced with such matters as we get in Middlemarch or Vanity Fair or The Old Wives’ Tale, they would have said ‘But this is all perfectly ordinary. This is what happens every day. If these people and their fortunes were so unremarkable, why are you telling us about them at all?’

—C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism


  1. Lewis really does hit it bang on the nose sometimes, doesn’t he? This is precisely why I have such little patience with “literary” fiction–if I’m going to spend time learning about the ordinary trials and tribulations of someone, I’d rather that someone be real, someone I can help or encourage in some way. If I’m reading a story for pleasure, I’d prefer something I wouldn’t hear if I asked the check-out lady how her week’s gone!

  2. I feign that someone else locked the door, that I’m trapped by external
    circumstance. When life is serene our bases do not appear to matter but when crisis comes our foundations are tested.

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