What is a Classic?

Discussion in 'SFF lounge' started by dwndrgn, May 31, 2006.

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    dwndrgn

    dwndrgn Fierce Vowelless One Staff Member

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    We've discussed literary merit, now I'm interested in what makes a classic? No poll here since it seems these definitions defy the 'short and sweet' answers.

    To me a classic is something that either can speak to many generations or something that breaks new ground in a way that sparks interest.

    Another question, what if a book affects people in some way? Something that disturbs or revolts or creates some sort of emotion either bad or good in large groups of people. Would this make it so noteworthy that it would end up being a classic? Because anything that makes people look at their world with new eyes seems important enough to make it a classic.

    What do you guys think?
     
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Actually, sounds like you summed it up pretty well. (No long-winded answers from me this time!) The only thing I'd add is that it should be written with enough skill to not date enough to interfere with later generations' enjoyment of the work.
     
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    Nesacat

    Nesacat The Cat

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    You summed it up pretty well indeed dendrgn. Methinks a classic speaks to generations far beyond its time even if it's very much a period piece. It could also be something fairly new but which breaks new ground in way that sparks enduring interest.

    Am not sure about books that effect large groups of people though. At least not the ones that cause a 'sensational' sort of effect. There's Da Vinci Code right now for example. It's got a huge following right across the world but I don't see that becoming a classic in the 'enduring' sense.

    On the other hand, writers like Lovecraft or even Tolkien didn't cause a huge stir in their time, but their books have stood the test of time, been the source of inspiration to generations of writers and look set to stay that way for years to come.
     
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    steve12553

    steve12553 The Enigma of Steel

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    Very few works fail to show their age. The timeless concept is frequently something that cannot be grasped by everyone. Sometime you have to look at a story or novel and ask yourself "If I lived when this was written would this be a really great story. If you read the early Asimov and Heinlein and Bradbury, some of the setting depend heavily on the times they were written butstill show some wonderful storytelling and concepts that impress today. What you have to ignore is things like a man offering a women a cigarette or doffing his cap when she enters the room. Today she'd probably be offend by the cigarette and he wouldn't have a hat unless it was a ball cap. It's really hard to predict the details of the future. Who knows, in 20 years we may be smoking healthy cigarettes and wearing fedoras.
     
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    Tau Zero

    Tau Zero I'm on Earth? Not again!

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    I think that one factor in making a "classic" is being the first at something. Certain books hit upon subjects for the very first time thus immortalizing them. The short stories making up the tales of Conan the Barbarian in the 1930's are not particularly well written, but they are the first modern sword-and-sorcery novels. They are now considered classics because they were the first.
     
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    Winters_Sorrow

    Winters_Sorrow Unreg. Mutant Moderator Staff Member

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    I agree with both the phrases "enduring" and "breaks new ground" in terms of defining a classic.

    To be truly great it also probably needs what Tolkien described as "applicability" which means it can re-interpreted from one generation to the next using terms unknown or unheard of in the author's time (e.g. Island of Dr Moreau & the idea of cloning/genetic experimentation).

    Another way of defining a classic could be by saying it introduced new words to the human language.

    An example would be "Cyberspace", which is generally attributed to Neuromancer by William Gibson (although I know this is contentious).

    Classic could also be the start of a new genre or sub-genre in writing, I guess.
     
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    CarlottaVonUberwald

    CarlottaVonUberwald Just Julie

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    a classic is different for everyone....for some people a classic book is merely those books that have been around for ever nd will continue to bore your average GCSE student for the rest of eternity, for others its a book that might only be famous right now or only be be important to you but has something that means although you'll never hAVE to read that book again( yuou 'll have memorized it the first time) you could read it for the rest of you natural ( or you know unnatural ) life... for me the latter makes a classic
     
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    Adasunshine

    Adasunshine Everything in Moderation

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    My very simple definition...

    A Classic is a book that continues to prove popular over time.

    A Classic also tends to be a benchmark for other authors, and readers alike.

    xx
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2006
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    Tau Zero

    Tau Zero I'm on Earth? Not again!

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    Well put. Couldn't agree more.
     
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    Rosemary

    Rosemary The Wicked Sword Maiden

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    Yes, I would have to agree with Ada as well.

    Although I would also add those newer books which create a new genre.
     
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    chrispenycate

    chrispenycate resident pedantissimo Staff Member

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    A classic, for me, is a book (or series) that has withstood the test of time. Not "will doubtless withstand"; that's a potential classic, as are many other documents less regarded when they appeared. It doesn't have to be that good (indeed, there is apparently a book which is so earthshatteringly bad that it was read aloud at cons; no-one succeeded in reading more than a couple of paragraphs without breaking into laughter; not the optimum route to fame, but…) The "Lenseman" novels would hardly win a "literary merit" prize, are scientifically ridiculous, weak in characterisation with a predictable plot; they're still "classics" in my definition.
     
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    AE35Unit

    AE35Unit ]==[]===O °

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    Something that you read years ago and then forgot about. Years later you wish you had that book now and could visit that world again. For me one would be Aldiss's Hothouse,brilliant!
     
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    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

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    Its a huge diss against REH to say Conan is famous just cause he was the first. Its like saying Tolkein and LOTR is famous only for being the first famous epic fantasy....



    I doubt REH and Conan would sell and be popular for 70+ if they were famous for only being first.

    There are many Fantasy and SF that were first but didnt survive the test of time.


    You might think little of REH's writing but he has inspired too many works and authors to belittle him by saying he was famous only for being the first in sword and sorcery.
     
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    pyan

    pyan Fortiter et recte! Staff Member

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    What Ada said. Sums it up admirably.
     
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    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

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    A Classic is a book that continues to prove popular over time.
    A Classic also tends to be a benchmark for other authors, and readers alike.


    Yeah i agree with that too.
     
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    gully_foyle

    gully_foyle Here kitty kitty kitty!

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    How should we then define books of a particular era? To me an SF classic is one from the golden age of SF which reigned from the late 30 up to the 80's. From the advent of technology and its use in war, to the fall of the Berlin wall. Or from Hugo to Gibson.

    But I often get a bit of rebuffing from those who view Wells and Verne as being The Classics. I guess that since the more general Classical period is from 1000BC to 500AD (give or take a few years), then Classical is more rightly applied to the forerunners of SF.

    So, should what should we call the Golden Age? The Golden Age? The Renaissance?

    Actually I suspect SF is going through a renaissance now as we rediscover the art and value in the older works.
     
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    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

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    Im with those that think SF Golden Age is 30+ but i also think there are classic works from earlier than that Wells,Verne etc

    Golden Age is good name cause there were alot of good SF in those days but people like Verne,Wells and others from their time shouldnt be overlooked as classics just because SF wasnt as big then.
     
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    AE35Unit

    AE35Unit ]==[]===O °

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    I'm with you there Conn,back in those days it was still quite new but there are quite a few names other than those two but we just don't hear about them. On that TV programme last night they had a segment on a Victorian British author writing around 1910 and I'd never heard of him,somebody Shiel i think,wish I'd made a note of the name now. They read excerpts from a story of his,The Purple Cloud I think it was called.
     
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    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

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    Im gonna read more works from that time just to see how SF was then.

    As you say im sure there are people that were big in Verne's time that have been overlooked in time.
     
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    The name is M. P. Shiel, and his work (or at least a decent sampling) has remained in print.

    M. P. Shiel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The Purple Cloud is one of the classics of the post-apocalyptic genre, while several of his short stories blend sf and horror themes, others are straight horror, and others (such as those concerning Prince Zaleski and Cummings King Monk) are closer to the classic mystery tale, albeit with a fantastic or horrific element. Hippocampus Press has brought together the best of his fantasy/horror pieces in a collection called The House of Sounds:

    The House of Sounds And Others By M. P. Shiel - Hippocampus Press

    Prince Zaleski and Cummings King Monk - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
     

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