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Genre Turning Point / Literature

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  • Virgil's The Aeneid is seen by many as the first constructed epic. Unlike Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey which was transmuted by an oral tradition and preserved by bards. The Aeneid was an authored work, with carefully constructed Latin verse, a narrative that didn't simply relate events but figuratively communicated the 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, Boccaccio and Dante Alighieri are collectively credited for having invented the Italian literary language. They used vernacular language for literary work, instead of Latin. The Divine Comedy also introduced a new kind of epic poem, one anchored in the poet's life, emotions and experiences rather than some 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.
  • Don Quixote 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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  • Moll Flanders 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 epistolary novels Pamela and Clarissa introduced the concept of serial novels, best-sellers and made the novel a professional genre across Europe. The epistolary (novel narrated in the form of journals and letters) became the dominant literary tradition for the rest of the 1700s inspiring Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther.
  • Walter Scott and Alexandre Dumas invented Historical Fiction and the popular adventure novel almost at the same time. Both of them wrote stories set in what they considered the bygone era of the past with Historical Domain Character and realistic backgrounds, inventing or codifying many tropes of the genres.
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  • Mary Shelley's Frankenstein 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.
  • Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary became a major cause celebre in the time and introduced unheroic characters, a story without any real moral message and its non-judgmental look at an adulterous housewife. Flaubert's command of form and language also inspired other writers to be more meticulous and economical with language as a prose stylist rather than simply writing Doorstoppers because serial publications are paying you by ink.
  • 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's short-stories 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). 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.
  • Edgar Allan Poe's short stories and poetry marked the start of modern horror fiction. Poe codified a lot of literary techniques associated with Gothic novel into something dark and unique, often stemming from subject first person narrators, Villain Protagonist 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.
  • Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland codified and developed the concept of children's literature and inspired a slew of imitators. Its mindbending use of language, puns, puzzles and dream-like nature of 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: alien invasion, use of science for ill rather than good, soft-science versus hard science and so on.
  • Joseph Conrad 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 Ending having very little of the optimism in progress, science and technology that characterized the 19th Century.
  • Within France, Emile Zola's famous 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 Dreyfuss Affair and its attendant anti-Semitism.
  • 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 six years later with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and its twist ending.
  • The Lord of the Rings wasn't the first high fantasy Constructed World novel, but it set up most of the devices of modern fantasy.
  • The early novels of P D James and Ruth Rendell 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.
  • 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, and in book form with the anthologies Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison, and England Swings SF, edited by Judith Merril.
  • Kathleen E Woodiwiss's 1972 novel The Flame And The Flower is widely seen in retrospect as revolutionising the genre 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 that gave the genre a bad name with feminists that took decades to shake off.)
  • James Herbert's 1974 The Rats set new records for graphic gore and explicit sex in horror novels, arguably codifying Splatter Horror.
  • 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 was heavily influenced by Tolkien, he also introduced some fantasy conventions of his own, such as a less formal writing style.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire didn't invent Dark Fantasy, and wasn't the first to use flawed, or even villainous protagonists in a crapsack fantasy world, but 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.
  • John W. Campbell, a popular science fiction writer and magazine editor, is generally credited by Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, and other science fiction writers as being responsible for nurturing their talents and for bringing 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 1938, the year Campbell assumed editorship of Astounding Science Fiction magazine.
  • Neuromancer more or less created the Cyber Punk sub-genre of Sci-Fi.
    • Neuromancer was this for sci-fi as a whole, especially combined with the movie Blade Runner. 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.
    • While Neuromancer was the Genre Popularizer for and Trope Codifier for Cyber Punk, the 'turning point' for the genre, arguably, was Snow Crash which changed much of the aesthetics for Cyber Punk, moving things out of noir and into a more eclectic 'punk' sensibility.
  • H. P. Lovecraft went from simple stories of the macabre and ghost stories to Cosmic Horror Story, 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.
  • Stephen King, meanwhile, 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.
  • 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.
  • Tom Clancy didn't invent the Techno Thriller genre — that credit belongs to the late Craig Thomas, who penned the book Firefox — but he did bring it into the mainstream with his iconic 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.
  • The Harry Potter books.
    • 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.
    • J. K. Rowling also changed the relationship that content creators had with fanfiction writers, as explained in this video by Sarah Z. 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, and even promoted several fanfic websites; her only guidelines were that it remain strictly amateur and not-for-profit, that it didn't venture into explicit sexual territory, 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.
  • E. E. “Doc” Smith's Lensman series 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 the Green Lantern Corps to Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5, all of them rely on the concepts Smith wrote in the Lensman series.
  • S.E. Hinton's 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 in 1967, 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.
  • Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles 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.


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