First Immerse, Then Critique

While listening to The Tolkien Professor podcasts (a series of lectures Tolkien's work including The Silmarillion, The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings) I was reminded that J.R.R. Tolkien was not really a fan of critics. Mainly his issue was with their tendency to try and find allegory in his Middle Earth fiction. Something which he insisted was not present. He claimed that his stories were not an attempt to push a point of view on his readers, but rather to let his readers experience his world using their own life experiences.

Cover of "The Silmarillion"
Cover of The Silmarillion

In other words Tolkien wanted people to experience his stories from the mind set of a reader rather than a critic. I find this distinction very interesting as I observe how people are now watching tv and movies as well as reading books. It strikes me that more and more people are approaching this from a critical perspective rather than a readers perspective.

Why does that matter? Well these are two functionally different activities and to an extent reading or watching something critically inhibits the ability to completely immerse yourself in the story and world presented to you.

Of course sometimes there are problems with the fiction so glaring that it simply jars you back to reality. That's clearly not the fault of the reader. But if you go into something looking at the craft behind it rather than the story presented, you are likely to find a lot more problems and as a result enjoy it significantly less.

My empirical observations lead me to believe that more and more people are approaching their entertainment from a critical perspective. The biggest driving force of this is participation in social networking sites and blogs which allow us all to easily share our opinions and observations. But lets face it, saying "That was cool!" grows old pretty quickly.

So we strive to provide more informative responses in our tweets and our posts. We learn about the actors, directors and writers and we start looking at the details to see what works and what doesn't. That's not a bad thing per se. You can learn a lot by taking a critical look at books and movies. But understand that it will impact your enjoyment of just about everything.

There are flaws everywhere even in some very high quality fiction and once you spot them, they become very hard to ignore. Which in turn will take you out of the secondary world and reduce your enjoyment of the story. The more informed you become about the process of storytelling, the harder it will be to be entertained.

And yet critical reading is an important skill to develop. Not just for the craftsmen themselves, but also for the viewers and readers. I certainly don't want to suggest that we should all passively consume whatever is presented to us. On the contrary, if we are to get higher quality entertainment, we have to be able to provide intelligent critiques of the material and recognize poor quality when it is presented to us.

What I would strongly argue for however is to avoid critiquing during the first reading or viewing. Wait until you've watched the whole story. Try to enjoy it for what it intends to be first. Then afterwards, look back at it and apply your critical skills. If nothing else it will allow you to appreciate what the story did well and enjoy your time reading it.

About Eoghann Irving

Overly opinionated owner and author of eoghann.com. You can get updated on his posts directly on the blog here or through the usual social networking suspects. What? You expected me to say something interesting here? That's what the blog posts are for. Eoghann has often wondered if people read these little bio things we have to fill out everywhere on the internet and, assuming they do, why?

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