Friday, November 20, 2009

Instant classic: Harry Potter

harry potter

From Booking Through Thursday:

Do you think any current author is of the same caliber as Dickens, Austen, Bronte, or any of the classic authors? If so, who, and why do you think so? If not, why not? What books from this era might be read 100 years from now?

Interesting question.  Of course, to answer it we have to ask ourselves what the classic authors have that make their work survives.  Unfortunately, the answer to that question is really too variable to be able to predict--if we knew how classic novels came about, everyone would be writing and publishing them.  I'm sure there are a lot of writers of the same caliber, but are they likely to be remembered as a classic author in the future?  Sadly, the chances aren't great.  You don't just need talent at writing, but the right subject matter, the right place and time to be published, certain people to read and review your books to convince other people they're great, and so on and so forth. 

If I had to pick one work that people will be familiar with a hundred years from now, however, I would say the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling.  Not only has it sold millions of copies, is known world-wide, and has been translated in various media, but I believe it has two major elements that will keep it popular in the style of Sherlock Holmes and Lord of the Rings:
  1. It has its own, completely convincing reality that bleeds into our own world.  People still visit Sherlock Holmes' house on Baker Street.  There are people who actually speak Elvish, which kind of blows my mind (I have enough trouble learning living languages, never mind made-up ones).  Will people still be visiting Platform 9 3/4 in the future?  I'm going to say hell to the yeah.
  2. There's a timelessness about it that makes it appealing across generations.  Although Harry Potter certainly wasn't written inside a bubble (a lot of the storyline with Voldemort seemed reminiscent of WWII to me), it's not so bogged down in current events or pop culture that it will lose its relevance over time.  Quite the opposite, in fact--there's a universiality to the wizarding world and the story of Harry that allows the books to appeal to people from many different cultures, and of many different ages, right now.  I'm sure that will hold true in the future.

How about you--what books do you see people reading 100 years from now?

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