During my reading for the recent BookTubeAThon in which I compared classic works of literature with more modern novels, I realised fairly early on that there is usually a very good reason why “classics” continue to be read year after year and why they have stood the test of time. It seems to me that what they have in common is a combination of exploration of universal themes, interesting characters, entry into a fantastical new world, understanding of the human condition and/or a witty and engaging writing style. 1984 explores the theme of government control, and Big Brother is a pretty dominant “character” in the book. Pride & Prejudice has Jane Austen’s wonderfully witty narrative combined with the eternal quest for true love.
Naturally it made me wonder which of today’s novels will become tomorrow’s classics. Looking at Amazon’s 100 top selling books, there are several I see there that I don’t believe we will still be reading in years to come. I’m sorry E.L. James and Dan Brown, but I really doubt people will even remember Fifty Shades of Grey or Inferno in fifty years’ time. I simply don’t think they combine enough of the criteria to last. So what will people be (re)reading in fifty years time?
Naturally, only time will tell, and I’m basing my picks mainly on the young adult/fantasy genre which is the one I know best. My top pick would be the Harry Potter series. I believe in this series Rowling has combined most, if not all, of my criteria. We have the universal themes of good vs evil, sacrifice, love, friendship and family. I imagine these themes will still be as relevant in 50 years. As for interesting characters, I defy anyone to truly know Snape’s motivations prior to the revelations of “The Prince’s Tale” in Deathly Hallows. The world Rowling has created is simply wonderful – like me, I’m sure many readers wished that they could have joined Harry, Ron and Hermione for some sausages, roast potatoes and pumpkin juice at the Hogwarts end of term feast or that they could have played for Gryffindor in Quidditch. And who could doubt Rowling’s wit and intelligence when Hermione accuses Ron of having “the emotional depth of a teaspoon” or when reading of Arthur Weasley’s fascination with and misunderstandings of all things Muggle, or fail to shed a tear when Harry asks “will it hurt?” during his last walk in the Forbidden Forest? The Harry Potter series can be downloaded as ebooks or audiobooks from the Pottermore Shop. Check out my post on buying from Pottermore.
Another series I imagine will become a classic is George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. His characters are multi-dimensional and show Martin’s real understanding of human nature. People generally don’t tend to be wholly good or wholly bad, but a blend of both, and that comes across beautifully in his characterisation. Martin’s use of multiple points of view characters allows him to really make them live, and it’s this that I believe will secure the series a place in today’s classics. I wrote about how spoilers enhanced my reading of the latest book, A Dance with Dragons, in this (spoilery) post.
Robert Jordan’s/Brandon Sanderson’s Wheel of Time series is another one I believe will stand the test of time. While it doesn’t quite have Martin’s depth of character, it makes up for it in the sheer scale and breadth of the world created. I wrote a blog post on my reaction as I read A Memory of Light. (Spoilers, enter at own risk).
In Quebec at least, I believe French speakers will be reading Anne Robillard’s Chevaliers d’Eméraude for many, many years to come. I truly regret that this wonderful series is not available in English. I’m almost tempted to write a longer series of posts on this series to introduce it to you. Robillard creates a fantastic world which she populates with very relatable characters who are dealing with basic human struggles while engaged in a good vs evil battle for their lives.
My final pick may surprise many of you. I would not be surprised to see Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary on peoples’ reading lists in years to come. I say that because it combines a witty and entertaining style with a keen eye for character. More to the point, it captured perfectly life for young twenty somethings of the time. I know because I have been a Bridget Jones. So in the way that modern people enjoy reading Jane Austen to get a glimpse of life in Regency England, people in years to come may read Bridget Jones to see get a glimpse of how we live now.
Do you agree with my choices? What would you pick? Let me know in the comments!