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> What Makes A Book Literature?, inquiring minds want to know
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CelticCoalition 
Posted: 25-Jul-2005, 02:57 PM
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I have long pondered this question, ever since high school when a teacher brought up the point that he believed Stephen King's writing to be of literary merit, while most critics disagreed.

Now, I'm not very interested in literature studies, but ever sense that teacher brought up the distinction I've been curious. Just what exactly makes a book literature? What is different about literature versus other books?

I suppose one distinction that I've seen made on this site is Tolkien vs. JK Rowling. LOTR is literature, whereas Harry Potter is not.

Why?

My personal opinion on this is that it's all a bunch of pooh.gif . Perhaps I'm just not much one for making distinctions of this kind. IMO, it seems to me at times that whether the person is alive or not is often the distinguishing factor between literature and "other". I would even go so far as to say there isn't any difference at all between the two other than a percieved distinction of quality.

But, I don't rally know, so that's why I'm asking all of you.


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WizardofOwls 
Posted: 25-Jul-2005, 06:42 PM
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Well, I am no expert on the topic, so what I have to say should be taken with a grain of salt....

To me, literature has a timeless quality. It is still as relevant today as it was when it was written. It has to be good without question, (Or at least agreed by the majority to be good), and it should transport you via your imagination to the writer's imagined world. It should leave you questioning what will happen to the characters after the last page is turned and it should have meaning, beyond just that contained within the book's pages.

Well, those are just my scattered thoughts... next?


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dfilpus 
Posted: 26-Jul-2005, 01:11 PM
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Obviously, Tolkien is great literature. I know great literature when I see it. biggrin.gif

Harry Potter may or may not be considered literature in the future. It does have a lot of the qualities that are considered features of literature. But only time will tell.

One problem with any list of features for defining great literature is that you can find literary books that do openly defy the accepted wisdom. Maybe, that is the defining characteristic of great literature : the ability to defy convention and rise above it.


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dundee 
Posted: 26-Jul-2005, 04:49 PM
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literature ..... urm... clears throat and reminds yall to read my signature.

literature started out as books common books.... willie the shake wasnt writting literature when he he wrote macbeth..... he was trying to feed himself in the way he knew..... do to overwhelming "endless" popularity it turned into "literature"
or books with a good (forgive the pun) shelf life..... same with mark twain's "huckleberry fin" and "tom sawyer" the people the common people turned these into literature

i dont personally think that tolkien has arrived with the "ring series"... not yet
its more of a phenom like harry potter new.gif

i think indeed cs lewis (chronicles of narnia).....has written literature.... overwhelming "endless" popularity.

will harry potter or "the ring series" become literature.... only time will tell, lets take a look 10 or 15 years down the line.... right now i see harry potter and the "ring series" as a cult happening... kinda like the rocky horror picture show (was/is) or braveheart. velho.gif


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stoirmeil 
Posted: 27-Jul-2005, 10:45 AM
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QUOTE (dundee @ 26-Jul-2005, 05:49 PM)

i dont personally think that tolkien has arrived with the "ring series"... not yet
its more of a phenom like harry potter new.gif


Well -- no. . . unless you're thinking about the film adaptations. smile.gif

CS Lewis and Tolkien were contemporaries and colleagues. They didn't really agree philosophically or aesthetically (Tolkien wasn't fond of the overtness of Lewis' theological allegory, for example), but they very much respected each others' output. Tolkien was a notable philologist and scholar of northern european languages at Oxford, and The Lord of the Rings has long been considered a literary classic that has influenced a couple of generations of serious writers of the kind of fantasy that is intended as social and psychological commentary.

Here's a very "lite" Tolkien bio:
http://www.tolkiensociety.org/tolkien/biog_frame.html

As to its being literature -- well, the huge amount of high level scholarly criticism (not only literary but also linguistic, philosophical, theological. . . ), longstanding inclusion in university level programs as course material, and so forth, are pretty good indices of Tolkien's work being taken very seriously indeed.

As far as Harry Potter is concerned -- there's been a fair amount of criticism on it too, and a certain amount of that has considered the very question of whether it's "literature," even in the children/young adults category. Personally I think there's a matter of writing quality involved, over and above the capacity to endure and be relevant, that Rowling does not always meet, but it's way too early to tell. As a consumer phenomenon, there is no doubt that it's extraordinary.
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CelticCoalition 
Posted: 27-Jul-2005, 11:01 AM
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Well, it sounds to me as if these statements can be grouped into two categories. 1: Time defines literature. If people are still reading your books 100 years after they were written, then it's literature.

Or 2: When enough people agree that it is literature...then it's literature.

I suspected this.

I find it interesting though, that certain books are used to teach students about literature, and yet it doesn't seem that there is a clear consensus on what literature is exactly. It appears to be more an idea, or perhaps simply a majority rule. "Well, enough qualified people agree that this is literature...so it must be! Huzzah. Let's go sit and discuss our new achievment."
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stoirmeil 
Posted: 27-Jul-2005, 11:30 AM
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It's a big question. It brings up all kinds of issues about popular taste and who has either the expertise or the right to be the arbiters of that taste. People also tend to get sensitive if they suspect that others think they can't tell crap from quality (and who could blame them for that? When you live in a democratic, consumeristic social setting, everybody understandably thinks their opinion is equal to anybody else's, and when you tell folks there are standards, they get tetchy.)

On the other hand, quality isn't only in the eye of the beholder (although it IS there too).

So -- ok, what are the criteria? What's make or break?
I think maybe the biggest thing is:

Does it move the reader as a reflection of some universal human condition, and is it likely to keep doing that over time? And (and maybe this is the "artistic" component) -- does it do it in a manner that breaks through the ordinary way of experiencing things, and make the reader see something he might ordinarily not perceive or think about?
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dundee 
Posted: 27-Jul-2005, 11:32 AM
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QUOTE (stoirmeil @ 27-Jul-2005, 11:45 AM)

Well -- no. . . unless you're thinking about the film adaptations. smile.gif


i stand corrected..... and i agree with you stoirmeil... i personally looked forward to the first lord of the rings movie.... and it left quite disappointed....

the books where so much more engrossing.... i was actually afraid to turn off the lights after reading about the "dark riders" (and i was in my mid 20's then) the movie left me cold .... and i am tired of them and the Harry P stuff.
i often find that true classic literature is very hard to put on the screen.

but yes if i may change my statement tolkien to me would be considered true literature.
i was jaded by the movies.
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Sonee 
Posted: 02-Aug-2005, 11:14 PM
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IMHO, such as it is, I feel the "defining charactaristic" of literature is that it be thought provoking. I believe the reason they are used to teach is because they are not cut and dried. They are neither black nor white. Each person who reads a "great literary work" is going to get something different out of it than the next person. They are so open as to leave large amounts of room for discussion. That is why you will never see, say, a Harliquine(sp?) romance novel as a literary discussion tool in a class. They are all derivatives of the same common theme and there really is nothing to discuss or interperet in them. If you want to know why the author made the character do/say a certain thing, or what motivated him/her to add this situation or character then the author has succeeded in not only getting you to read the book but to ponder it long after you have put it down. That, to me is what makes something literature.


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