10 Literary Works That Have Influenced Me: Part One

This is something I saw crop up a bit on my facebook and I decided to give it a go. I didn’t really want to clog up my facebook with a lengthy post about literature and I certainly didn’t want to just name 10 pieces without providing at least some explanation for each of them. I’m not the best read person in the world so this list won’t be very ground breaking but I’ll try and explain each one of my entries. The following then are the 10 literary works which I feel have influenced me greatly, they are listed in no particular order. Judging on the length of this after I wrote the first 5, I’ve decided to break this up into two parts, this is the first one.

1 – George Orwell, 1984

I think this novel sometimes attracts criticism for being regarded as ‘entry level’ by dedicated intellectuals and book readers. The book has perhaps moved further into the forefront of popular culture since the media began drawing increasing comparisons between  the themes and ideas of the novel and everyday modern life. The idea of the ‘Nanny State’ is something that, in a way, Orwell has prophesied in this book. Whilst ‘Orwellian’ seems to be used increasingly in the lexicon of public discourse these days, it is very important to remember that 1984 is fictional and also portrays a complete extreme. I do feel that anyone seriously claiming the coming of a ‘Big Brother’-like society is perhaps reacting a little rashly. Nevertheless, the relevance of Orwell’s work perhaps only proves its brilliance. I adore this book, it is probably one of my firm favourites. 1984 is a truly disturbing painting of a dystopian future and one that seems all too real. I’ve always found it strange that the main character seems to be one of the few people that sees through the lies of ‘Big Brother’ and yet he is so incredibly identifiable to the reader. This book is genuinely unnerving as it demonstrates how a regime can completely dominate its subjects so totally and completely. I have no doubt this one would make many lists, it has firmly secured a place on mine. (P.S. I love Animal Farm as well, but two Orwell books on this list would be too much)

2 – Brian Jacques, The Redwall Series

For a lot of people my age, I think that Harry Potter may have been the first series they were truly dedicated too. Whilst in my youth I did immensely enjoy Harry Potter my first literary love was another children’s series. The world of the Redwall series is lovingly crafted by Jacques (who, I was devastated to find out, died in 2011) about a wide variety of talking animals. The central point of the book is Redwall Abbey after which the series is named. The Abbey is inhabited by religious mice who regularly fend off all kinds of attacks and challenges with the help of a fairly regular cast of friends. Whilst the whole series spans generations and generations of fictional animals, there are numerous constants which means each book can be enjoyed independently. Now that I am much older, I can see that the stories are largely formulaic, the writing is simplistic (although the series is for children) and the morals of the characters are entirely black or white. This doesn’t stop my nostalgic memories though, the whole series encompasses 22 books (one released posthumously) and I have read 18 of them, missing only the latest 4. I don’t think any single series of books has influenced me more.

3- J.R.R. Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Again, I imagine this would make many lists although that by no means lessens its presence here. I was encourage to read this trilogy at a very young age by my father, I would estimate around 10 or 11 years old. I think at that time I found it too heavy going, which is not exactly surprising. I seem to remember I returned to the books at 13 and loved them. I always loved The Hobbit and that is why I was encouraged to pursue this trilogy. I think at the time Lord of the Rings felt like an adult reading project to me, so despite the challenge presented by their length and cumbersome detail I persevered and ended up being truly encapsulated by the world Tolkein had created. I don’t think any more needs to be said about this series, and indeed I think that all that could be said already has been.

4 – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series

This was perhaps my first foray into Science-Fiction, a genre I am now reasonably well acquainted with. Adams’ oddball series starts with the titular first novel about Earth being destroyed and a unassuming everyman protagonist seeing and experiencing the vast expanse of the life-filled universe for the first time, in complete and utter bewilderment. The reliable supporting casts of aliens and robots only accentuate the humour and general oddity of the books.  The series is wickedly funny and employs a certain kind of British humour that Adams’ clearly excels in. Despite the jokes, the series manages to deal with some broad concepts such as the meaning of existence and the presence of a higher power, which it does so with quips and clever sarcasm. Whilst the series does meander quite a lot towards the end, it’s worth reading all the entries to get some closure. I think that Douglas Adams, along with Terry Pratchett, introduced to me the idea that literature could be funny, well written and tell a compelling narrative. Don’t watch the film though, it’s awful.

5 – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is another book that is often held on a pedestal, but that is not why I found it influential to me. I studied the Great Gatsby for my A-Levels several years ago and I hated it. I think partly it was due to my dissatisfaction with the teacher. For a variety of reasons, my whole class had to resit the exam because of unsatisfactory results, which meant more studying Gatbsy. Over the course of the revision (with a much better teacher) I began to feel very differently. I feel like Gatsby comes alive with some critical anaylsis. The novel seems much better when considering Fitzgerald’s motivation, the historical content and some of the symbolism he uses. I think it was this instance with Gatsby that made me really understand the importance of critical literary thinking. On top of all this, Gatbsy is a book with a great plot with many layers of literary techniques. The narrative is tragic and expertly crafted. Undoubtedly a great piece of literature, given further meaning to me by my experiences with the text.

I think this list is going to have to be split into two parts, since this is already very lengthy. Expect part 2 soon!

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