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Someone said that art reveals much more of the artist than it ever does of the subject. That is especially true when it comes down to writers. Being that literature is not a visual art, every sentence that we read or write, every place, every character is ultimately filtered through the author’s own unique perspective. We may look at a painting and find it ugly, boring, or see no meaning in it whatsoever. However, in literature, we find whatever the author describes as beautiful, beautiful. No matter how plain the thing may actually be, once it is put into words, we have never known or experienced it any other way. As words are laid out on the page, the writer has exposed a piece of their own heart, by showing us the things that they find are the most valuable.
For that reason, writing is the truest, most direct form of communication. Every single person who has read Lord of the Rings knows Frodo’s exhaustion as he climbs Mount Doom, and every Harry Potter fan knows the slippery, silky feel of an invisibility cloak. Even if you’ve never had Turkish Delight, you know after reading The Chronicles of Narnia that it’s pretty much the most delicious thing ever. Writing is the great equalizer in art; it creates an experience that everyone can share, something that we can all understand the same way. Most importantly, it connects our hearts to everyone who has ever held the same book in their hands. So while writing, as an art, does expose the heart and mind of the writer, it also provides an experience that connects all of its readers. The subject, the truth of the story itself, lies somewhere between the perception of the writer and the interpretation of the reader.
It’s a rare–and highly interesting–phenomenon when the success of a character overwhelms even its creator.
A. A. Milne found Winnie the Pooh’s popularity a source of profound annoyance. Despite his credentials as an established author and playwright, few took his “adult” work seriously after the success of Pooh.
J. M. Barrie had the same troubles with Peter Pan, who entirely overshadowed Barrie’s other works, past and future.
Better-known are the woes of Arthur Conan Doyle. The writer absolutely hated Sherlock Holmes, whom Conan Doyle believed was distracting him from his more important literary pursuits. So plagued by the stature of his own creation, Conan Doyle resorted to throwing Holmes off a cliff in 1893. Public demand and financial need prompted Conan Doyle to revive the famous detective a decade later. The detective has not died since. Read more »
Just one of many negative perspectives of the Twilight saga.
An ambitious sophomore in high school three years ago, I checked out Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Striving to seem mature and sophisticated, I lugged the book around for over a month. It was the hardest read of my entire life. The worst part is I had no clue as to its significance. Grasping the bare bones of the plot, I knew there was more the novel wanted to communicate.
Sure, one reason I didn’t catch the significance was because I was a sophomore in high school. In my first year of college though, I’ve discovered I’m not the only person confused. There are whole courses devoted to Dostoyevsky and The Brothers Karamazov; the underlying significances, symbols, motifs and so on.
Maybe I should’ve stuck to Harry Potter like the rest of my classmates.
In my short time, it seems the literary world places most value on novels with human messages, even more so on novels taking long intricate routes to get to those messages. However, it seems the literary world also tends to cast novels not adhering to such standards as a “literature of diversion” as Jonathan Franzen puts it.
At school, literary high brows’ nostrils flare at the sight of a Twilight or Harry Potter novel. “That’s not real literature,” they say. I’m not a fan of genre novels myself, but I think my fellow undergrads and the literary community are wrong for totally writing off such novels. Read more »
Lately I’ve been trying to expand the range of my reading material, in the interest of improving my own writing. My theory is that, at this stage of my writing career, at least a portion of what I am writing is reflective of what I’m reading.
So I’m trying to mix it up a bit by reading different authors with different writing styles, by reading different genres, and even by reading books for different age groups. Right now I’m simultaneously reading The Plot Against America by Philip Roth, a hypothetical-historical piece of literary fiction, as well as Fade by Robert Cormier, a YA book about a boy who learns to become invisible and witnesses the dark secrets of his friends and neighbors, which I originally read many years ago and am now re-reading.
My experiences with both books are obviously very different, and the juxtaposition is interesting. Read more »
With 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and even Star Trek, the notion of transformative work has been a particularly hot topic these past few months. Transformative work not only plays havoc with intellectual property law, but also with the audience as storytellers take our familiar, beloved characters and then subvert them entirely. Holden Caulfield is 76 years old and on the run from a nursing home, Elizabeth Bennett defends her family from hoards of zombies, and James Tiberius Kirk finds himself without a father and a long way to go before he can become captain of the USS Enterprise. The result is all the more shocking and enlightening given the juxtaposition of the transformed work with our knowledge of the original work.
It’s a compelling artistic endeavor. And transformative work is nothing new. Fans of Homer’s The Odyssey and The Iliad wrote their own books based on his works. Cervantes’ Don Quixote saw more than a few unauthorized published sequels. John Gardner’s Grendel, a re-telling of Beowulf from the monster’s point of view, was published to great acclaim (which, being one of my favorite books, I definitely recommend you giving it a read). Gregory Maguire’s best-selling Wicked, an alternate take on The Wizard of Oz, is now one of Broadway’s biggest hits. You get the idea.
But what about fan-made transformative works? While there are countless pieces of fan fiction and fan art out there, in which fans take their favorite characters and merely continue their stories, genuine transformative works are far less common. But as few and far-between as they may be, their stories really resonate.
After the jump, a short list of lesser-known, but by no means lesser-quality, fan-made transformative storytelling that challenge the old adage “there are no new stories.”
Because a lot can happen in one week and we think it’s worthy to tell you about it, we’re starting a new feature called Midweek Pick-Me-Up. Every Wednesday we sum up the week’s lit & culture news and then help to push you through the rest of the week with a pick-me-up, which is a folksy way of saying we show you a funny video, story, or webcomic.
The demise of Reading Rainbow, more discussion about digital readers (as if you haven’t had enough already), and some freaky Twilight-inspired cover art for a classic novel, and more after the jump.
A friend of mine recently bought a copy of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight … in French. Though she studied the language in college and speaks semi-fluently, she’s definitely not a proficient reader of French and reads much more quickly and easily in English. Nevertheless, she’s forcing herself to plow through the French version of the incredibly successful teen vampire novel just so she can feel less guilty about reading it. She thinks that most people who see her reading Twilight will think that she has terrible taste in literature, so by reading it in French, she can defend herself as merely practicing another language.
While the adults in the publishing industry create rigid genre boundaries, in the minds of readers, these are actually quite flexible. I’m just as likely to enjoy something on the “Young Adult Fiction” shelf as I am in the “Classics” section. And as the industry continues to suffer during the recession, it’s the sale of young adult content that continues to grow. So maybe we shouldn’t be so embarrassed?
What do you think? Are there any great hidden gems in the YA section that adult readers should know about?