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Genre Turning Point / Literature

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  • Virgil's The Aeneid, written between 29 and 19 BC, is seen by many as the first constructed epic. Earlier epics, like Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey, originated oral tradition and and were preserved by bards before being written down. The Aeneid was an authored work, with carefully constructed Latin verse, and a narrative that didn't simply relate events but figuratively communicates a deeper meaning (as in the Sunt lacrimae rerum scene). As Jorge Luis Borges noted:
    The Aeneid is the highest example of what has been called, without discredit, the artificial epic; that is to say, the deliberate work of a single man, not that which human generations, without knowing it, have created. Virgil set out to write a masterpiece; curiously, he succeeded.
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  • Petrarch, Giovanni Boccaccio, and Dante Alighieri, three writers from 14th century Italy, are collectively credited for having invented the Italian literary language. They used vernacular language for literary work, instead of Latin. Dante's The Divine Comedy also introduced a new kind of epic poem, one anchored in the poet's life, emotions, and experiences rather than a great epic story with endless battles. By writing it in terza rima and vernacular Italian, Dante allowed poetry to have a popular audience and invented the idea of a national literary tradition since every European writer and artist sought to be like Dante and write the great work of their culture.
  • Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, published in two parts in 1605 and 1615, was not only the first "modern" novel, but it also single-handedly killed "knight stories" (Chivalric Romance, adventure stories with a Knight in Shining Armor as the main character — think King Arthur and company). In fact, the novel is so inventive that every century, a new group of writers comes forward to claim that it's even more radical and crazy than previously believed, and virtually every great novelist has cited it as an inspiration and favorite at some point of another.
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  • Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, published in 1722, changed the novel forever. Defoe's realism made it unlike anything which had gone before; his plot was completely original, in an age of reworking classic plots.
  • Samuel Richardson's Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740) and Clarissa; or, The History of a Young Lady (1748) introduced the concept of serial novels and best-sellers, and made the novel a professional genre across Europe. The Epistolary Novel, a story narrated in the form of journals and letters, became the dominant literary tradition for the rest of the 1700s, inspiring Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther.
  • Walter Scott in the UK and Alexandre Dumas in France invented Historical Fiction and the popular adventure novel almost at the same time in the early 19th century. Both of them wrote stories set in what they considered the bygone era of the past with Historical Domain Characters and realistic backgrounds, inventing or codifying many of the tropes of those genres.
  • The early 19th century was when the modern literary form erupted beyond Western Europe, as many nations developed their own literary language.
    • Alexander Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol were major pioneers of the Russian literary language. Pushkin has often been likened as analogous to Shakespeare or Dante in the Russian context. Gogol likewise put forth a new kind of psychological and magical realist style of short stories that was unique to Russian traditions, showing that Russian writers (and by extension writers from other countries) could use their own local tradition and folklore to create unique narratives out of European forms like the novel and short story. Fyodor Dostoevsky supposedly said "we all come from Gogol's Overcoat" (referring to Gogol's famous story The Overcoat). Gogol's The Inspector General was also seen as the most innovative and important Russian play in the language until Chekhov.
    • Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper were the first American men of letters to achieve literary fame and prestige in Europe, and did a lot to show that America could have a culture and voice unique to itself even if it was Separated by a Common Language from England.
  • Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) virtually invented Science Fiction overnight. It dealt with utopian themes, Artificial Intelligence, What Measure Is a Non-Human?, and mankind playing God, taking what were formerly gothic and supernatural ideas and infusing it with a contemporary theme and preoccupations.
  • Edgar Allan Poe's short stories and poetry in the 1830s and '40s marked the start of modern horror fiction. Poe codified a lot of literary techniques associated with the Gothic novel into something dark and unique, often stemming from first-person narrators, Villain Protagonists, and protagonists who tended to be unheroic victims driven to madness. Poe's detective stories, starring C. Auguste Dupin, likewise introduced the modern mystery/detective fiction, greatly inspiring Sherlock Holmes and many others.
  • Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1856) became a major cause celebre in its time and introduced unheroic characters, a story without any real moral message, and a non-judgmental look at an adulterous housewife. Flaubert's command of form and language as a prose stylist also inspired other writers to be more meticulous and economical with language rather than simply writing Doorstoppers because serial publications are paying you by ink.
  • Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) codified and developed the concept of children's literature and inspired a slew of imitators. Its mind-bending use of language, puns, puzzles, and dream-like logic also made it an Unbuilt Trope for Multiple Demographic Appeal, and it's still seen as an early success of popular fantasy for readers of all ages.
  • Jules Verne and H. G. Wells between them covered all the stops of modern science-fiction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Alien Invasion stories, use of science for ill rather than good, soft science versus hard science, and so on.
  • Joseph Conrad, who wrote around the turn of the 20th century, is regarded as one of the key inventors of modern fiction. His novels described a globalized world of transportation and communication, where the drama was internal with a great deal of moral ambiguity and cynicism. His characters were often unlikable and compromised, and they tended to have Downer Endings with very little of the optimism in progress, science, and technology that characterized the 19th century.
  • Within France, Emile Zola's famous 1898 article J'accuse was seen as the start of the Public Intellectual, where writers and artists would use their prestige and authority to take a stand on issues of social and political justice, in this case the Dreyfus Affair and its attendant anti-Semitism.
  • H. P. Lovecraft, whose first short story was published in 1916, went from simple stories of the macabre and ghosts to Cosmic Horror, which changed the face of the horror genre forever. Stephen King, to give just one example, owes a great deal of his success to Lovecraft. His influence can be seen on this very wiki; check out how many tropes one of his monsters inspired.
  • In Detective Fiction, Agatha Christie's first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) in the UK, and S. S. Van Dine's first Philo Vance novel The Benson Murder Case (1926) in the US, essentially ignited the "Golden Age of the detective novel", shifting the main form of the crime genre from the short story to the novel, and replacing the earlier thriller-based form, in which key clues were often withheld from the reader, with the Fair-Play Whodunnit whose appeal was primarily promoted as intellectual. Christie would do it again six years later with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and its twist ending.
  • John W. Campbell, a popular science fiction writer and magazine editor, is generally credited by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, and other science fiction writers of the mid-20th century as being responsible for nurturing their talents and for bringing a higher standard of storytelling to the science fiction genre, which had previously consisted mostly of utopian literature, stories of aliens and fantastic gadgets, and space Westerns. Genre historians often date the beginning of science fiction's Golden Age as being 1937, the year Campbell assumed editorship of Astounding Science Fiction magazine.
  • E. E. “Doc” Smith's Lensman series, published from 1948-54, either created or brought to the public imagination concepts that have become standard in science-fiction for decades: Military Science Fiction with massive space battles, the multi-species Civilization where groups with very different psychologies could still work together for the common good, Space Opera where the heroes roamed multiple planets (and galaxies) during the story... Modern SF ranging from Green Lantern to Star Wars, Star Trek to Babylon 5, all of them rely on the concepts Smith wrote in the Lensman series.
  • C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-56) and J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-55) weren't the first High Fantasy Constructed World novels, but between them, they set up most of the devices of modern fantasy. Not surprisingly, the authors were friends.
  • The early novels of P. D. James and Ruth Rendell in The '60s are often jointly credited with reintroducing realistic character motivations and reactions to the British detective story, which had been considered to have become too rigid and bloodless in its adherence to Fair-Play Whodunnit conventions, with inevitable (since the novels deal with murder) Darker and Edgier results.
  • John le Carré's 1963 novel The Spy Who Came In from the Cold changed the spy novel genre, moving it from the romantic action thrillers characterized by Ian Fleming's James Bond to a gritty and morally uncertain genre steeped in procedural details, with the decidedly un-sexy George Smiley as protagonist.
  • New Wave Science Fiction, a reaction against the morally-simplistic and anti-style Campbellian SF of the 1950s and 1960s that would leave a permanent impression on the genre, is generally considered to have begun with Michael Moorcock's editorship of the New Worlds fiction magazine starting in 1964, and in book form with the anthologies Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison and published in 1967, and England Swings SF, edited by Judith Merril and published in 1968.
  • S. E. Hinton's 1967 novel The Outsiders has been credited with single-handedly inventing Young Adult Literature, or at least making it a respectable sub-genre of fiction. When it was published, the Stratemeyer Syndicate and its imitators were still a major force in the American publishing industry, and most books written for adolescents were formulaic, escapist genre fiction, usually written as installments in indefinitely running series. The 17-year-old Hinton had the advantage of writing from an actual teenage perspective, and set out to write the kind of standalone novel that would actually appeal to serious readers in her own age group. The book's relatively simple prose made it accessible to young readers, but its frank examination of class conflict and gang violence made it possible to take it seriously as a work of literature. There's a reason it's still regularly taught in middle school English classes.
  • Kathleen E. Woodiwiss's 1972 novel The Flame and the Flower is widely seen in retrospect as revolutionising the Romance Novel in many ways. The most important innovations were that it was the first full-length romance novel to be published as a paperback original, and the first genre romance novel to include graphic sex scenes. More negatively, it is also widely blamed for starting a trend of eroticised Questionable Consent and outright rape in romance novels, giving the genre a bad name with feminists that took decades to shake off.
  • James Herbert's 1974 novel The Rats set new records for graphic gore and explicit sex in horror novels, arguably codifying Splatter Horror in literature.
  • Stephen King, whose first novel was published in 1974, brought mainstream horror fiction into the heart of Middle America, with ordinary small-town working folks as the protagonists battling evils both supernatural and all-too-human that have entered their lives. Every horror writer who uses Americana as a backdrop for his or her stories will inevitably be compared to King at some point, especially if they set their story in New England.
  • Anne Rice's 1976 novel Interview with the Vampire revolutionized vampire fiction. Through the Universal and Hammer films, vampires had become one of pop culture's go-to horror monsters, portrayed as villainous predators who often served as metaphors for perceived social ills ranging from foreigners to sexual liberation. Rice turned that around and made her vampires into highly sexualized and tragic figures whose stories were told from their perspective, using their experiences as metaphors for those of marginalized communities in real life (most notably the gay and lesbian communities; perhaps not surprisingly, the books developed a strong LGBT Fanbase). In doing so, she was also an important pioneer in the Urban Fantasy genre, as the template she employed was put to use by later authors for both vampire stories and other "classic" horror monsters.
  • Terry Brooks was the first fantasy author to be a best-selling author, and is considered to be the author that turned fantasy literature from a fringe cult phenomenon into a real industry. Interestingly, although his first Shannara book in 1977 was heavily influenced by Tolkien, he also introduced some fantasy conventions of his own, such as a less formal writing style.
  • William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer, together with the movie Blade Runner two years prior, laid the foundation for cyberpunk. Both works eschewed the idea of the Invincible Hero and focused on individuals who were relatively powerless in the respective worlds that they lived in. note  Since Neuromancer and Blade Runner, sci-fi protagonists have been used much more as tools to examine the worlds that they live in.
  • Tom Clancy didn't invent the "techno-thriller" genre of high-tech modern war/espionage thrillers — that credit belongs to the late Craig Thomas, who penned the book Firefox — but he did bring it into the mainstream with his iconic 1984 debut volume, The Hunt for Red October, which spawned more books, action movies, video games, and a whole franchise that has since made millions of dollars.
  • In a less conventional example than most, the dystopian fiction genre radically changed direction not from a work, but from a real-world event: the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The superpower had long been the definitive model for dystopias in fiction, with many dystopian stories like Brave New World and 1984 depicting the big oppressive power as Nigh-Invulnerable, with an abundance of endings that ranged from bittersweet to flat-out downers. The fact that the world's Communist juggernaut collapsed within just two years from a series of revolutions and social movements changed all that, with later dystopian novels instead focusing on the protagonists successfully overthrowing oppressive regimes through revolutions of their own, along with a greater focus on the institutional corruption and chronic mismanagement endemic to such regimes that leaves them in such a state where they could be overthrown in the first place (reflecting how the real Soviet Union collapsed). Had a book series like The Hunger Games come out a few decades earlier, it would've been seen as overly optimistic.
  • While Neuromancer was the Genre Popularizer and Trope Codifier for Cyberpunk, the 'turning point' for the genre, arguably, was Neal Stephenson's 1992 novel Snow Crash, which changed much of the aesthetics of cyberpunk by moving things out of noir and into a more eclectic 'punk' sensibility.
  • George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, whose first installment was published in 1996, didn't invent Dark Fantasy, and wasn't the first to use flawed or even villainous protagonists in a crapsack fantasy world. However, thanks to its popularity, it was one of the biggest reasons for the increase in the number of darker fantasy series being put out by publishers. It also helped inspire well-known non-literature examples of the genre, such as Dragon Age.
  • J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, first published in 1997.
    • While Young Adult Literature had existed for decades, Harry Potter turned it into a pop culture phenomenon that's often credited with almost single-handedly restoring interest in reading among younger generations. It also proved that books written for children didn't have to be watered-down to the point of being stripped of all their depth, especially once later books started growing up with their readers. Without Harry Potter, the likes of Twilight and The Hunger Games would never have been as successful as they were.
    • Rowling also changed the relationship that content creators had with fanfiction writers. Before, fanfic was considered a disreputable hobby that existed in a legal gray area, with many creators regarding it as uncreatively borrowing other people's characters and a violation of copyright on top of it, and as such many fanfic writers had to circulate their work in private networks to avoid getting sued. Rowling, on the other hand, embraced the Harry Potter fanfic community and expressed hope that some of them would go on to become professional authors in their own right (which quite a few did), and even promoted several fanfic websites; her only guidelines were that it remain strictly amateur and not-for-profit (because otherwise it would be copyright infringement), that it didn't venture into explicit sexual territory (because Harry Potter was an all-ages book series), and that they didn't send it to her directly (because then she could risk getting sued for borrowing canon plot elements from fanfic writers). Nowadays, fanfic is an integral part of many fandoms, with major websites like FanFiction.Net and Archive of Our Own catering to it, and content creators who try to sue fanfic authors (as Anne Rice, Archie Comics, and the producers of The X-Files did in the past) would nowadays face scrutiny for it.


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