I know everything swings on a pendulum: politics, parenting, fashion, etc. Nothing remains static. Just about everything can be examined and change found throughout history.
Except chicken noodle soup, that remains eternal.
But the question is, how does that change affect literature? Tracing the path and growth of lit from the earliest examples of epic sagas to the evolution of flash fiction, can we say that it swings on a pendulum or is it more appropriate to chart its journey as a river or slide?
It might be safe to say that culture dictates the changes we see in literature.
I was having coffee with a friend the other day and we discussed how the majority of modern readers have trouble with overly descriptive and flowery prose. We came to the agreement that the modern reader can deal with that style of writing in classic literature because we know that the stories are worth reading. However, fewer and fewer books are published every year that can boast the long-winded world building of the classics.
Literature has to compete with the binge-watching of Netflix, the quick videos of YouTube, the snippets of TikTok, and the character limitations of Twitter.
The young readers of today are being trained that anything that takes time to get through is bad. Speed is everything.
The coffee discussion eventually turned to Atom & Go and the quick style of my writing there. My goal was to write a fast-paced adventure. I also wanted to leave a lot to the reader’s imagination. The way I see it, I don’t have to paint the perfect picture when you have the ability to flesh out the characters with your own thoughts and life experiences.
It was enlightening to find out that my friend had some very different ideas of several of the characters from how I saw them.
Be that as it may, it doesn’t answer the question of whether literature is on a pendulum or a long, winding slide.
I would posture that it is a pendulum. We have seen varying times in history where the massive world building of the Iliad or Lord of the Rings were popular. We have also seen times where flash fiction mirrors the short, serialized segments of 19th Century.
Each swing of the pendulum creates something new, yet subtly familiar.
I can’t wait to see where we end up next.
In the meantime, keep on reading, keep walking the dog, and keep on flying the Black.
3 thoughts on “Is there Balance in Literature?”
The battle between truth and deception is also involved in those pendulum swings or changes in the course of the river.
So…the most recent examples of popular “massive world building” in literature are The Iliad and Lord of the Rings?
Perhaps you can make an argument about the last 10 years (the rise of Netflix/Twitter/etc), but we’re going to just totally ignore Harry Potter, the seven book series which has sold over 500 million books since 1997? Also holding the title of best selling series of all time.
Does that not count because it is considered a series for children? We’ve got Jordan/Sanderson’s ‘Wheel of Time’ clocking in at 80 million copies sold of a 15 book series that only ended in 2013 (page count 10,000+). Still too young adult? Lets take the unfinished Song of Ice and Fire series standing at 5 books with 90+ million copies sold, which is solidly in the ‘adult’ section.
I think all of these fit in the ‘long-winded world building’ criteria you mention, and this is only touching on the top of best-seller lists. Hell, if you want to see some world-building with an intense level of Tolkien, give the Malazan series a try (10 books in the main series), it’s a tough but rewarding read. I know you are a fan of The Expanse series of books (I’ve seen some of the show, but haven’t read the books), are these not considered with your lament to the death of long literature?
I guess I’m not sure why these don’t seem to count to you.
Harry Potter would fit. I used Tolkien because everyone has heard of him as an author. Jordan and Sanderson are very popular, yet not household names. Song of Fire and Ice is incomplete and will likely remain so.
However, you have made my point for me. The number of these epic fantasies and space operas dwindles year by year. Publishing companies are less likely to publish massive tomes in lieu of shorter, faster, more thrills books.
Lastly, with the exception of The Expanse, and it just barely squeaks, none of the series you talk about were published in the last decade.