The knowledge I gained from reading "An Experiment in Criticism" (Well, That Stung, 1/11/21) has provided me with further insights, which is what self-knowledge is supposed to do. I will state again that I think Lewis is correct in what he calls an unliterary reader, and after an initial feeling of being miffed, have decided it is rather humorous and has significant explanatory power for my reading and appreciation of the arts in general. I am an unliterary reader, because I am almost entirely something else, a reader for information. More evidence that it's rather a disease, really.
I don't want to oversell this. It isn't as if I have no understanding of poetry, description, atmosphere, or myth. I likely have more than the average citizen. It's just that I have a lot less than most people who have read a lot of literature and are trained in the arts. I like poetry well enough once I have read even a bit of analysis or explanation of it. I certainly like a good deal of music beyond just the tune, and admire a good lyric - likely because those are more straightforward than poetry. Yet I have always skimmed the description even in novels I adore, such as Tolkien or Lewis. Get on with it, will you? When I would read these aloud to my sons I would see things I had not before, which was interesting. To make it interesting to them I would concentrate on the expression of each sentence, applying emphasis and phrasing on the fly. When I was first reading Watership Down to my oldest son I mentioned somewhat apologetically that Adams seems to describe every plant on the landscape. "But Dad," he said "That's how it would look to rabbits." He was less bothered by this than I, even as a child. Entering into the world of rabbits, rather than just getting a whopping good narrative about them, was fine with him.
This lack also explains to me why I have never been impressed by the evaluation of a movie or a book that raves about how well it was done, even though the critic disapproves of the message. He's a wonderful prose stylist. Well, so what? My son who is a filmmaker, unsurprisingly, finds it easy to admire the craft of a director even while disliking the theme. I can only do this in a limited sense. I can certainly admire technique and skill in a musician or a painter, and even more can be irritated by something that is not well done, even if its purpose and theme are to my liking. Not for nothing have I always approved of Goethe's Three Questions and its order, but only today did I notice that I "approved of the order" only in the sense that #3 is last. What is the artist trying to do? is a foundational question for the second, How well did he do it? But for me, the answer to the first question also tells me whether I want to even bother with the other two. Philip Pullman wrote His Dark Materials as an anti-Lewis, anti-Narnia fantasy. I don't want to read it, then. I don't care how well he did it. I don't find that "interesting" in any way. That's what it means to be an unliterary reader, and I'm fine with that. I want to soak up information that I can keep and use somewhere, or race along with a narrative. I can sometimes savor music, as in the Pachelbel Canon in Dmaj, listening to it as an expression of the Trinity (even though it is written for four instruments). I can go back and reread favorite books, not so much to learn something new every time, as literary people always say, but to re-experience the narrative and hear the conversation. I am very big on conversation in literature, as I love conversation in real life.* Hmm. I can hear and savor nuance better than see it. I just concluded that as I wrote it. I may revise later.
My younger brother has always made his living in technical theater, particularly lighting, but has mentioned that he believes he understands and interprets scripts well. Certainly, one must be able to appreciate mood, movement, and atmosphere to do this, so I have to conclude he has this literary ability in greater measure than I. We inherited differently from our parents, likely. I was the one more interested in the stage at first, and he tagged along as younger brothers do. But he was enchanted on his own, and made theater connections on his own in a new town after I left for college. Then he stuck with it, even when it didn't pay well enough or people treated him badly. I think my wife and two natural sons have more literary sensibility as well.
I am listening to an interview with Holly Ordway who has a book coming out in a week Tolkien's Modern Reading: Middle-Earth Beyond the Middle Ages. She set out to knock down a myth about Tolkien, that he thought literature ended with Chaucer and had little approval or appetite for modern writers, because in her academic research she kept finding counterexamples. Tolkien loved Dylan Thomas, bought Finnegan's Wake as soon as it came out because he was so impressed with Joyce's earlier work, he nominated E.M.Forster for a Nobel Prize. He praised ERR Eddison's creativity and style, even as he found the underlying values evil. Clearly, he had this ability to draw from and savor works that he might disapprove of in some other way. Unsurprising in a literary man, I suppose. A further explanation why this was never the career for me.
As an aside, Ordway wondered where this myth had grown up, as it had so little support in the factual events of Tolkien's life and writing. She attributes it to his first biographer, Humphrey Carpenter.
It is Carpenter who popularized the idea that Tolkien was a reactionary old medievalist, uninterested in contemporary literature: “The major names in twentieth-century writing meant little or nothing to [Tolkien]. He read very little modern fiction, and took no serious notice of it.” (Michael Ward The Catholic World Report, Jan 16, 2021 [good article, hot off the presses])
Carpenter, the son of the Anglican Bishop of Oxford, who became an atheist at age 21 didn't like Tolkien, didn't like the Inklings, didn't like Oxford scholarship, and didn't like Christians. Christopher Tolkien was incensed at the first draft of the biography. Carpenter removed a few sections and no more was said about it. But there are apparently other myths about Tolkien, such as not approving of women scholars and avoiding them, or being a Luddite who disliked modern technology, that also stem from HC's biography. It is testament to a sort of founder's effect in information, that whoever gets in first can dominate the thinking for a long time to come. We like to believe that the truth will eventually out, but I doubt that.