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Great because its good, or great because it's first?

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message 1: by Stan (new)

Stan Slaughter | 359 comments I was in another book forum where this topic came up.

Is a book great because it was the first in its field, a "groundbreaker"? Or is it great because it is written with great skill?

Example: In many respects Tolkien kick-started the fantasy genera with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but many have written in that genera since and you could arguably say that some were more talented writers than Tolkien.

So, is a book great because its the first, or is it great because it is the best ?


message 2: by Colin (new)

Colin | 278 comments Well, one could arguably say that there are more talented writers...but they'd be wrong... ;)

I stand on the side of "great because it is the best". They have my sword.


message 3: by Stan (new)

Stan Slaughter | 359 comments The first is not always the best, but always the most remembered.


message 4: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Stan wrote: "The first is not always the best, but always the most remembered."

Not so. The Castle of Otranto was the first horror novel, but it's only remembered by hardcore fans of the genre, and no one likes it.


message 5: by Vance (new)

Vance | 362 comments I think the first have an advantage, not the absolute first, but the first to popularize a genre, which means it needs to have same quality to it. Sherlock Holmes was not the first detective fiction, but it was the first which took off. Maybe not the best (debatable), but still the most popular. Same can go for Elvis or the Beatles.


message 6: by aldenoneil (last edited Feb 23, 2011 04:20PM) (new)

aldenoneil | 1000 comments Vance wrote: "Same can go for Elvis or the Beatles."

Or tablet computers.


message 7: by Vance (new)

Vance | 362 comments Hey, my senior partner still uses a Lenovo convertible tablet!


message 8: by Keith (new)

Keith Kelly (nedkelly) | 79 comments I take the view that a genre will only ever improve over time. Like natural selection, the weak additions to the genre will be weeded out and the masterpieces will progress the genre further.

Don't get me wrong, I love The Lord of the Rings but I would take George R. R. Martin any day over Tolkien.

In my opinion, genres mature over time. I find it difficult to believe that a "first," in a genre will not be topped over the period of 40 -50 years.


message 9: by Vance (new)

Vance | 362 comments I love Martin, but if I was being sent to a desert island and could only take one series for the rest of my life, it would easily be LOTR. BUT, if I had to sit down and re-read one right now . . . Martin. Odd that.


message 10: by Keith (new)

Keith Kelly (nedkelly) | 79 comments Vance wrote: "I love Martin, but if I was being sent to a desert island and could only take one series for the rest of my life, it would easily be LOTR. BUT, if I had to sit down and re-read one right now . . ...."

That's just your Gollum side talking! lol


message 11: by Colin (new)

Colin | 278 comments
Not so. The Castle of Otranto was the first horror novel, but it's only remembered by hardcore fans of ..."


I liked it... :(


message 12: by Stan (new)

Stan Slaughter | 359 comments Sean wrote: Not so. The Castle of Otranto was the first horror novel, but it's only remembered by hardcore fans of ..."

Let me rephrase,

"The first is not always the best, but always the most remembered"
(unless it is a book written over two centuries ago in a language which you do not speak) :)

P.S.

I always considered Faust a horror novel. It was written a century earlier and still remembered pretty well.


message 13: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Stan wrote: "Let me rephrase,

""The first is not always the best, but always the most remembered"
(unless it is a book written over two centuries ago in a language which you do not speak) :)"


The Castle of Otranto was written in perfectly plain English. Walpole initially claimed it was translated from a medieval Italian manuscript because he was embarrassed by it; once the book became popular, he admitted his authorship.


I always considered Faust a horror novel. It was written a century earlier and still remembered pretty well.


Goethe's Faust was published 35-60 years after Otranto and isn't really a novel. If you mean Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, that isn't a novel either, and while it (and Macbeth) have influenced the horror genre, their immediate impact was minimal -- the Jacobean revenge tragedies are gruesome but they're ultimately grounded in reality like Seven or the Silence of the Lambs. The Castle of Otranto, by contrast, spawned dozens of imitators over the next half century: The Old English Baron, Sir Bertrand, The Recess, The Mysteries of Udolpho, Wieland, The Monk, Melmoth the Wanderer, Zofloya, and finally Frankenstein.


message 14: by Vance (new)

Vance | 362 comments Keith, yes, after a while I might start calling LOTR my precious! But I think it has to do with the "re-readability" of LOTR, due to its depth, poetic style, beauty of the prose. Martin is a better storyteller for a modern reader, but Tolkien is the better "writer", or master-craftsman of the language to my mind.


message 15: by Stan (new)

Stan Slaughter | 359 comments Strange,

I thought "The Castle of Otranto" was published in 1764 while Faust was published in the mid 16th century (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faust#So...)?

I guess it goes to show that Wikipedia is not the most accurate thing in the world to use when doing research


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Is Dracula better than today's vampire novels?


message 17: by Colin (new)

Colin | 278 comments Yes.


message 18: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Stan wrote: "Strange,

I thought "The Castle of Otranto" was published in 1764 while Faust was published in the mid 16th century (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faust#So...)?

I guess it goes to..."


There were "non-fiction" books about Faust published in the 16th Century, but they're heavily religious in nature, sort of the flipside of Piers Plowman or Everyman, showing people what would happen if they reject Christian virtues. They're about as horrific as Jack Chick's Dark Dungeon.

Marlowe's play came out soon after the first Faust book was translated into English, and is a sensationalistic dramatization of the book with some genuinely horrific moments on a par with Macbeth, but it didn't inspire any follow-ups by other authors -- if you wanted to read anything supernatural, you had to go with non-fiction like King James' Daemonology or Cotton Mather's Wonders of the Invisible World. Goethe's Faust didn't come out until the early 1800s, by which time the Gothic movement was in full swing.

If you're interested in the history of horror, Lovecraft wrote an essay on the subject that traces the development of the genre from macabre legends of antiquity and the Middle Ages, up to the pulp fiction of the 1920s. It's pretty clear from that that Otranto is the point at which horror went from an occasional curiosity, usually embedded in a larger, more mundane work, to a genre unto itself.


message 19: by Paul (new)

Paul | 26 comments Vance wrote: "I love Martin, but if I was being sent to a desert island and could only take one series for the rest of my life, it would easily be LOTR. BUT, if I had to sit down and re-read one right now . . ...."

I love the LOTR and I have read it 6 or 7 times. I am planning on reading again latter this year. Currently I am reading Game of Thrones, which is good but not as good as LOTR. So I guess it comes down to personal taste.


message 20: by aldenoneil (new)

aldenoneil | 1000 comments Sean wrote: "They're about as horrific as Jack Chick's Dark Dungeon."

I find Chick's work to be quite horrific, actually.


message 21: by Curt (new)

Curt Taylor (meegeek) | 107 comments I find it really hard to even put LOTR, or Tolkien, in any class. Yes, it has become a ground breaking novel, but was still considered somewhat of an oddity when I first read it over 40 years ago. The Hobbit was a really popular book when I was in grade school, but was considered a children's book at that time. I guess what I am saying is that there really was not a genre to put Tolkien in at the time, but you can easily categorize Martin, even when Game of Thrones was first published. I read LOTR again right before the movie(s) came out and have thought about reading once more recently. Having just finished A Feast for Crows i just want to see GRRM finish the damn thing before I could even think about reading it. With that said, it has to be great, not just first.


message 22: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Ashby | 119 comments Keith wrote: "I take the view that a genre will only ever improve over time. Like natural selection, the weak additions to the genre will be weeded out and the masterpieces will progress the genre further.

Don'..."

C'mon now! Ya gotta admit George was pretty much drunk as a skunk when he wrote that last one. Let's hope the next book gets better.


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