During this time in history, I (like many others) have noticed how many hours there are in a day. I ran out of things to occupy myself extremely quickly and turned from digital entertainment to tried and true literature. My family has a massive collection of books from my late grandfather, but not one of them was published before the 1960’s. I grabbed a few antique titles I vaguely recognized from random conversations with my English teachers and dug in.
What I realized from this experience is that we should not overlook or shove classics into the past. In an age where fast-paced, action-packed novels are extremely popular, it was comforting to read a story that moved slow enough for me to gather the greater meaning. I also got to see the origins of some of the most famous tropes in modern entertainment. For example: the one that got away (Little Women) or the unlikely hero (Tom Sawyer). In studying the first examples of these plot lines, it was like I was seeing them for the very first time. When I returned to modern literature, television and film, I was fascinated how those tropes had been adapted every imaginable way. It gave me valuable insight on how much (and how little) our love for simple concepts and relationships in stories have changed over the years. In an odd way, it gave me genuine appreciation for the incredible ingenuity of creatives who were able to make an idea that has been done countless times seem brand new.
Even better, I got to meet the characters that inspired so many later works. I can actually trace the inspiration from one project to another if I look hard enough. For instance, in 1957, Jack Kerouc wrote On the Road, which features Sal Paradise and his friend Dean Moriarty as they travel across the United States listening to jazz and experiencing life. At first glance, it seems like a good, hearty story of the past. However, the 2005 pilot of the CW’s Supernatural, follows the life of two brothers (Sam and Dean) as they travel across the United States enjoying classic rock. Now this could seem like a coincidence, but the creator of the show admitted he was so impacted by the book that he based his main characters (as well as many aspects of his plot) after the 1957 novel.
We should not dismiss classic literature. It has shaped our current world of entertainment (in the case of Supernatural, even as far as 48 years later) and storytelling to be the way it is. In continuing to study the origins of the stories and ideas we often see today, we can appreciate the human genius it takes to create lovable characters we’ll remember through our lifetime. Looking at the past helps us to understand how far we’ve come and how much we will continue to change.
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