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)

A Reader Lives a Thousand Lives Before He Dies. The Man Who Never Reads Lives Only One

Creator: George R. R. Martin, popular author of fantasy, horror, and science fiction who also works as a screenwriter and television producer; he is best known for the television series “Game of Thrones” adapted from the book series “A Song of Ice and Fire”

Context: In 2011 George R. R. Martin published “A Dance with Dragons” which is part of the fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire”. One of his characters highlights the multiplicity of lives accessible via reading. Emphasis added: 1

Bran did not understand, so he asked the Reeds. “Do you like to read books, Bran?” Jojen asked him.

“Some books. I like the fighting stories. My sister Sansa likes the kissing stories, but those are stupid.”

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.” said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one.”

Related Article: Fiction completes us, mutilated beings burdened with the awful dichotomy of having only one life and the ability to desire a thousand. – Mario Vargas Llosa

Related Article: For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived. – Louis L’Amour

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Christian Higgins who asked about this quotation. Higgins knew the ascription to Martin and wondered about other writers who have made similar remarks.


  1. 2013 (Copyright 2011) A Dance with Dragons, by George R. R. Martin, Series: A Song of Ice and Fire, Quote Page 495, (Mass Market Paperback), Bantam Books: An Imprint of Random House Publishing Group. (Amazon Look Inside)

Don’t Like to Write, But Like Having Written

Dorothy Parker? George R. R. Martin? Frank Norris? Robert Louis Stevenson? Cornelia Otis Skinner? Clive Barnes? Gloria Steinem? Hedley Donovan?

Dear Quote Investigator: Writing is an arduous task for many skilled authors. There is a popular family of sayings that contrasts the elation of accomplishment with the struggle of composition:

1) I hate to write, but I love having written.
2) I loathe writing, but I love having written.
3) Don’t like to write, but like having written.
4) I don’t enjoy writing. I enjoy having written.
5) Writers don’t like writing — they like having written.

Fantasy and science fiction author George R. R. Martin whose books are the basis for the celebrated “Game of Thrones” television series apparently employed this saying. Famous wit Dorothy Parker is also sometimes credited with the remark? Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: George R. R. Martin did use an instance of this expression during a 2011 interview, and the details are given further below. However, QI has found no substantive linkage to Dorothy Parker.

The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a Minnesota journal named “The Bellman” which acknowledged another periodical called “Detroit Saturday Night”. The novelist Frank Norris was recognized for his works “The Octopus: A Story of California” and “The Pit: A Story of Chicago”. In 1915, a decade after his death, a letter written by him was discovered and published. Norris described his work habits as a writer, and the following excerpt contained an instance of the saying under investigation: 1

I write with great difficulty, but have managed somehow to accomplish 40 short stories (all published in fugitive fashion) and five novels within the last three years, and a lot of special unsigned articles. Believe my forte is the novel. Don’t like to write, but like having written. Hate the effort of driving pen from line to line, work only three hours a day, but work every day.

Believe in blunt, crude Anglo-Saxon words. Sometimes spend half an hour trying to get just the right combination of one-half dozen words. Never rewrite stuff; do all hard work at first writing, only revise—very lightly—in typewritten copy.

These words of Norris were widely disseminated by multiple news outlets in 1915 and 1916, e.g., “The Racine Journal News” of Wisconsin, 2 “The Charleroi Mail” of Pennsylvania, 3 and “The Chicago Tribune” of Illinois. 4

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Don’t Like to Write, But Like Having Written


  1. 1915 December 4, The Bellman, Volume 19, The Bellman’s Book Plate, The Writing Grind, (Acknowledgement to Detroit Saturday Night), Start Page 642, Quote Page 643, Column 1, Published by The Bellman Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1915 December 17, Racine Journal News, How One Novelist Wrote, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Racine, Wisconsin. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1916 January 11, Charleroi Mail, How One Novelist Wrote, Quote Page 3, Column 3, Charleroi, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1916 February 13, Chicago Tribune, Tabloid Book Review by Fanny Butcher, Quote Page G4, Column 3, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)