If you are an English Literature graduate, or if you have attended higher education in the UK for that matter, the chances are that you will have come across a reasonably broad range of so-called literary classics. Moreover, if you are an avid reader, you might have discovered even more significant works by a range of international authors that have helped shape the different genres of literature over the years.
The Oxford Royale Academy has compiled a list of essential English novels that they say everybody should read in their lifetime. The list includes, but is not limited to, the following:
‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte ‘Middlemarch’ by George Elliott ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ by George Orwell ‘The Lord of the Rings’ by J. R. R. Tolkien ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy by Philip Pullman ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ by Thomas Hardy All of Jane Austen’s novels
While the list covers a good range of novels, many of which are indeed recognised as classics by the various English exam boards (including AQA, OCR and Edexcel), who decides which works are labelled classics of the world? Who is qualified enough within the field to have earned the authority to distinguish a classic from a basic piece of prose? Are lists ever reviewed as society moves forward and the majority’s opinions adapt to the times? This is something that will be explored below.
In the meantime, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that all of the above featured writers were born in either the 19th century or in the very early 1900s, with the exception of Philip Pullman. Pullman, in fact, is the only ‘current’ author from the above list, and thus is the only individual who could possibly have drawn anything from modern society during his ongoing writing career.
‘His Dark Materials’, is one of just a couple of collections of works from the list that focuses on relatively modern fantasy elements like witches and mystical creatures, in addition to its scientific and philosophical themes.
The other is J. R. R. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ series, with ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ being published in 1954. Looking back, this masterpiece was clearly ahead of its time and marks one of the first times that an author successfully experimented with fantasy fiction, at a time when this was purely imagination-driven.
This trilogy was undoubtedly a stepping stone in the path towards the fantasy works that we all love and embrace today, like the George R. R. Martin book series ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’, better known as the world-famous televised series ‘Game of Thrones’.
The nature of New Zealand has been used to depict fantasy novels ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Game of Thrones’. Photo via VisualHunt.com
With hi-tech gadgets readily available and television programmes being digitally enhanced, sci-fi and fantasy themes seem less far-fetched than in previous decades. Perhaps readers’ imaginations are so advanced in this modern technological era that they feel that they can relate to these types of stories, hence their continually growing popularity?