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Supplemental Readings for Introduction to Literature— Literature of the Fantastic ENG 1063
There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away, Emily Dickenson
“Literature. . .Now, What the Heck” iii-x "This is My Letter to the World" 1 "There is No Frigate Like a Book" 1 "I'm Nobody" 1 Homeric Hymns translated by Shelley “To Venus” 2-3 “To Mercury” 4-25 “To Earth Mother of All” 25-26 From The Odyssey “Book 1” (Opening lines of) 26 “Book 9” 27-37 Mythic Poems of Tennyson “The Hesperides” 37-40 “The Sea Faries” 40-41 “The Lotus Eaters” 41-46 “Ulysses” 46-47 “Tithonus” 47-49 From The Metamorphous by Ovid “Book 1: The Creation, the Ages, and the Flood” 49-63 From The Eclogues by Virgil “Eclogue IV: The Golden Age” 64-66 “Hymn to the Sun” by Ikhnaton 66-69 From The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer “Prologue of the Wife of Bath’s Tale” 70-91 “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” 91-100 “The Lady of Shalott” by Tennyson 101- 106 From Pilgrim’s Progress by Bunyan 106-116 “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Coleridge 116-137 “The War Prayer” 137-140 ”I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” 141 “Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes” 142 “Nativity” 142 “The Oxen” 142- 143 “The World is Too Much With Us” by Wordsworth 143 “Greek Gods” by D'Aulaires 144 Greek Gods with Roman Names all 145-146 from D'Aulaires Book of Greek Mythology
Literature ... Now What Do You Suppose They Mean By That? Back in the beginning of January 1983towards the end of my Masters program--a professor pulled me up short as we were strolling into her class by asking: "What exactly is this stuff we study call 'Literature?"' Since graduate students are supposed to have the answers to everything, I actually tried to come up with an intelligent response, "Why, (Ahem) Everyone knows what Literature is ... it's great ideas written down." "So, it's philosophy." she pursued. "Well, no, not exactly." I don't know why I didn't give up. I hadn't then learned about becoming wisely silent. Instead I trudged on: "Although Matthew Arnold did describe literature as 'the best that has been thought or said.' it's all done in the form of fiction ... you know ... stories. " "But who says something is great?' And how do we know they're right.?" "Um. well ... Oh look! It's time for class! Guess we'd better hurry in Hmmm?" I didn't escape. This whole thing turned out to be a trap set for the entire the class. In fact, it was our first writing assignment. So that night found me home scribbling in my journal what I thought literature was and what qualified some of it as good or even "Great." What I wrote is by no means the final solution, but I give it to you one possible answer which may serve as a wall off of which you may bounce off some of your own ideas. I've kept it in a journal format: Jan. 27 '83; Thursday A note to myself: "Tad! When, oh talkative one, are you going to learn that if teachers ask leading questions there is usually some barbed catch that goes along with them? Well, on with my task..."
What is Literature?
The first definition given in the American Heritage Dictionary is "a body of writing in prose or verse." Now that's a pretty inclusive definition. Are my comic books literature? They have prose. Are the statements that come with my bills literature? How about all that interesting information I get to read off the back of cereal boxes? What about instructions on soup cans? All of these contain prose. And what about poetry? Are Hallmark Greetings Cards literature? (Gack! I hope not!) It seems that some solution must be found or literature classes could get pretty weird. I can see it now, "Victorian Advertisements 101" or "An Overview of important Memos sent through Hasbro Toy Company and the style Therein" How about a class on cereal boxes.? I read them every morning.
Is this journal literature? Grief! It better not be, but knowing what I have been forced to read in my studies, such as the private poetry by Donne, the nasty notes Chaucer left for his scribe, as well as the Journals of Boswell, I am left with the possibility that some poor student someday might actually be assigned to read this thing. (Sigh!) If this is so, "Dear Reader," I apologize. I should have tossed this into the flames where it would have done less harm. Well, back to Literature. How can I define it? Well, I suppose that I could limit the prose I put under the "Literature" category by allowing that only fiction can be literature. That gets rid of the bill statements, the soup instructions and the cereal box information. But does it eliminate my comic books? And what about the form of the nonfiction essay? Isn't that literature? If not, why did they make me read Thoreau in American Lit.? And, of course, there are still the journals of Boswell and Bradford. Obviously literature must include prose both fiction and nonfiction. So what makes Literature? In my opinion ... the first and foremost task of a work of literature is to entertain. It does not matter how brilliant an author is, or how deep his or her ideas are, if no one reads the work, then no one benefits. A work of literature must be enjoyable; it must give pleasure. If it fails in this then it has failed in its prime reason for existence. This prerequisite removes some of the prose, which I don't wish to include in my studies. Most textbooks iv
are written as storehouses of information; instructions just give facts, and entertainment is the last thing the writer of notices for late payments has in mind. Tales, meanwhile, either as short stories or novels certainly entertain. So do poems, and although essays often give information, their primary purpose is to entertain. The same is also true of the better biographies. Indeed, the journals mentioned above all have an entertaining quality to them, even if it were solely to allow the writer to look back on past observations and smile only to himself. Pleasure, not fiction or non-fiction status, nor number of pages, nor a leather cover determines whether a work is literature or not. If this is true, then I must include my comic books as a type of literature. (Boy are my folks going to be happy with that!) Also I must include every western, romance, pulp science fiction, and erotic paperback found on squeaky metal racks in pharmacies everywhere. But that's not what I'm studying-is it? Could it be that what I have been slaving over these last few years are only the equivalent of dime-store novels from the past? I have always assumed in my graduate and undergraduate work that I was being given "Good Books" to read . In fact, for the money they charge me, I should be reading "Great Books." Perhaps the important factor is not what is and is not literature, but what is good and great literature? That makes sense. But what, the heck, makes a good or great piece of literature? Well, I suppose that one good place to start is with literature's primary reason for existing-pleasure. A good or great work of literature must-like all its dime store relatives-give pleasure. That sounds simple, but I can quickly see that it becomes intensely complex because "pleasure" is such a vague work, and in literature pleasure can be drawn from various sources: Some readers enjoy romance (not me), some enjoy action, some enjoy eroticism (but might not admit it), some enjoy the fantastic, some enjoy the workings of a mystery, some enjoy a scare, and some (the poets among us) enjoy the very texture, flow, and imagery of the words. There are even those who actually enjoy the mental exercises of critiquing literature. These are just a few of the sources of pleasure in a literary work. The chances are that the more an author incorporates these into his or her writing, the greater the number of readers will enjoy it. As my Chaucerian Professor. once noted "All the world loves a good story." This is the basic appeal of The Canterbury Tales; it's also the thrust of Shakespeare and the secret to Dickens' success. To create an enjoyable story with a good sprinkling of some of the above characteristics is the first step toward producing great literature. But I do think there should be more. However, my head's beginning to buzz, so I'll stop for now. Friday Jan. 28, '83 The question of pleasure also covers how well something is written. This strikes me as a judgment call. What one person thinks is full of wonderful and explicit description another may find wordy. My father used to read Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales (The Deerslayer, Last of the Mohicans, etc.), but he told me he skipped pages of Cooper's novels until he found where the plot picked up again. Obviously descriptive passages
which Cooper felt were needed to help the artistic quality of his work were of little value to my father. Still, there is a general agreement among readers that there exists a writing which is both concrete in its exactness but which also manages to be beautiful in its form. Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream" speech would not be the same if someone just summarized his main points. What he says can be noted rather quickly: "I Have A Dream" by Martin Luther King A Report Martin Luther King says that he looks forward to a day when all the citizens of the US. can live in harmony and be free. Without his cadence and repetition of theme, without his sense of building towards a climax of hope, this work looses much of its power. However, with his skill with words and images, King's speech stands as one of the great oratory pieces of literature in American history. It is a pleasure to listen to. What is a pleasure to listen to brings up the entire question of poetry. I doubt I can give a full description of the pleasures of poesy here. But in Poetry and Meter the comment is made that with poems, the pleasure of the sound of the work is even more important than the work's meaning. A lot of ideas have been bounced around as to why humans like words which have similar sounds and are said in cadence. Some have suggested that it is just our inward drive to create order out of disorder. Patterns are pleasing to us. Also, we tend to remember words in patterns better than otherwise. The All of the epic poems were memorized originally and sung by poets. So rhyming was not only entertaining to the king it made story telling easier for the speaker. So there's a lot of pleasure in just the physical nature of poetry. All of this may be true, but for me meaning must be still be important. I don't care how nice words sound together; if they're not saying anything, its not great literature. I guess I differ from some modem poets who do not seem to be overly involved in communicating to their readers. Personally I expect a writer to attempt to communicate with me, and to communicate something of value. The second step that raises a work of literature from the general milieu to a cut above (moving it from just being dime-store literature to good or great literature) is its honesty both to itself and to the world around it. What I mean by a work being honest to itself is a response to writers who uses several of the sources for literary pleasure mentioned above, even when they neither naturally nor logically fit together. For example, if a writer is telling a story about a captain at sea (a tale of high adventure) and in the middle of the voyage he adds a murder for his hero to
solve just to gain the interest of "crime-buff" readers, then it seems to me that there is a problem with internal integrity.
Since when does a captain have the skills to also be a policeman? Where in his training on how to navigate the high seas would a seaman also be exposed to deductive reasoning? I am not making judgments on how intelligent sailors are, solving crimes is just not part of their training any more than the ability to read the stars for location or navigating around the Cape of Good Hope would be within the experience of Sherlock Homes. Making a man trained in the ways of the sea into a supersleuth sacrifices the internal honesty of the main character. Yet how many times have we seen something exactly like this happen-especially on television dramas in which main characters return show after show with ever widening abilities? A more general example of a source of literary pleasure often inserted in books and movies (which are nothing more than plays made for the silver screen) without attempting to integrate it into the fabric of the work is the depiction of sex. In so many works characters are pressed into intense relationships for no more cause than they happen to have careers which bring them together. I can almost hear the "hack" type author saying to himself (or herself): "Gee, The plot is moving a little slow; better add a little steam to keep up reader interest." Now certainly love, romance and the joy of marriage are legitimate sources of pleasure in a literary work, and with humans thinking about these things at such a high percent every day, it is not difficult to have human situations which naturally lead to romantic moments. However, when sex, mystery, adventure, or any other source of literary pleasure is merely plugged into work without consideration whether it belongs there or not, there is a danger of the story's internal integrity suffering and the work being weakened. The reference to "human situations" in the above paragraph introduces what I feel is the final, most important aspect of a work's honesty it is a reflector of the human world around it. Literature is always about human beings. It does not matter whether they look exactly like one's neighbors, or have long ears and a little cotton tail as they do in Watership Down, or have fur on the tops of their feet and live in warm cozy holes as they do in The Hobbit, a work of literature must always represent human beings in ways that the reader can recognize as true to life vii
It must be obvious from what I have just said that when I write that literature must be "true to life" I do not mean that only literature written in the 20th century manner of realism or naturalism can be categorized as good or great literature. xx Works in the genres of pastoralism or allegory, and tales following the ideals of Courtly Love may not seem realistic in their portraits of humanity to the 20th century reader, but the best of all such literature always reflect truths about the human condition and were readily understandable to readers when they were written. Part of the process that students of literature must go through is relearning such guidelines so they can understand the intent of those past authors.
An example of a series of literary works which I feel are not true to human nature are the James Bond thrillers by Ian L. Fleming. Make no mistake, I find these stories loads of fun and wonderfully diverting. However, the character of agent 007, a man who lives in constant violence and has countless intimate love affairs, is presented to the reader as constantly fresh and wittyan unscathed man. He never seems to feel remorse for the human lives which his job requires he eliminate nor concern for the women whose lives he walks in and out of. The emotional strain of humanity's two greatest emotional calamities, Love and Death, never seem to leave their imprint on James. Thank goodness they don't. Who would want to read tales centered around a moody and grim Bond? It's contrary to his basic character and would deny us the very escape from the human condition we seek whenever we open a Fleming novel or watch a movie based on his work. However, since the author decided never to allow Bond to experience a close reflection of human reality, the adventures of the British agent will probably never be considered "great" literature. Now, while holding the mirror up to human nature, it seems to me that the best of literature attempts to reveal what is not generally known or accepted about people in a particular society. The best literature is always in some form counter cultural.
This quality of "going across the grain" is easy to see in some modem novels which have attempted to delve into the hidden truths of human nature. However, it has always been true of the "greats" in literary history: Chaucer's characterizations of the Monk, Friar or Prioress not only reveal their humanity but demonstrate the short comings of the very church to which the author belonged. Shakespeare, while creating a great villain in The Jew. Shylock, also presses against his anti-Semitic culture by making the Jewish villain a real, persecuted, and hurting human being. And Dickens, while certainly a man of his age in his concerns for respectability and the sanctity of the home, is famous for his outrage over his society's treatment of the poor and its children. He demonstrates the very humanity of the poor even if some of his situations seem less than authentic. Thus, experience seems to dictate that the greatest of literature is counter cultural in nature.
This quality forces a revelation upon readers in some form or another. Yet, that only brings us back to our original premise of pleasure for what can be more delightful to the human mind (even though it is sometimes painful) than the gaining of new understanding about itself. Ah, but what if the reader does not what to have his or her eyes opened? Is there pleasure then? Also, what does a reader do if much of that which gave the writer and his culture pleasure is different than the reader's culture? Shakespeare often bores the living daylights out of modem readers who are not familiar with his culture (modem teachers don't help often either). Alsoas is often the case in contemporary literature-what if the writer presents material which is acceptable to his or her culture but is not acceptable to others? What an urban New Yorker may enjoy does not necessarily match the taste a Midwestern farmer. I as a Christian may find that in a secular culture a lot of what is praised as great literature is difficult for me to read. Yet in both the case of Shakespeare and contemporary literature there is enough of what has already been discussed to give a reader pleasure if he or she is willing to make the effort. To get maximum pleasure it would seem that an individual must be willing to
listen to a number of voices while evaluating what is being said. "garbage in, garbage out" is an old maxim, but the reader had better be careful what he or she labels as garbage. Just because something shocks a reader doesn't mean that there is not the dawning of pleasure in truth still yet to be found. Too often we assume that pleasure means no work, and yet we have all felt the pleasure of a good workout, a hard day's manual labor, a or a difficult if worthy task accomplished. It should not surprise us if reading is not sometimes the same. Well, this has been a long ramble. And I certainly do not think that I have come up with any exact formula that will help me write great literature. As far as I can tell, most of the "greats" didn't think about writing great stuff, they just did it. Also, while I have defined what I feel helps qualify a work of literature as great, the actual judgments for individual authors and works are still wide open (even for Mr. Fleming since I have not read all of his works), and convictions will always vary as greatly as the spectrum of human opinion will allow. But then even that is part of the fun of literature. Thus as I sit here wearily with my scrawling pen, I have come to these conclusions: I believe that the mainspring of literature is pleasure, and that works of value entertain on multiple levels including the aesthetic beauty of the text. All that we read which entertains is literature. However, literature attains greatness only as it helps us, the entertained, gain a new understanding both of ourselves and the world in which we all live. This can only be done when a work is honest both to itself and the world around it and when what it reveals is not found in the general wisdom of its parent culture.