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In literature, has the definition of "Classic" changed?

Updated on March 2, 2012
Classic Novels
Classic Novels

What is classic literature?

What defines a classic? Is it a long, boring read with a minimum of seven hundred difficult to pronounce words? Is it a story that we put on our bookshelves to look smart, but in reality, we can't even get through the first chapter? Or is it that well crafted tale that touches upon universal themes of love, family, war, friendship, basic human emotions? A book that shows the mastery of the language? A novel that survives the test of time, and will be passed on from generation to generation? A story that awakens humanity to a new idea, and keeps the people talking about it long after its author is in the grave? And are we changing the way we defined "classic literature" in the past?

The world of literature is changing.

If you take the time to research what publishers are looking for today, you will find that the writers are expected to grab the reader from the very start and to keep the pace of the narrative highly engaging. And let's be honest, while the standard for the character development has not changed, people no longer want to read 150 pages before they are pulled into the story. This is not all that bad for the quality of writing that is emerging in modern literature. One may argue that there are too many books that will not be able to compete with the definition of a classic, but at the same time, there is also a great number of truly amazing writers that have a gift for developing a story that appeals to a wide variety of readers, and carries a timeless theme and message along with it.

What books of today will our children read tomorrow?

I doubt anyone can argue the fact that Harry Potter has swept the world off its feet. A boy wizard presented us with a new kind of a book, a book that parents and children read with equal fascination and enjoyment. Only ten years after the first introduction to the world, Harry Potter series have already claimed their place in our hearts, and will remain their for many generations to come. What else will emerge in our lifetime? Can we compare it to the mischievous spirit of Tom Sawyer? We certainly can. Is it that much different? The differences we see are in the development of the fantasy genre, where classic literature of the past has traditionally been rooted in the times it was written, and the uncomplicated language.

It is true that most of the books that grab our attention today have simpler prose, but we can also look at it as more accessible. Some may argue it is too simple, and that the literature of today is losing its luster and magnificence, but I think the quality of writing can also be measured by how deeply the reader gets involved in the story, and many modern books allow us to get pulled into the imaginary worlds like never before.

The future of literature.

Overall, despite so many titles out there today that would make Dostoevskiy cringe, I believe that the world of literature is changing for the better, and the meaning of "classic novel" is changing along with it. There are more choices today for us to pick from, and that naturally means there are more bad, as there are more good novels on the market. This doesn't mean that there is no place for another Orwell to come along to shake up our conscience with another Animal Farm. This also doesn't mean that Harry Potter will push our Tom Sawyer out of its rightful place, but we can observe how the speed of the plot is growing, and the genres are expanding into something new and wonderful. The themes of love, family, and human psychology remain vital to the novels today, but the new classic literature is acquiring an interesting twist to it. I sincerely believe that the changes we are observing will improve the quality of the novels, and that's good news for the reader.

We can debate the good and the bad of today's literary world, but we all can agree, only time will separate the true classics from trendy titles with confidence and certainty.


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    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 5 years ago from Great Britain

      I agree with your beautifully written hub.

      What we call classics today may not have been so when they were first written

    • ytsenoh profile image

      Cathy 5 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      Very thought provoking hub, Bukarella. I think there was a time and place where the true classics were uplifted and embraced, and still are by those who carry real passion for past writings. I also believe like everything else that literature evolves, including the way an audience wants to receive it.

    • Bukarella profile image

      Lyudmyla Hoffman 5 years ago from United States

      Well, I disagree that a hero of a classic must be perfect. For what it's worth, Count Monte Cristo is rooted on the concept of revenge. He was out to destroy people responsible for his misfortunes. I am not sure I embrace his cruelty, even though I understand where he is coming from. How about Crime and Punishment? Killing a granny with an axe? Should we now discount it as a classic as well?

      At the same time, Harry Potter will be read by many generations to come, without a doubt, which doesn't mean the book or its characters are flawless.

    • Silver Poet profile image

      Silver Poet 5 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

      I think Harry Potter is nothing like a classic in any way. I believe our literature should encourage virtues, not extol vices. One example of a developing vice is how Harry and his pals are proficient liars throughout the series. I guess they would make good politicians. It's disappointing that novels that praise virtue are pushed out of the way for novels that encourage bad behavior.

      Give me good old Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers any day!

    • Carmen H profile image

      Carmen Beth 5 years ago

      Interesting analysis of the term 'classic literature.'

    • LisaKoski profile image

      Lisa 5 years ago from WA

      As a literature major, we had this same question come up in the classroom. One of my professors assigned a graphic novel and about half the class was angered by it because they didn't believe that that type of book should be considered literature at all. I thought it was great to read something new and I personally believe it's part of literature.

      Just like you say here, it's no longer all about difficult language and a bunch of development in order to get into a complicated story. I think books nowadays aren't always very thought provoking but those that are are the ones that will really last.