The Cultural Significance of Books

(I had a dream the other night that ended up with me yelling at people about never discussing the cultural significance of books, that they only looked at tearing things apart.  Remnants of my college life still follow me…)

Speaking of college…  I remember working on my senior paper, finishing it, and being disappointed by the grade.  My adviser wished to speak to me about it, so I obliged.  In said meeting, he told me how the English department found themselves in a funk of sorts.  See, my paper was a long story, and while it was not full on fantasy, it did have fantastical elements (i.e. mysticism, journey to another realm, elves, magic, etc).  Mine was not the only one to touch on that genre; others had written in the fantastical or science fiction worlds.  According to my prof, none of the professors in the English department were really sure on how to grade sci-fi and fantasy stories; it was an unexplored genre to them.

The way he was talking, even then I thought to myself that it seemed like this entire department was under the illusion that sci-fi and fantasy were baby genres, that they did not have the high set caliber that other genres have ascertained.  All I could think about was how sci fi and fantasy have been around longer than we think, and each has respected, classic books THAT ARE TAUGHT IN SCHOOLS.  We all know Tolkien and his influence, but even before him, and before C.S. Lewis and Narnia, we had the wonderful Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Jules Verne, and, for the purpose of this entry, the magnificent H.G. Wells.

I’ve known about The Time Machine for a long while, even seeing the version from 2002, without ever having read the book.  That changed one night at work out of boredom.  I wanted lights off, but I wasn’t ready to sleep.  What should I find in itunes but a free version of The Time Machine?  I devoured that novel up.

Even though it is most definitely a social commentary, it is also one of the first sci-fi books.  At least, that has lasted to critical and cultural accord.  Can you imgine where we would be without this novel?  Countless novels and novelists influenced by this novella would not exist; sci-fi as we know it may not exist.  (And I know a LOT of Syfy/Sci-fi fans…)  Our entire society would be different if not for H. G. Wells and his tales.

I loved reading The Time Machine.  I knew the general synopsis, but it was nice having the cracks filled in.  After finishing it, I instantly found a copy of another of H.G. Wells infamous novellas:  The War of the Worlds.

Even more than The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds has influenced our culture.  Without this one, we wouldn’t have had the infamous tale of Orson Welles presenting it on the radio.  We wouldn’t have the amount of adaptions.  And can you imagine our take on aliens nowadays?  Would we have all the creepy and cheesy movies of aliens vs humans?  Would we have our cult movies and tv shows?

H.G. Wells thought outside of the box.  Tonight, of all nights, when I’m lamenting how it can suck to be alienated (intended) by being outside the box, it helps to know H.G. Wells existed and his works and legacy live long after him.  And to my profs, I cannot help but think: Are you really missing a bunch of really influential novels?  Do you really not see the amount of achievement in those respective fields?  There are bars in both sections; they’ve been set high.  You have no reason not to know how to grade them.


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Filed under Books, Books Just Because, In Pop Culture..., School

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