Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Serious Literature

I've been surfing the web to read about what people think about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and I came across this amazing comment.

...my husband, a Tolkien scholar, often observes that these days, in literature, to write about deep and ultimate themes, it is almost impossible to do so in, say, poetry or "adult" literature and be taken seriously - for that, you must write in fantasy and/or children's literature - and then your readers will find you.

I certainly believe it. One of the worst parts of high school were the English classes. I love to read and even back then I was a voracious reader, reading lots of material outside of the requirements of school. But all that "great literature" was something I read but couldn't really stand. All it showed was that life and living was pointless and we all died even if you win you lost. "The Old Man and the Sea" was particularly nasty that way. They all ended with the protagonist (I can't call them heroes) either dead or insane. The best case for one was merely social and financial ruination. We only studied the tragedies of Shakespeare where everyone pretty much died. After 3 years of that is it any great surprise that the average American doesn't read for fun. There is no pleasure in it. Then I find a post like this that just pegs the sad/pity-meter.

I sampled all kinds of genres when I was young, it was fun to wander into the library and choose a book at random to see where it might take me. I still do that but not so often. I settled on scifi and fantasy because some of them would deal with hard and troubling questions.

What makes us human and different from the animals?
Why do people make choices that are obviously bad for themselves and others?
Why are so many people listening to someone who despises them and doing what he says?
How can good people do awful things?

There are plenty more questions but these are a good start. Too much great literature is only based around jealousy or envy, that isn't necessarily bad but there are far more emotions out there then just those.

Harry Potter generally is a coming of age story, but is also about love and the nature of good vs evil.

If schools really wanted people to learn to read they would offer a huge variety of material to read. Encouraging people to find the books they like best. That will help them learn to like to read if find some they want to read.

But it is still interesting that the literature that explores the hard stuff is considered kids stuff. Is that irony I smell.

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