Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Novel? Really?

Recently, I re-read one of my favorite Fantasy novels: Running With The Demon by Terry Brooks.

The paperback copy in my local library (different than the one pictured here at the Amazon link) carried the following tag on its cover:  A Novel of Good & Evil.

That caught my attention, as it varied from the standard and more simplistic:  A Novel.

I'd often wondered about the custom...why do we affix a label to novels, identifying them as such? As others have pointed out, isn't that akin to proudly labeling a package of cheese:  A Dairy Product  ??

Must we state the obvious?

Modern explanations usually involve the Publisher's attempts to target the appropriate readership...If there could be any doubt as to the content of the book, the label A Novel serves to clarify the intended audience: Fiction readers, rather than those seeking Non-Fiction.

But the roots of A Novel stretch considerably farther back...into the 1600s.  Prior to that time, fiction works of length were categorized as Romances. In the archaic sense of that term, these were sweeping epics featuring...and focusing on...larger-than-life characters and heroic deeds. Typically, the story was named after the primary character. And the plot followed his/her life adventures. Narratives showcased "special" people...Kings, Queens, gallant knights or warriors...and their amazing exploits.

By 1650, a different type of story began garnering favor: tales of "ordinary" people with whom the average reader could better relate. In these new stories (the term "novel" means "new"), the plot and the moral lessons therein were more important than any one central "hero."

Rather than putting the hero on a pedestal as a role model, these new stories held up moral principles and truths as the "meaning" worth emulating. The events of the story, not the hero, became the main point.

In the 1670's and 1680s, publishers began adding the term A Novel to the title page to clearly differentiate the type of story the reader could expect.

I wonder: could modern publishers make better use of this tradition by being more specific?

Maybe Brooks' publisher was on to something: A Novel of Good & Evil.

Should we do more along those lines? Maybe this would clarify some of the debate within Christian publishing circles... could we differentiate the intended audiences by more specific labels? If "Christian Fiction" is misleading or too ambiguous...and many argue it is, could the A Novel of _____ approach help?

What about Christian audiences who are turned off by the majority of CBA fare? Those looking for a "middle-ground" reading experience between CBA cleanliness and General Market "anything goes" mentality?  What label would attract those readers?

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