It is partly a division of books (some stories can be read only in the one spirit and some only in the other) and partly a division of readers (the same story can be read in different ways).
What finally convinced me of this distinction was a conversation which I had a few years ago with an intelligent American pupil.
What I lose is the whole sense of the deathly (quite a different thing from simple danger of death)--the cold, the silence, and the surrounding faces of the ancient, the crowned and sceptred, dead. The one lays a hushing spell on the imagination; the other excites a rapid flutter of the nerves.
You may, if you please, say that Rider Haggard's effect is quite as 'crude' or 'vulgar' or 'sensational' as that which the film substituted for it. In reading that chapter of the book curiosity or suspense about the escape of the heroes from their death-trap makes a very minor part of one's experience.
The trap I remember for ever: how they got out I have long since forgotten.
It seems to me that in talking of books which are 'mere stories'--books, that is, which concern themselves principally with the imagined event and not with character or society--nearly everyone makes the assumption that 'excitement' is the only pleasure they ever give or are intended to give.
We were talking about the books which had delighted our boyhood.
His favourite had been Fenimore Cooper whom (as it happens) I have never read.
But the Story itself, the series of imagined events, is nearly always passed over in silence, or else treated exclusively as affording opportunities for the delineation of character. Aristotle in the Poetics constructed a theory of Greek tragedy which puts Story in the centre and relegates character to a strictly subordinate place.
In the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, Boccaccio and others developed an allegorical theory of Story to explain the ancient myths.