What Makes a Scene Memorable?

Christian Fantasy

Glowing wordsAmid the hundreds of books I’ve read over the years, certain scenes and passages linger in my memory. With little prompting I can bring them to recall, with all their attendant emotions–no matter how long it’s been since I read the book in question.

Of course the masters (Tolkien and Lewis) do this well, and they have many outstanding passages in their books. There’s the thrilling conclusion to The Last Battle, when all true Narnians arrive in Aslan’s country and explore unending marvels with the cry of “further up and further in.” Or the wonder of Lucy when she first steps through the wardrobe or the awe the children experience as they first encounter Aslan.

And what of the scene in Lord of the Rings that follows the destruction of the One Ring, when Frodo and Sam pass from seeming death to life? In this glorious life reborn they celebrate with joy, as Tolkien describes:

“And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.”

Yet many besides the masters crafts scenes that take up residence in memory. In Monster in the Hollows, the concluding passage demonstrated the power of familial love and self-sacrifice in a way that engaged my emotions and will remain ever vivid in my mind.

And for very different reasons, Raven’s Ladder engaged me when storyteller Krawg shares a tale that he himself understands little, a recounting of the saga of the maker and the tricksters, and when this saga comes to fruition in The Ale Boy’s Feast with a grand display of otherwordly beauty.

What stands out about all these (and many others) has little to do with the style in which they’re written. It’s the meaning it conveys and the strong emotions it evokes, even years later, that makes a scene memorable. And passages of this sort, woven throughout a book, make for enduring fiction.

Are there scenes and passages that have resonated with you and remained favorites over time?

Image credit: morana-stock


  • Kessie
    March 9, 2012 - 3:02 pm · Reply

    One scene that has stuck with me for years is from My Friend Flicka, by Mary O’Hara. There’s this scene where Ken sees a cow that has gotten its udder tangled in barbed wire, and he’s all by himself, and he goes and cuts the cow free. It’s the first time he’s really taken responsibility for anything in his life, and his dad is so proud of him when he hears about it. For some reason that scene sticks in my mind. I guess it’s written very vividly and it’s kind of horrific.

    Another scene I just love is from And Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright. Their housekeeper leaves and the girls decide they’re going to can the bushels of tomatoes from the garden all by themselves. And things go wrong, and jars explode in the canner, and skinned tomatoes bounce all over the place, so there’s red everywhere. And one of their brothers walks in, sees the red, assumes a murderous stance and starts chanting, “BL-OOD! BL-OOD!” And the girls chase him out of the kitchen. I always think of that scene when I plan some canning. 🙂

  • Sarah Sawyer
    March 9, 2012 - 5:49 pm · Reply

    Ha ha…I like the scene you described from the Enright book. I didn’t really cover humorous scenes in this post, but so many of those have stuck with me also. LM Montgomery had a knack for unfolding funny scenarios, in my opinion.

    One that never fails to amuse me is in The Story Girl, where the children terrorize themselves while staying home alone. They hear a mysterious bell in the house and convince themselves it’s a family ghost, so they huddle outside in the orchard debating the situation until their uncle arrives home late that night and tells them that a handyman came by that afternoon and fixed a grandfather clock that had been broken for years. I can easily imagine the whole scenario unfolding in real life, where something mundane takes root in the imagination and a whole humorous scene unfolds. 🙂

    It can be beauty or humor, joy or sadness…but the scenes that stick in the memory definitely make an impression on our emotions!

  • Kessie
    March 10, 2012 - 12:56 am · Reply

    I wonder why humor tends to stick in the mind longer? I asked my mom what scenes from books stuck with her. She said the first ones that came to mind were from Anne of Green Gables, when Matthew dies, and from Little Women, when Beth dies. There’s the two saddest scenes in modern literature right there, in my opinion. 🙂

    • Sarah Sawyer
      March 14, 2012 - 3:12 pm · Reply

      Oh my, I agree those rank up among the saddest scenes in literature. They weren’t sad in a depressing way, but in a way that let you feel what the characters felt and empathize with their loss, yet move on with them to find hope. I remember them both vividly!

  • Jennifer Hallmark
    March 10, 2012 - 12:05 pm · Reply

    Loved the Last Battle! My favorite Narnia book, especially the last page where it says that everything that had taken place just brought them to chapter one 🙂

    Loved Return of the King where Aragorn finally fights through and decides to become who he was destined to be…

    • Sarah Sawyer
      March 14, 2012 - 3:15 pm · Reply

      The The Last Battle is my favorite too, although I love all the Narnia books. It’s a powerful story.

      So is The Return of the King–there are a number of scenes from that book that will always stick with me! It sounds like we share many favorites. 🙂

  • sally apokedak
    March 11, 2012 - 6:12 pm · Reply

    Oh, my, when Matthew dies, yes. So many scenes from Anne. When they drink the cordial. When Dianna’s little sister is sick.

    I also have always loved the train scene in the beginning of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. And I love seeing Wee Sir Gibby helping his drunk father home at night.

    Many scenes from the Little House books have stayed with me, too. The leeches in the creek, the introduction to the house on Plum Creek. And Almonzo’s barn is very real to me.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      March 14, 2012 - 3:22 pm · Reply

      Sally, so many scenes from the Anne books are emblazoned on my memory also. LM Montgomery had a knack for capturing emotion in her stories.

      I read the Little House books many times while growing up, and I suspect I’ll always remember many of Laura’s experiences. I wonder if scenes from books we read in childhood tend to stay with us longer?

  • Maria Tatham
    March 11, 2012 - 11:20 pm · Reply

    Loved the opening scene from ~Rebecca~ in which the heroine says these haunting words, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…” Loved many of the evocative scenes of this book, in which the memory and deeds of the deceased Rebecca continue to wield an unholy influence that is at last finally broken.

    Loved the opening scene in ~The Woman in White~, and the scene near the end in which the villainous, clever, articulate Count Fosco and the plain hero Walter Hartright finally face off.

    Loved the scene in Anne Hamilton’s ~Many Coloured Realm~ in which a beautiful baby boy is shown to have a disability. Can’t forget that. He seemed even more beautiful.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      March 14, 2012 - 3:24 pm · Reply

      Maria, of the books you mentioned I must confess I’ve only read The Woman in White, but you describe them with such flair that you make me want to read them. I’ll have to add them to my list–I know Rebecca is a classic!

      • Maria Tatham
        March 15, 2012 - 11:50 am · Reply

        Sarah, hi!
        Right now I’m rereading ~Rebecca~. For writers, there is SO much to learn from it. It is also completely engrossing. This time around, however, I’m finding it almost unbearably sad.
        Happy blogging!!

  • TheQuietPen
    March 23, 2012 - 9:53 pm · Reply

    I love place and food descriptions–really good, ones, that is. Maybe it has something to do with my own wandering childhood as a military brat.

    I was addicted to Laura Ingalls Wilder books for their descriptions of events, of places and the food they ate. Even the poor scraps were very evocative. They spoke so much about the landscape. To be trapped in a Conestoga wagon after crossing an ice-covered river, eating cold bits of food and huddling beneath damp blankets–it makes me shiver somewhere deep inside, even in eighty degree heat! I love writers who can tie descriptions of place, everyday activities, and eatables so intimately into the story that the descriptions aren’t superfluous data, but make the entire story, the theme, everything, come alive so that even now I know that I’ve traveled to the lands in the text, as clearly as if I had set physical foot in them.

    Narnia has some great examples of this–Mr. Tumnus’ cave, the wise hermit’s mountaintop home in “The Horse in His Boy”, the cozy castle room Jill Pole stayed in at the beginning of “The Silver Chair”–and the contrast when she’s cold and flustered at the Parliament of the Owls!

    This sort of thing was something Tolkien also did very well countless times in his works. Sadly, the modern bent toward being super-concise, as a movie script, sometimes really robs the reader of these great passages.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      March 29, 2012 - 12:52 pm · Reply

      I love writers who can tie descriptions of place, everyday activities, and eatables so intimately into the story that the descriptions aren’t superfluous data, but make the entire story, the theme, everything, come alive so that even now I know that I’ve traveled to the lands in the text, as clearly as if I had set physical foot in them.

      Well said! I agree.

      It’s interesting how many of the same authors made an impression on all of us–and they’re mostly writers whose books have endured through the years.

Leave a Comment