Skip to comments.Why Tom Clancy doesn't write literature
Posted on 04/10/2012 2:14:07 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
Willa Cather wrote an American literary masterpeice - so did Fitzgerald, Bellow, and Mailer - but Clancy's Red Storm Rising is just commercial junk.
Take a university English course offered under a summary like "The American Novel" or "A Survey of American Literature" and you find that before the 1930s the great American novel was written by people like Mark Twain, Nathanial Hawthorne, and Henry James - but literary greatness after that period devolved to people like Philip Roth, John Barth, and Paul Auster.
So why is the Life of Pi great literature and Cardinal of the Kremlin just paplum? It's not the writing: Pi is incoherent, characterless, illiterate drivel; Cardinal is literate, complex, coherent, and filled with people drawn from life.
The answer is that the criteria for greatness changed during the 1930s: from a focus on the quality of the work, to a focus on the acceptability of the message - and that message, of course, is not just actively taught in freshman English classes across America, but defines reality for many aspiring young journalists struggling through four years of college or University.
Thus I doubt whether a million Americans could even name three Faulkner novels, but his work provides the canonical democrat, NYT, image of the southern republican - just as the self loathing in Bonfire of the Vanities is foundational to their understanding of the ethical relationships between the urban poor and the nouveau riche in market economies.
Two things seem clear about the differentiation of good literature from bad:
The rules on which judgements are made about what constitutes good literature allow for a great deal of flexibility, but the rules on what cannot be considered are completely inflexible. Thus Norman Mailer's personal life compensates for some weaknesses in his messaging; novels about nothing are as acceptable as bad grammer; profanity is expected but not mandatory; and it's still possible to write literature without an explicit gay scene or authorial lifestyle - but Clancy's positive portrayal of military values is sufficient to place anything he writes so far beyond the pale that recognizing his name is considered a serious faux paux among the educated.
In great literature race and class count, in commercial junk they don't.
Clancy's characters have nationality and purpose - but in great literature they're black, or jewish, or gay or rich or poor or from carefully delineated classes. The conflicts Clancy's characters face tend to come from their commitments to goals above and beyond themselves: so they fight fear, exhaustion, and each other on behalf of their countries or their ideals, but share their essential humanity, personal values, and character traits. In contrast, characters in great literature are usually conflicted only by the boundaries of their racial and class isolation - generally achieving nothing for anyone in the process of discovering that they're nobody.
Thus Bonfire is literature where Red October is judged worthless because the values in the two books are virtual mirror images: the commercial junk builds involvement in the lives of achievers working through a specific event within a framework defined by personal commitment to truth, honor, and country where the Classic American Novel endlessly revalues the pointlessness of a life isolated from reality by a kind of post stalinist consumer euphoria.
What it comes down to is this: prior to the 1930s, great American literature had a lot in common with today's commercial junk: it was well written; the characters had individual weaknesses but a kind of group subscription to human equality and shared values in which the response to class issues of color, religion, birthplace, and parentage is mainly factual - thus Huck Finn, like Jack Ryan, can tell black from white, but reacts to the person, not the color.
After the 1930s, however, great literature diverged from this standard: from Hemmingway and Steinbeck to Roth and Auster, racial, sexual, and religious lines are sharply drawn and deeply internalized by onanists wishing themselves driving abuse, pity, or apathy across immutable class lines.
Think of the difference as that between a Sarah Palin rally with its excited, involved, and real Americans; people just like Huck Finn and Jack Ryan - versus a typically scripted Gore or Obama event with the usual deeply committed, and deeply serious, organizers; carefully scripted impromptus; and the nearly complete absense of spontenaity or enjoyment among the Augie Marches bulking up the crowds.
So what's this mean for republicans? The superficial message is this: the fact that millions of Americans devour each new Clancy novel demonstrates an enormous market for republican ideas - but the more subtle message is that the values taught aspiring journalists are dramatically out of sync with their markets and therefore that republicans should first work to get some Clancy novels into the curriculum, and secondly give some serious thought to the likelihood that millions of Americans consider themselves ill served by the news media choices available to them.
It is a classic from 1931. It is quite gripping, IIRC.
I thought everyone got assigned it in HS. Maybe not...?
“Bonfire” is sort of like the recent unpleasantness in Sanford and the press and political maneuvering around it, except 25 years ago in the Bronx.
Who thinks Clancy ever intended the Ryan books to be great literature, anyway? I don’t. I don’t think even he thought he was writing the next great American novel when he started writing “Red October”. He probably thought it sounded like an interesting story, he maybe thought other people would, and..he was right.
Well, on the one hand, most of the “literary” writers since the 1940s are pretty much worthless, I would agree with that.
On the other hand, Tom Clancy may be fun to read, but he is not a great novelist, either. No real depth to it.
There haven’t been very many truly great novels written since the Second World War. I’d include Evelyn Waugh among the few great writers. He started a bit earlier, but the Sword of Honour trilogy is up to his best, although less well known than Brideshead Revisited and the earlier novels.
Flannery O’Connor is another undeniably great writer, and even the academics are forced to admit it.
Another great novel, or trilogy, is Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The academics hate that one, because it’s so politically incorrect, but they have found it difficult to stop people from reading and admiring it.
I would tend to agree that some of the best novels since the 1940s have been genre novels—science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries. The novel became “realistic” in the nineteenth century, but that left out a lot of things that were in great literature of earlier periods—the Odyssey and the Divine Comedy, for instance. Those gentre novels profit by admitting things that the “realistic” or purely materialistic novelists refuse to admit, and they gain by it. Not all SF is great, but some of it is.
Recently, I've been reading lots of the classics available free on Kindle. There is a large selection of several thousand -- H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and others. The writing styles are often different from current styles, but that enhances my enjoyment.
I can name one Faulkner book and that is enough for me. Read, “The Sound and the Fury” and you will not only realize that the teacher that assigned it and glowed about it knows nothing, but they also have some serious problems.
Just read the first part of the book and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Ghastly.
I’d rather read every Clancy book than Faulkner’s POS again.
In case you missed my message, it’s a horrible book horribly written.
I'm going to look it up right after I have some Pablum with a wallpaper paste chaser.
I loved the movie and read the book several times.
Pablum: 1.Bland or insipid intellectual fare, entertainment, etc.; pap.
2.A soft breakfast cereal for infants.
Unfortunately, starting in the 1950's, the publisher decided to update the series by dumbing the stories down, removing difficult or archaic vocabulary words and phrases and making them politically correct. I started to read the newer version of The Hidden Staircase (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1987), but put it down after reading only a few pages. The original was far more interesting.
The same thing happened with the Hardy Boys series, published by the same company. If you desire to read a Hardy Boys book, or want to get one into the hands of a young reader, search the used book stores, the Worldcat library database or the Internet for books published before 1959.
Red Storm Rising was a very good depiction of NATO and Warsaw Pact forces in the mid-1980s, the defense postures and how a war might start and be fought. It is well worth reading for this. And it is a good story.
Comments indeed! Tom Wolfe, Allen Drury way ahead of Clancy. Btw—Willa Cather was never included in any feminist canons, and Margaret Atwood (whose Handmaiden’s Tale was misread initially by feminists) dropped off immediately after revealing herself as religious. .
As did I.But I liked The Right Stuff better and his essays better than any of his books. But Clancy, so far as I’m concerned, wrote two decent books: his first (Hunt) and Patriot Games. The rest were downhill. Those written with a partner aren’t even worth reading when there IS no other reading.
Tom Clancy doesn’t write literature, he writes prophecy.
There weren't many Southern Republicans around when Faulkner was writing in the days when FDR won 98% of the vote in South Carolina. This guy is way behind the curve, but if there's still some cartoonish old image of the South in the Northern urban mind nowadays, I suspect Erskine Caldwell, Tennessee Williams, Walker Evans, Al Capp, and newspaper stories themselves have had more to do with it than William Faulkner.
Bonfire of the Vanities? Tom Wolfe is as close to a conservative as any well-known, half-way-respected novelist writing today is. I doubt he's "foundational" for any kind of liberal thinking. Liberal or left writers hate and abuse Wolfe. Read the attacks on A Man in Full from John Updike, John Irving, and Norman Mailer. Why does this idiot-moron think Tom Wolfe is some example of liberal thinking or academically-respected literature?
“The Life of Pi” was a very entertaining book with an uplifting moral. Listen to the audio version.
I read (listen to on tape actually) most of W.E.B. Griffin’s works. Having spent time in South American, particularly at the Embassy in Buenos Aires, I enjoy reading about places I’ve been to. My complaint with him is his repetition: Maj. Harry J. Smith, USMCR, which is repeated everytime Harry makes an appearance. He does get a bit blasphemous from time to time, but most authors do.
They call them ‘penny awfuls’. If you don’t know the difference, that’s your loss.
Well, Literary Blogger, that's your opinion. I enjoy reading Tom Clancy, but, well, he's Tom Clancy, and you get exactly what it says on the label: submarines, the CIA, big explosions, increasingly over-the-top plots, and a particular sort of stilted and repetitive writing style. Also, Clancy's personal politics have moved front-and-centre since Executive Orders—not that I necessarily disagree with those opinions, but I find him heavy-handed and preachy in presenting them. His characters are "drawn from life" insofar as your exposure to "life" consists mainly of Navy bases.
Life of Pi, on the other hand, has an entertaining protagonist with a humorous history who is caught in an original situation (Pi is a castaway, stranded on a lifeboat with an improbably-named tiger that he has to keep happy lest he become its next meal), and it concludes with a twist ending that compels you to re-evaluate everything you've read up to that point. I don't buy into the postmodern premise of the novel (that true faith consists in believing the more engaging story, even if it flies in the face of cold, dry facts), but even a bad message can be packaged in good art.
BTW, I suspect that most of the reason we regard Twain and Hawthorne as both great literature and popular fiction is simply that the intervening 100+ years have winnowed out the now-forgotten crap. Who's to say that in 2112 we won't think back fondly to Yann Martel and Kazuo Ishiguro, and have forgotten all about Tom Clancy?
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