When people are asked about classic fiction, many name their favorites: Jane Eyre, The Count of Monte Cristo, Anna Karenina or anything by Jane Austen. Classics may be why so many people love to read, to get lost in a book and take a vicarious adventure, whether in war or in love.
Then there are those who opine that fiction written centuries ago by a dead male has no relevance to us today.
When I think about some of the lesser-known classic fiction that I’ve loved, I realize that the themes of these novels are in fact timeless and have much to say.
Dickens’ novel explores the idea of how an inheritance, or the promise of one, can change your life. We all want money, however willing we are to admit it. I’ve heard plenty of stories of families that were torn apart over inherited money. And we’ve all heard of someone who got into debt, counting on inherited money and ended up in trouble.
Bleak House tells the story of a large fortune tied up in the courts because of disputes among the heirs. A major theme of the novel revolves around the suffering caused to many of the heirs by the bureaucracy of the court and greedy, self-serving lawyers.
Another theme explores how exploitation and corruption can hide within a seemingly good tradition.
I wouldn’t have a hard time finding examples of both of those in the daily news.
War and Peace
Yes, I really read the whole thing. It took me most of one summer. But what a masterpiece.
The overall theme of War and Peace optimistically shows how war gives way to peace. Within that theme, the novel explores how power is often in the hands of those who are far from the effects of their decisions. In other words, those who decide a nation should go to war are not usually those who actually end up fighting it on the battlefield.
The Man in the Iron Mask
We’ve all heard of The Three Musketeers. But what happened to the after the close of Alexandre Dumas’ famous novel?
The Man in the Iron Mask picks up the story of the four musketeers (the original three plus d’Artagnan) many years later. France is in turmoil again, ruled by a dissolute king. Rumor has it the king has an older twin brother, held in a prison with an iron mask over his face so no one will know his true identity.
One faction wants the current king to remain in power. Another wants to free the rightful king and put him on the throne.
Enter the heroes from years past. They are four friends, haunted by the glories of their past and tormented by the knowledge they are not living up to what they once were. Now they come to grips, each in his own way, with the fact that staying true to your principles can cause you to act in ways that are not in your own self-interest.
They also wrestle with the hard truth that political, familial and career motivations can separate close friends. Anyone who’s been unfriended or unfollowed for expressing a political opinion can relate to their struggle.
It is these themes, along with riveting stories, that keep the classics fresh and timeless. While their authors may be dead, their stories and their relevance live on.
While I have no delusions that I have written a classic, I tried to infuse my own Flight of the Spark with themes that will resonate with many. One of them explores how we can overcome fears that keep us back from pursuing the things we want. It will be out on December 3!
But in the meantime, if you’re looking for a great read, check out some timeless classics. You may be surprised at how fresh they feel.