Thursday, January 7, 2010

Balanced Themes

I read quite frequently, and also enjoy writing. Recently I have noticed a "conflict", if you can call it that, between timely themes and timeless themes.

Webster's Dictionary defines a theme as an idea that recurs in or pervades a piece of art or literature. For example, the themes of Pride and Prejudice could be "romance" or "faults" or "self-realization". A theme of Hamlet could be "infidelity" or "insanity". Timely themes would be themes that are culturally relevant now, perhaps "post-modernism". Timeless themes would be themes that are always relevant, such as "death". It happens to everybody, excepting Enoch and Elijah.

There is as much danger in writing a novel set in the present as there is in writing a fantasy. The danger is that you, the writer, become so engrossed in the setting that you forget what is more important: the plot. In a modern novel, the writer could dwell on the advanced technology his characters use, thus; subtracting form the plot. In a fantasy, a writer could give over-detailed explanations of customs and lands in their made-up world

A novel could override its balance. Too many timeless themes, and, while the novel may be a masterpiece, it does not have the power to make a present change. Too many timely themes, and it becomes marginalized and will have no lasting power. Some books I think have an admirable balance of timeless and timely themes are:

A Tale of Two Cities (death, the mechanization of death, liberty, revolution, revenge)

To Kill A Mockingbird (prejudice, prejudice against African Americans, courage, innocence)

Can you think of any more?

Hamlet Update:
I am currently in Act 4, Scene 4.

No comments:

Post a Comment