When I wrote my second-to-last post, a link to an article popped up under my box of text telling me to consider including it. This is that article:
I’ve heard this sort of concern before, from my boss, who said that most people, if they read at all (for leisure), read at about a 5th grade level.
I say, why not? It’s entertaining! So what’s the issue? Let’s examine this…
Joanna Trollope cites Twilight and Hunger Games as two examples of what children are reading instead of such classics as Jane Austen novels. Now, Twilight preaches marriage before sex and the Hunger Games is tackles massive social injustice and revolution; these particular things aren’t bad messages, even if they’re mired in a fantasy landscape.
I can understand the creepy obsession of Twilight being bad, and the whole child-murder thing being bad, but these aren’t mentioned in this particular article. The article specifically talks about “guidance” and “wrestling with” the real world. Trollope is concerned that children can’t find real-world guidance. But there clearly IS some guidance there, so what’s the real issue?
It’s not real.
That’s the problem? We don’t take things seriously if it’s in a world we don’t relate to?
Then why are the classics relevant?
I’ve never had to fight for my right to vote. Hell, I never had to fight for my right to wear pants. I make the same amount of money as all the other grad students, so I haven’t even faced that bit of workplace sexism that I hear still exists out there. So I sure as hell can’t appreciate the struggles of a pre-Victorian woman.
Personally, I relate better to Katniss, and I’ve got both my parents, am the youngest of three siblings, have no sisters, and have never lived in a pauper mining town. Or been forced to murder children.
However, Trollope has an exciting project that may help the classics become less “classic” and more “real.” She, and other authors, are giving them a modern upgrade.
I heard years ago about a Romeo and Juliet upgrade, where all the dialogue was the same but the modern setting changed it all up. “Sword” became a word for gun. Like (pre)Victorian morals and (pre)Victorian women’s struggles, they’re outdated.
Some things just don’t translate.
So while I wish this project success, I remain dubious. If you don’t have the (pre)Victorian setting, you don’t have Jane Austen. It’s just a novel about some modern woman, to go with all the rest of them, right next to 50 Shades. You could give the Scarlet Letter a modern upgrade by shifting it to some country where that sort of thing might still happen, but it doesn’t mean I’ll personally relate to it any better. And thought Easy A managed a rough approximation of it, I don’t really think that book would translate to the US at all. Ethan Frome is solved by divorce. Wuthering Heights becomes all about passionate affairs (and divorce?). Oh gosh, Heathcliff!? What would he become if he still needed to be a bad boy today?
This is some scary stuff.
But moreover… on a personal level, I don’t want morally and socially outdated books to form my child’s world-view. I’m not saying the classics can’t teach them anything, but some diversity in exposure certainly wouldn’t hurt. My 8th grade English class tackled such difficult works as the Princess Bride and Earthsea. Our curriculum was creativity, but within it there was also truth:
- I learned more about love from Buttercup and Westley than I ever will from Heathcliff, though Ethan Frome gives them a run for their money.
- I learned more about human nature from Ged than I would learn from an old fisherman admiring Joe DiMaggio.
So… while I see the obvious value in fiction, is it true that the message gets lost (unless you make it terribly preachy, like Happy Feet)?
Is this something that we, as writers of fantasy, need to tackle in order to be deemed satisfactorily sophisticated literature?
And I don’t just mean with long words and sentences and hidden meanings… but should we make them confront moral dilemmas akin to the classics (if that’s possible)?
Or is Trollope spewing a load of very biased anti-fantasy trollop? Your thoughts?
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Now, on a personal note, I doubt Trollope’s judgement. I doubt it because I’m biased toward fantasy, and I’m grown up enough to admit it.
But let’s back up to that 50 Shades comment. Trollope herself thinks that Jane Austen novels are like 50 Shades. I must admit, at this point, that (on a spur of boredom and to be more informed about socially infamous works) I read ALL the 50 Shades books. I’m all for some kinky fuckery in my literature, if it is actually as advertised. 50 Shades does not qualify as BDSM. So it’s another boring novel about obsession and boring old virginal sexual self-discovery with an experienced man, dramatized by Grey’s more violent sexual tastes that he has to bottle up as he grows into a better person. So it’s a set of novels about some rich people drama, which is the good part, but it’s just so superbly ridiculous when you factor in the narrator’s stubborn naivete and the unlikeliness of the situation. Love does not equal obsession, and I’m sick of literature billing them as one and the same, whether it’s Twilight or 50 Shades. (Personally, if Jane Austen translates, in modern terms, to 50 Shades, I don’t want my children reading it.)
But I digress. The real message here is that if she thinks highly of 50 Shades, I don’t trust her judgment. For the sexual repressed, it’s a bunch of hard-core trollop. For the sexually deviant, it’s soft-core trollop. Despite some occasional dramatic, plot-based high points (amidst a character-driven story with sappy, damaged characters that I hated), it’s really just poorly done smut with a clumsy and overly-dramatic plot.
Dark Destiny was better.