What Makes a Classic?

Is there anything better than getting lost in a good book? Yes – having your soul touched by a great book. The term “Classic Literature” is thrown around libraries and bookstores, but what does it really mean? What eternalizes a piece of literary work? What makes it a classic?

My Criteria List:

  • It contains a unique and unforgettable character.
  • It touches me with a profound truth.
  • This “profound truth” is timeless.

Earlier this season I posted the different types of summer readers (What Type of Summer Readers Are You?). If you’ve read it, you know I’m a “Squirrel! Chaser” Reader. Something (I can’t remember what) made me think about all those Charlie Chan movies I used to watch as a kid. I believe it was an article explaining how Earl Derr Biggers loosely based his classic character, Charlie Chan, off Honolulu Detective, Chang Apana. His first Charlie Chan novel, The House Without a Key, inspired the movie franchise.

Why is House Without a Key a classic? Let’s run it through my criteria list:

It contains a unique and unforgettable character – Charlie Chan. Enough said.

It touches me with a profound truth – One of the characters, John Quincy Winterslip, is pulled out of his comfortably normal life in Boston. He sets out across the country (a big deal in the 1920s), headed for Honolulu to fetch his wayward aunt. Forget the murder. Forget the colorful characters. Set aside the author’s groundbreaking representation of racial stereotypes for a moment.

It is John Quincy’s awakening as he sees San Francisco for the first time which really touches me. He has never been to the western united states, but feels sure he’s seen the city before. This begins a new awareness for the character. His true self begins to stir. He has taken his first step in becoming who he really was meant to be.

This “profound truth” is timeless – The book was written in the 1920s. As I read John Quincy’s account of seeing San Francisco for the first time and his further travels to the Islands, I was there with him. It took me back to my gypsy youth when traveling to new places awakened my soul. I found who I was meant to become by opening myself up to new adventures and cultures. This was true for restless souls from the beginning of time and will still remain true long after I’m gone.

We have so many options for entertainment in this age of technology. Books, movies, video games, streaming TV shows. Don’t forget the classics. These are the gems which make us think and feel deeply.


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