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June 22, 2024
Book Reviews

Literature Class | Remove the mysterious veil of great works and reveal the underlying logic

The creation of novels, stories, dramas and epics has a history of thousands of years. The opportunity to create a completely new type of character is very small for a novelist—— Maugham’s “Reading is a portable refuge”

Many classical literary works are produced under the unique historical and cultural background. If you want to understand such literary works, the best way is to understand the history and culture behind them. However, the classic literary works themselves are not as easy to understand as the general works, and it is more laborious to read; Secondly, if you want to learn more about the history and culture of different periods and regions, you may have to give up before you can read the works.

In most cases, we either read independently or refer to others’ analysis to help us understand. In addition, we have another way to help reading – find common ground.

In the thousands of years since human beings invented the word, numerous literary works have been created. Compared with different characters and stories, more are similar characters and stories. They are like rivers and streams on the land. They flow from different places and seem to go their own way. If you go upstream one by one, you will find that all the water flows from only a few sources. If we find the source of characters and stories in many literary works, we can improve our understanding of the works through these common points.

You may say, “I haven’t read so many books, and I can’t find the same content.” Don’t worry, just like reading classic works can refer to other people’s analysis, there are also relevant books to trace the source of literary works, and Literature Class: How to Easily Understand Great Works is one of these books.

Thomas Foster is both a writer and a professor at the University of Michigan. His specialty is English, Irish and American literature in the 20th century. He teaches classical and contemporary literature courses and creative writing. His open literature class is popular in the United States. In addition, he has also written many academic research works and a series of best-selling literary books, such as How to read a literary book and How to read a novel.

“Literature Class” is a guide to literature reading. Because it is written for teenagers and literature lovers, there is no harsh and obscure literary theory in the text. The author narrates some conventions and rules in literary works one by one with colloquial narration and rich work cases. Among them, I am most impressed by the following four points:

1、 See the core of the story from the perspective of exploration

The real reason for exploration is always to know yourself.

Thomas Foster told us the five elements of the adventure story in his book:

1. Explorer: The person who is going to explore may not be the protagonist, or he may not realize that he is exploring.

2. Where to go: Maybe it is to go somewhere, maybe it is to do something, or more accurately, it is a goal.

3. The public reason to go: the reason to achieve the goal.

4. Difficulties and obstacles on the way: difficulties encountered in achieving the goal.

5. The real reason to go: The real reason for exploration is always to know yourself, perhaps the explorers do not know.

Through these five elements, we will find that “Fahrenheit 451”, “Harry Potter”, “Journey to the West”, “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms” and so on are all about adventure stories, and even “Peppa Pig” has many adventure stories.

Of course, literary works are not all elements of “exploration”, but also stories of sharing, peace, selfishness, greed and desire. There are usually corresponding elements in the works, such as sharing a share of food, inviting dinner together means “sharing”, and further means “peace”. Another example is ghosts and vampires, which means selfishness, greed and plunder.

Learn to see the true core of the story, and you will find that many works tell the same kind of story.

2、 There is no real original literature

No one will be able to express new but real opinions or real and new opinions on the theme of soul, God or life—— Dr. Johnson

Great writers tell one truth after another with their literary works. Are these truths really the original opinions of the writers themselves? Or is it the original opinion of the writer?

The ever-changing opinions do not mean that there is no end, especially the two restrictions of “real” and “brand new”. In the long history, many changes have been proposed one by one. I don’t think it is or will not be at all. After all, there are many factors that produce original opinions, not only related to people, but indeed from a long time ago, the opinions put forward are based on the wisdom of predecessors, not “real” or “new”.

The same is true of stories. Thomas Foster said in his book: “Stories are derived from other stories.” Where do they come from? From Shakespeare, the Bible, the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the Greek and Roman myths… to strip away layers of clothing, new stories are always inextricably linked with the old ones. If you have enough patience to find the roots of the stories, you will find that most of the stories come from these stories.

The situation of domestic literature is slightly different, and you can choose to supplement the reading of more ancient literary works and mythological works.

3、 The weather is not only the weather, but also the appearance

A good literary work will not have too many meaningless words and sentences, and the scene description generally serves the characters and plots. For example, the weather, the characters were wronged and cried – it rained, the characters hesitated at the crossroads of life – overcast or even haze, the characters were happy after the rain – it was sunny or sunny after the rain… Not only in literary works, but also in film and television dramas, it was more obvious that the protagonists cried bitterly in the heavy rain, broke up and broke up, and the weather was sunny after the protagonist had come through all the hardships. Of course, these are not absolute, just like the heavy rain. Sometimes it is to let the characters meet and produce intersection, sometimes it means cleaning and represents a new life

Thomas Foster mentioned in his book that the characters will be branded in literary works, perhaps on the appearance, such as the scar on Harry Potter’s forehead and the grunt in The Lord of the Rings. It may be physiological, such as lameness, hunchback, etc. These imprints have their own meaning and have a corresponding relationship with the behavior of the characters.

4、 Don’t just look with your eyes

Reading is a relatively private matter, and readers can use their own ideas to understand works. Reading is still a matter that can’t be subjective. Reading without background can’t really understand the work.

Just as we use monogamy today to understand ancient polygamy, it is as difficult for the ancients to understand DINK and non-marriage in the 21st century. Similarly, we cannot use the image of a law-abiding character to understand a villain who ignores morality and law (even if he is the protagonist).

“Literature Class” tells us a lot of the underlying logic of reading classic works, but don’t forget that the creation of works cannot be separated from the author’s experience and the social environment at that time. When reading, we should not ignore the differences in history, region, culture and so on, so that we can understand the works and understand what the author really wants to express.


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