Fiction Completes Us, Mutilated Beings Burdened With the Awful Dichotomy of Having Only One Life and the Ability To Desire a Thousand

C. S. Lewis? Mario Vargas Llosa? Louis L’Amour? George R. R. Martin?

Dear Quote Investigator: Although each individual is limited to a single life on Earth, he or she may vicariously experience a thousand lives via novels and movies. This notion has been expressed by some prominent writers, e.g., C. S. Lewis, Mario Vargas Llosa, Louis L’Amour, and George R. R. Martin. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1961 noteworthy fantasy and theological author C. S. Lewis wrote the volume “An Experiment in Criticism” which included a passage about inhabiting many fictional selves. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see.

In July 1984 Mario Vargas Llosa published an essay titled “El arte de mentir” (“The art of lying”) in the Spanish newspaper “El País”. 2 “The New York Times Book Review” printed a translated version in October 1984. 3 Below is an excerpt in Spanish followed by an excerpt in English. Llosa argued that the thoughtful reader of a novel achieves a transference to a new identity in a different realm:

El traslado es una metamorfosis: el reducto asfixiante que es nuestra vida real se abre y sialimos a ser otros, a vivir vicariamente experiencias que la ficción vuelve nuestras. Sueño lúcido, fantasía encarnada, la ficción nos completa, a nosotros, seres mutilados a quienes ha sido impuesta la atroz dicotomía de tener una sola vida y la facultad de desear mil. Ese espacio entre la vida real y los deseos y fantasías que le exigen ser más rica y diversa es el que ocupan las ficciones.

The transfer is a metamorphosis—the asphyxiating constriction of our lives opens up and we sally forth to be others, to have vicarious experiences which fiction converts into our own. A wondrous dream, a fantasy incarnate, fiction completes us, mutilated beings burdened with the awful dichotomy of having only one life and the ability to desire a thousand. This gap between real life and the desires and fantasies demanding that it be richer and more varied is the realm of fiction.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Fiction Completes Us, Mutilated Beings Burdened With the Awful Dichotomy of Having Only One Life and the Ability To Desire a Thousand


  1. 2012 (First published 1961), An Experiment in Criticism by C. S. Lewis (Clive Staples Lewis), Section: Epilogue, Quote Page 140 and 141, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England. (Verified with Google Preview)
  2. Website of Newspaper: El País, Newspaper Location: Madrid, Spain, Article title: El arte de mentir (The art of lying), Article author: Mario Vargas Llosa, Date on website: July 25, 1984, Website description: Major Spanish-language daily newspaper in Spain. (Accessed on March 2, 2019) link
  3. 1984 October 7, New York Times, Section: The New York Times Book Review, Is Fiction the Art of Lying?, by Mario Vargas Llosa (Translation by Toby Talbot), Start Page BR1, Quote Page BR40, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest)