Thursday, May 19, 2011

Characteristic Ages of Genres

Every genre has a characteristic age -- not the age of the people who read it, necessarily, but the personal age of the stories, if they were people. Some genres are made up of old stories -- thoughtful, experienced, tricky, seen-it-all. Others are as young and wide-eyed as a three-year-old, or demanding and passionate as a teenager.

Actually, that's a great place to start: YA novels, as they have to be, are teenagers. They're immediate, heart-on-their-sleeves types, passionately interested in the way the world works, and generally unhappy with that world. Because it should be better, and who has more energy and enthusiasm to make it better than a teenager?

But the other side of adolescence is boundary-pushing, the discovery or creation of a durable self. And the genres that grow out of that age of testing and relentless introspection are the fraternal twins Horror and Erotica, both obsessed with the body, its wonders and terrors.

Science Fiction and Fantasy are off to college or adventures on the cusp of adulthood, exploring vast new worlds and enthralled by raw possibility. What can happen next? Everything. All-night bull sessions about religion, politics, biology, particle physics -- this is the time of deep knowledge, when we all go geeky in our own ways.

And the two biggest, most dependable genres are the stuff of early adulthood -- of finding a place in the world, working and living, having our adventures and then settling down. Thriller and Romance nearly always start with single characters for a reason -- these genres are free, open, jetting around the world, allowing for all possibilities to come true, but expecting it all to end by settling down and getting into real life.

A little older, a little more tired, starting to get cynical but still insistent on the place of hope and trust in the world: the age of Hardboiled Mysteries is the thirties. These stories are still spry enough to jump through all of their hoops, but they'll feel it in the morning, and they've lost their illusions and dreams about how the world should work.

Literary fiction comes from the growing feeling of middle age: forty-plus, aware of death, with the slowly crushing realization that nothing anyone does matters. And yet life is so sweet, so worth living while it lasts -- even if it can't last.

But even older than that is the Cozy Mystery, as old as Miss Marple. There's a cool and detached view of mankind as chess pieces on a great board, and a deep memory of all the horrible things people can do to each other. They're never surprised, never shocked, but always ready to see what happened this time.

....or, at least, that all seemed a really good schema while I was staring out the window of my train recently. I hope it's at least an amusing concept.

1 comment:

The English Teacher said...

I'd never thought about this particular thing before. Thanks for the stuff on which I shall muse later. :)

Post a Comment