High Fantasy - better the second time around?


Easily amused
Feb 21, 2006
Ontario, Canada
There is something special about reading a great book the first time around. There's suspense and discovery as well as meeting and getting to know the characters. I find I tend to rush through, being anxious to find out what happens.
However, I think that high fantasy is definitely better the second (or multiple) time around. I'm referencing the type books that have detailed social and political structure, as well as a complex history or mythos. That familiarity of the world (from the previous read) helps add depth to the story that you may not appreciate the first time around. It is also easier to follow the character development and appreciate their decisions and choice of direction. It's almost like you can now concentrate on the story, and not work so hard trying to figure out where everyone fits in.
The epitomy of this phenomena is LotR. It gets better and better with each reread. I also got more out of the Thomas Covenant books. I am presently ensconced in Essalieyan and Annagar (the Sun Sword books). The whole beginning of that book was very confusing the first time. Now I know the relationships between the major players, and can better appreciate the subtleties of the plots. For example, meeting Isladar for the first time and now knowing how he changes, makes me pay attention to every word. Things that happen at the start now have a continuum to fit into.
I think this is part of what makes well written high fantasy stand out from regular fiction. I rarely reread other genres, and if so, only because I've forgotten most of the story.
I'd agree that this is true with a great deal of "high fantasy", or for that matter, any well-written fantasy; but then, I'd also say it applies to other types of writing, as well. For example, many of the classics of the weird tale become richer on rereadings, as one experiences the subtleties and nuances, gets a more deeper understanding of the implications of what the writer is saying about the world (often making the "horror" more disturbing because of the questions the writer asks about the nature of reality and how much is simply our prejudices and preconceptions), and the complexities and ambiguities of meaning.

So I'm not sure it's by any means restricted to high fantasy, but can be said about any truly textured and well-wrought piece of writing in general....
I'd agree that any well written story can be enjoyable the second time around but I think it's extra nice to re-read a series that you first read as they were released. After reading each one months (and books) apart, it's great to go back and read the whole thing start to finish and as you say Elvet it can be an easier read, knowing how people fit in, who's important, who's less so.

Some of the stories I enjoy re-reading most are the ones where you get to play amatuer detective just a touch. Where the author has mentioned small bits of information that fit with events happening around the characters but that aren't necessarily a part of the main storyline or are just hints of things that get explained later on. To me (if done well) it's an indication of a really well thought out story and adds that extra depth and believability to a world.

Wow, I got through the whole post without mentioning that I'm dying to re-read the Mallazan Books of the Fallen series... Well almost :eek:.
I would say that the best books in any genre reward rereading in terms of those things JD has described. But I'm guessing this thread was started in order to discuss the joys particular to rereading High Fantasy. For me, that second (or third) reading can give me a much greater appreciation for how it all fits together: characters, plot, worldbuilding, history, etc. On the other hand, when I'm not rushing through headlong to find out what happens next, I may also spot flaws I didn't see before. So, for me, the second reading can be much more enjoyable than the first -- but sometimes it's a disappointment instead.
I have to agree that upon the reread I think I enjoy the story more. For me the books that come to mind are ASOIAF by GRRM. The first time I read them I wanted to read fast and find out what happens and why everyone recommends these books. :) When I finished them and read some discussions and did a reread, its amazing how many things I missed simply because I was so excited during the reading. There is so much going on there I could reread it many times and still find new things each time. I think it is a compliment to any author who can write a story that's good enough to make the reader want to reread it and yet also find new things during each reread.
I agree with almost all of the above comments. The big complex epic fantasies of Martin, Erikson (I am only on Deadhouse Gates) and Wurts require a more relaxed, careful second or third read, and that is when you really get to enjoy the full spectrum of the story: the character development, the subtler themes, the itty bitty details that escaped you the first time and that lead to the "aha!" moments, so that the fullness of the plot really clicks into place.

Although I am only on the second book of the Malazan series, I can tell that it is a series to be re-read a few times. Wurts I have re-read every book at least once, and the first five twice. Martin I have re-read the first three once, the first two twice. I have not re-read Crows, but I didn't like that one as well as the first three, though it was a good book. Hopefully he returns to form in A Dance with Dragons.

I have read the stories of Middle Earth 7-8 times. I used to read Jordan's stuff over, but not anymore. Martin, Wurts and Erikson have to be read over and over to get everything. Kind of like wiping the last bits of gravy off the plate with a nice piece of bread.
This holds true for me, too. When I reread a book, I'll often find that I've inadvertantly missed a few things whilst I was caught up in the story, so I can appreciate it all the more the second time around.

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