Life as a Reading Challenge, Chapter 4
It is said that you can always tell which decade--maybe even which year--a Historical movie was filmed, thanks to tell-tale anachronisms even the best crews end up leaving behind. It's even more obvious with future-set films (Yeah, I'm still in that groove), which, no matter how hard they try, inevitably and ironically can never help looking dated. But it's not the details which matter so much as their ethos, which is what let things really fit into the time they were made; and here I don't just mean movies, but also books.
And that's why I was really excited, a few weeks ago, when I decided "to match" the books for my Victorian Literature Challenge with the books for my YA of the 80s and 90s Challenge. It would give me a chance to see the same themes, the same character types, the same settings and/or the same plots from writers in very different ages.
Easier dreamed than done, of course; and when I couldn't think of any "retro" YA Adventure Lit to go with H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines, I had to post a request for recommendations on a widely used message board.
But who could have guessed that one reader's idea of a good match would be the Hardy Boys books? =S
I'll be the first to admit that I'm not infallible
where any decade's pop culture is concerned,
but these don't scream "80s" to me at all.
Naturally, I thanked the fellow who suggested them, for taking the time to respond, before pointing out that he missed my target time period by a few decades.
He then replied that it didn't matter, because the Hardy Boys novels are revised for every generation and are therefore never dated.
And of course, that's even worse. As I argued, books originally written in the 1920s but revised for the 1980s are still not properly from the 1980s. And well, given my request, I was asking for books that are dated, not books that are never dated.
The next time I went back to the thread, I saw he hadn't replied again and had instead deleted all his previous posts. Sigh!
But never mind him: we have an issue here. Thanks to that short, anonymous exchange, I realised that it is important to let books age . . . even if they reveal themselves unable to do it gracefully and to become classics.
Yes, these two are more like it--
but reading challenges are not about the covers.
There is something about this "rewriting" of old books that robs both the past and the present of their dignity--as if all people who have ever lived are pretty much the same behind the "incidentals" of breeding, culture, language and mores. The rich irony is that this practice (and its acceptance) is driven by the political correctness that marks our own age more strongly than any others: we want to believe that everyone in the world today is equal and therefore capable of getting along with everybody else. How this works out is that we end up thinking the same of everyone who has ever lived. Even fictional characters.
Now, if this seems like a lot of indignation to feel over the intentionally two-dimensional Frank and Joe Hardy, then please know I'm also thinking about Huck Finn--and the publishers and readers who recently decided that he may no longer say
(I wonder how many people remember that Allan Quatermain says it, too. Deep in the heart of Africa, no less!!!)
Other examples abound, not just in juvenile series publishing, but also in the canon of classic movies. I mean, you remember what Steven Spielberg ended up doing to all the guns in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, don't you? There must be other cases in music--and maybe even in art--but I haven't found them yet. Give me time?
What I do know for certain right now is that reading should mean so much more than hanging out with like-minded people in familiar-looking places. And if we can't deal with characters who are a little different and settings that are a little strange, after dozens of generations managed to handle them without a murmur, then perhaps the problem lies not in the books, but in ourselves.
Image Sources: a) The Tower Treasure 1920s, b) The Tower Treasure 1960s, c) The Tower Treasure 1980s A, d) The Tower Treasure 1980s B