Ever since language came to be, it has undergone a barrage of transformations brought on by countless factors. One cannot deny that the difference between a young adult novel and a paperback classic is enormous. The beauty and genius of sentences penned by early authors such as Dickens, Hugo, Shelley, and Tolkien throw into sharp relief the deficit of creative language in modern literature. Take a look at these two contrasting passages, paying special attention to the vocabulary and content of each and how they affect the reader:
“He was small in stature, with a furrowed visage, which, as yet, could hardly be termed aged. There was a remarkable intelligence in his features, as of a person who had so cultivated his mental part that it could not fail to mould the physical to itself, and become manifest by unmistakable tokens.”
– The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
“After dinner, I folded clothes and moved another load through the dryer.
Unfortunately it was the kind of job that only keeps hands busy. My mind
definitely had too much free time, and it was getting out of control.”
-Twilight, Stephanie Meyer
We can see from these two passages that classical and modern literature are of separate worlds. One of the biggest attractions of classical literature is its display of creative and elevated language. The passages are often so elevated that readers cannot keep up with what is going on in the story. Readers with a small vocabulary become bored or confused when trying to translate classical imagery into layman’s terms, which can be a feat for even the most experienced reader. Stories written in earlier times were typically based around specific themes and frameworks, which can sometimes be less interesting than the fantastic free-range ideas of authors today. That being said, probably the most impressive feature of a classic would be mind-blowing vocabulary and style.
Modern literature, on the other hand, tends to focus on the story itself, rather than the use of interesting writing styles. Readers these days, upon finishing a book, tend to reflect on the plotline of the story versus how the story was written. Although beautifully written passages are certainly a plus, the heart of popular literature today lies in the allure of the plot and its characters. The readability of a book also includes the relationship that the reader can share with the characters. In essence, the reader can become the main character much easier than a character from a classic. For example, the “job that only keeps hands busy,” in Meyer’s passage above, is an easy concept for anyone to relate to.
Because readers are usually more sensitive to non-classical styles of writing, a great deal of vocabulary has been lost and has seen a decrease in contextual opportunity. Many authors create blockbuster stories with hardly any literary value. These stories tend to captivate young people, who were born in an age of technological amusements and instant gratifications. It seems that many readers fail to appreciate poetry in its fullness for the same reason; it’s simply too much work.
So this leads us to the question, is it detrimental to our language to write so lazily? The answer is both yes and no. Readers are used to reading simple and straightforward language. This gets more people to read, and usually means more to the reader on a personal level. However, they miss out on enjoying the genius and beauty of more complex language. The thing is, people choose to read things that interest them, according to their wants and needs at the time. Perhaps the best thing for people of this era is writing that is free and unencumbered by embellishments, as well as stories that break free of traditional themes and structures. With the rise of the internet, free thought and expression have become more important for everyday people. Regardless of which style is better or more relevant for readers today, both styles are necessary to become well-rounded readers and write effectively.