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.
Clancy isn’t boring enough to be “literature.” Although “The Bear and the Dragon” came close.
Really. The only good (entertaining) story I recall from lit was “The Most Dangerous Game.” The people writing the Lit books even managed to find a boring and unfunny story by James Thurber - a real achievement.
And I like to read! (I’m the only student in history that used to get notes sent home with him from school: “We caught Ray reading in class. Again.”)
I got caught with the same periodicals in class, although I only looked at the pictures.
Sorry, you have to share that claim to fame. I used to get those kind of notes all the time, and my youngest son has started getting them from his teacher lately. The frustrating thing for my teacher (and my son's) is that the teacher couldn't even complain that I wasn't paying attention in class - even though I would be reading a book about a completely different subject, I always could answer any questions the teacher asked about what he (or she) was teaching that day...
I read what I want to read,something that either entertains me or informs me. I could care less if it’s considered good literature. I hated “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”,which received raves.
I am proud to say I have never read an Oprah Book Club book.
Tom Clancy writes books people like to read——who cares what his writing is called?
Unlike this writer,I loved “Bonfire of the Vanities”.
If you, or the author of the post, think Bonfire of the Vanities, written by Tom Wolfe, is some sort of liberal novel, you don’t know what you are talking about. Tom Wolfe is not liberal. He is a writer of novels with a distinctly conservative point of view, though he does not make the politics front and center. Read his more recent book on present day college life, I Am Charlotte Simmons. It will help educate you.
I am a PhD in literature—medieval literature to be precise. Yes, much of what is considered canonical in literature is boring, but the complexity that is lost on so many is what makes literature what it is. Clancy is topical, and a requirement of “true” literature is that it must be universal. Is Clear and Present Danger going to be something everyone can relate to? I think not.
And just to rip off from Samuel Johnson, a work needs to have at least survived for 100 years before it can be considered truly canonical. I’m not saying that I agree, so make of that what you will.
Is not the “Modern Language Association” the purveyer of wording and illogic so complete that it defines why no one respects the liberal arts any longer?
Would not the writer of this “critique” most probably be a member of this joke of an organization?
For fun, use Google to find the article written by a physicist and submitted to these stooges to see if they’d see through the bull-Obama.
Of course, they didn’t. After all, were they to have talent, they’d not be members of the Modern Language Association.
Kingsley Amis - “All Literature is escapist”
What is “paplum”?
What is “paplum”?
H.S. junior-year English was chock full of insufferable British lit. The only novel I managed to complete was “Watership Down.” I had to rely on Cliff Notes for “Jane Eyre,” “Great Expectations,” and other unmemorable “classics” of the English language.
For my personal reading, I was in my sci-fi phase: Asimov and Clarke.
“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”
That's almost as good as “...the angst of modern man finding himself adrift in a world of discontinuity of reality cast against the backdrop of......” yada yada.
Almost as good but just as pretentious nonsense.
>>I am proud to say I have never read an Oprah Book Club book.<<
You might have and not realized it. I was on a flight recently and the guy next to me and I started talking about books and reading. He had just finished one book and was holding one with a huge “O” in the cover with “Selection of the Oprah Book Club.”
It was The Good Earth. Yes, that one we all read in High School.
>>What is paplum?<<
How about bad spelling?
More seriously, defining a piece of writing as "literature" is a subjective exercise among people who generally graduate from the same schools, live in the same neighborhoods (Manhattan West Side for example), attend the same parties, vote for the same candidates, and all nod to each other in smug agreement that the rest of us are knuckle dragging morons. They are the type of people for whom in another age the guillotine was invented.
“The Good Earth”?
You’re right,you got me. :-)
Clancy books are plot-driven and sacrifice the “literary” to whatever serves the plot. They can’t move slowly. They have to keep up the pace or people will lose interest.
They do this very well, in my opinion. They are pretty much all that you want them to be. For their military accuracy alone they would be worth the price, even if they weren’t a darn good read.
These are the kinds of books that often become treasured literature in the future, long after their commercial success is over—classics of a genre, although Clancy is one of a kind, practically a one-man genre.
They have always been utter crap.
During his lifetime Poet Robert Services poetry was considers sludge for the masses (though he was popular at literati parties in France) yet today he is recognized as one of the great lights of the Dawn of the twentieth century.
What makes something literature is not an anointing from self important university chairs. It is continued popularity over time in a way that recognizes the work as defining an era.
Academic egos notwithstanding.
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?
I don’t see the universality of a lot of “literature.” I’m not likely to pick up Dickens or Melville if there is a Clancy to read... even if I’ve read it before.
On the other hand, Sherlock Holmes is great stuff. Is that considered literature?
Bonfire’s EXACTLY like Sanford. Except that the protagonist (unfortunately for the national media) isn’t a stockbroker. But we’ve got everything else—black so-called reverends ginning up hate, the complete blackout by the media of anything questionable about the killed “student,” villification of the killer, courts/prosecutors/advocates all in a tither because of the racial overtones. It just goes on. I paid special attention to those book-scenes because they were created in Mayor Dinkens’ New York City. I drove through that city at night into potholes, rearranged or utterly destroyed traffic signs, and no street-lights. All I could think of then was that it was like Escape from New York (a movie, for those of you who don’t know, about Manhattan’s new status as a penal colony whose leaders have kidnapped the president). Now that I think of it, it’s kinda like what’s happened to our country in recent years.
Same here I don’t think I’ve read an Oprah book club book. I really enjoyed reading Tom Wolfe’s books - searing and meaty great feasts for the mind and also Clancy’s books, entertaining and festive as a 4th of July barbeque. Actually they would make an interesting combo if someone could foist them on Oprah as “must reads.” That might get me to actually watch her for once - out of curiosity.
In my freshman year, we started with Homer and went on to Shakespeare. My sophomore class, at a different school, focused on world literature--more Shakespeare, Dostoevskii, Orwell, Dickens, Karel Čapek, etc.
As a junior, we focused more on American literature, including Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (Boston: Ticknor, 1850), Herman Melville's Moby Dick (New York: Harper, 1851), and The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (New York: Appleton, 1895). The class also covered poetry by Walt Whitman, Dorothy Parker, E. E. Cummings, T. S. Eliot, etc.
To fulfill assignments, I read on my own books by George Stewart, a professor at UC Berkeley whose mid-twentieth century bestsellers are today largely forgotten, and Hector C.Bywater's The Great Pacific War: A History of the American-Japanese Campaign of 1931-1933 (London: Constable, 1925).
I graduated just in time. Not long afterwards, this curriculum began to be dumbed down and made politically correct.
Marxists took over the academy, destroying art and literature, among other things, while promoting vice, perversion and ugliness.
Tom’s time is past. He can still write but I don’t think people don’t want to read about the Government much anymore.
Lame defense of bad writing, as that is what the likes of Clancy, Steel, Crichton have produced. Cartoon characters, cliche ridden sentences, simpleminded stuff all over.
“...simpleminded stuff all over.”
It is what America reads at the beach...Tartuffe just doesn’t go with sand.
It's a safe bet that Dickens' Christmas Carol will be read and performed long after Clancy has been forgotten. And references to Melville's Moby Dick still pop up in popular culture from time to time.
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