Monday, April 11, 2011

To Be A Classic or Not To Be A Classic

In an effort to help my wife with her blog and in an attempt to be literary; Have you ever wondered what makes a classic a classic? If you are like me, you sat through English class (or French, or Spanish, or German or well you get the picture) and some of the books you said," yes, okay! That is a classic." others you wondered what the literary powers were thinking. Some will argue that classics are in the eye of the beholder and that it is all subjective. Those that would disagree often use logical facts to try to prove their points. They may say something like the messages in that book are timeless and thus it’s a classic or it sold so many copies in successive generations, etc. But does that really make a book a classic?

Or is literature more based on how well it appeals to some one? Many books written are never published because they don’t “appeal’ to the agents or editors the book was sent to. Take Harry Potter by JK Rowling. She had tried several agents/editors before being accepted yet we can pretty much all agree that it has gained world-wide popularity. (Now you can disagree with it being a classic or well written but it is an international phenomenon.) Two things can be learned from this:

First, there are several very very very embarrassed agents/editors (actually my real point is that something being good is in the eye of the beholder these people are embarrassed because they DIDN’T see it as good). Second, that popularity may not necessarily make something a classic. So what do you think makes something a classic and do you know a book that should or shouldn’t be a classic and why?

For example, I had to read Brave new World, I hate a Brave New World and I understand its messages. But I don’t think it is a classic and think that the same messages could have been told in other ways. Yet I might argue that in CS Lewis’ books could be classics.


Vicki Rocho said...

I think part of it is subjective, but I think it has to do with the portability or durability of the story from one generation to another. They stand the test of time (sorry for the cliche so early in the morning!)

Gina Ciocca said...

I probably risk getting hate mail for this, but there's one classic I could never get into- Jane Eyre. I can't figure out why everyone is gaga over that book, why it's mentioned as the female mc's "favorite book" in half the YA novels I read. What's the fuss about? Then again, I can't stand the Lord of the Rings, either. I'm not sure if cult following alone makes a classic, but the label definitely doesn't impress me!

Stina said...

I've wondered this too. How is this "classic" decision made? Harry Potter will be a classic. Twilight won't (though I did love the book).

Chris Phillips said...

Classics need either:
a) a whale
b) a female member of aristocracy who is in the most boring love ever.
c) guillotines
d) mentally incapable people who like rabbits
e) childhood wizards.

Joanne said...

I think if a book withstands the test of time, and still holds a large audience, it could be considered a classic. The connection it makes with readers is timeless.

R. Garrett Wilson said...

I’m no expert on the subject, but I have read a fair share of classics. What I have noticed is that classics tend to fall into one of four categories:
1. Like others have said, stories enjoyed by the masses that have withstood the test of time (like the works of Shakespeare and Dumas).
2. The story carries deeper meaning than the words themselves (like Aesop’s Fables and Gulliver's Travels).
3. The story has in some way made a permanent impact on society (like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Silent Spring).
4. When the story (fictional or not) accurately depicts an area, lifestyle, or subject that the greater public would not otherwise understand (like Tom Sawyer and Call of the Wild).

But Chris is right; it doesn’t hurt to have mentally incapable people who like rabbits, guillotines, or childhood wizards.

Amie Kaufman said...

I have to admit I totally struggled with Brave New World as well.

I think the classics speak to a greater truth most of the time, though it doesn't have to be some philosophical musing. It might just be that in the protagonist, readers see some part of themselves, and so learn more about it.

MikeS said...

I think this blog is a classic. All in favor say aye.

MikeS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Margo Berendsen said...

Good question. I have to agree with other commenters who said, the book stands the test of time... in other words, it doesn't fade into obscurity. I didn't like Brave New World either, but it is so disturbing, it stays in your mind.

What!!! Twilight not a classic??? I'm joking. Well, sort of.

It's a great love story. It was loved by teenaged girls AND their mothers (even a few grandmothers).

Curious to see if the next generations love it as much as our generations did.