This is a follow on from a guest blog post by Mariella Hunt over on www.brettmichaelorr.com about Classical Literature. I had some subsequent conversation with the two of them on on the subject via Twitter and it got me thinking a few things.
Mainly, what is Classical Literature and what does it offer for readers?
For a lot of people the term seems to bring up writers of the western cannon like Bronte, Eyre & Dickens. A lot of those same people encountered those writers in school and found them dry and unrelatable. But for me Classical Literature encompasses so much more than just these 16th-17th century writers. I don’t myself find much interest in reading the above mentioned authors, although it is worth mentioning that most people will be a familiar with ‘A Christmas Tale’.
Which brings me to my wider point, if you look at Classical Literature not just as ‘grown-up’ works written before the 20th century many of our beloved children’s classics fall under this umbrella. The adventure stories of Robert Louis Stevenson were something that i read as a child as well as those of Jonathan Swift. These works were not considered children’s stories when they were published and Swift is a brilliant satirist if you read him again with an adult eye. His style can be found echoing through the works of writers like Terry Pratchett if you look for it. Probably one of the most well known children’s stories is ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Lewis Carroll was definitely not writing with children in mind. He was a mathematics professor and Alice was written as an allegory for his own views on “new” mathematical theories of the time (the string theory of his day) where he imagined the sort of crazy world it would be if it were run by the rules of these new theories. There are many, many other examples like these stories, just think back about the classic stories that you absorbed as a child and see how many of them have origins further back than the last hundred years or so. Just about every story that a Disney animated movie is based on for example.
Probably can’t get past this point without mentioning the Brothers Grimm, who’s works were read at the time of printing as sensational horror stories, which explains the amount of death, gore & awful things happening to people contained in their fairy tales.
Stepping away into more ‘grown-up’ works if you will, there is a wealth of other authors out there that go beyond. One of my personal favorites is Candide by the french satirist Voltaire, but it is far from all that is out there. Here is a list from Goodreads of some pre-1900 Authors that you may find some titles that interest you among.
The thing that i wanted to say the most of all when i started this post is that all of this literature can offer you so much as a reader and i urge anybody who hasn’t consciously picked up an old book to do so, because it is totally worth it. Classical Literature offers many things like a window into the world that existed before our modern one. But, most of all they offer you BLOODY GREAT STORIES! Stories that have stood the test of time and been read and loved over and over again by generations of human beings since they were written. As a reader, don’t you want great stories?