Classic Cult Fiction: A Companion to Popular Cult Literature

Classic Cult Fiction: A Companion to Popular Cult Literature

Classic Cult Fiction: A Companion to Popular Cult Literature

Classic Cult Fiction: A Companion to Popular Cult Literature

Synopsis

Classic Cult Fiction is a history, analysis, and reference guide to books that have become "bibles" to generations of Europeans and Americans over the past 200 years--books like The Catcher in the Rye. Fearlessly taking on "canon formation," Whissen identifies the top 50 classic cult books, first presenting an informed and witty interpretation of the phenomenon and its characteristics with examples from different cultures and periods. The individual works are each discussed relative to time and place, impact, and audience psychology and analyzed in terms of common cult attributes. A chronological listing of cult fiction adds a number of titles not chosen for the top 50.

Excerpt

In his unofficial biography of J. D. Salinger, Ian Hamilton says that The Catcher in the Rye is a book that spoke not only to him but for him. When a book has this kind of effect on a sizable number of readers, then we can say it deserves to be called a "cult book." Although enthusiasm for such books almost never culminates in any sort of formally organized following (like a fan club), it does create a sort of unofficial secret network of readers who, like the admirers of cult films and the followers of cult figures, do everything short of paying dues and wearing badges.

Cult books have been around ever since the novel became a genre in the eighteenth century. In fact, not long before the first cult book was published (The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), cults had already formed around two of the eighteenth century's most intriguing literary frauds, James Macpherson and Thomas Chatterton. Both were first-class forgers whose "works" continued to influence the age long after they were exposed as forgeries.

Macpherson claimed to have discovered in a cave in Scotland some ancient Gaelic poetry, which he ascribed to a poet named Ossian. Before it was discovered that Macpherson had written the poetry himself, the epic poems of Ossian had already had their effect on the undercurrent of Romanticism that was to overwhelm the literary scene at the turn of the century. Actually, the poetry was pretty good, as Goethe himself admitted, and that was reason enough for him not to apologize for its influence on his own early writing. If he regretted anything, it was the youthful excesses he exhibited in The Sorrows of Young Werther, published in 1774 when he was only twenty-five. Later in life, the author of the ponderous Faust seemed to find Werther something of an embarrassment . . .

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