I was in an Indigo the other day and overheard a young couple talking. They had just walked by a display table full of J.R.R. Tolkien books and the woman mentioned that she hadn’t read The Hobbit in a long time and should probably reread it. To this the man replied, “What’s Hobbit? Is that a book or something?” Suffice to say my heart broke a little bit when I heard him say that he’d never heard of The Hobbit…or even a Hobbit. How this man escaped the popularity of the Lord of the Rings books and movies, I’ll never know. I can only hope that he’ll at least go see The Hobbit movie (which is out in theatres in December) and witness some of the greatness of Tolkien’s story that has made it an enduring classic.
It’s a scary thought that with the convenience of the internet and the lure of the television, people are losing touch with great literature. There are, however, authors out there who are doing a great job at stimulating the interest of young readers and guiding them towards the classics. An example of this comes from the wonderful Kenneth Oppel and his novel This Dark Endeavour and its sequel Such Wicked Intent. These novels follow the life of Victor Frankenstein (yup Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) when he was an adolescence. Oppel has managed to capture the boy before he became a mad scientist in an attempt (a very good attempt, in fact) to portray how Victor went from being a mischievous boy to an infamous and sinister scientist, dabbling in alchemy and dark science. Oppel’s talent as a writer combined with the intrigue of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein character captures the attention of the teenaged target audience. My hope is that after reading Oppel’s books, teenagers will want to pick up Frankenstein to continue on their literary journey.
Another example is Diana Peterfreund’s novel For Darkness Shows the Stars, which was inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion. For Darkness Shows the Stars follows a similar plotline to Persuasion, where a young girl of status is in love with a young man of a lower class. When the man asks the girl to be with him, she chooses wealth/duty over him. The man goes away and in a few years returns at the head of wealth and success and shuns the girl who turned him down. The main difference in these two novels is the setting. Peterfreund grabs the interest of her teenaged readers with a futuristic dystopian setting. I honestly believe that For Darkness Shows the Stars has not received enough attention. This was one of the few books that I have read in the last while that left me with a book hangover: the needed to take a little period of time to mourn that the story was over. Just as with Kenneth Oppel and Frankenstein, my hope is that Diana Peterfreund’s novel will encourage teenagers, and YA-reading adults as well, to explore the world of Jane Austen and keep the classics alive.
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