Sunday, May 20, 2018

In Praise of Brit Lit

Okay, so tell me again why we fought the war – that Revolution thing? Um, something about tea and taxes?

As a self-proclaimed Stark Raving Mythopath, it’s sometimes hard to imagine that we ever wanted to split from the Brits. I mean, what’s not to love about the blokes? 

Sure, they may drive on the wrong side of the road and they may play football with a soccer ball, but after all. . . .  Tea and crumpets? Lords and Ladies? Royal weddings?  Downton Abbey? David Tennant? Judy Dench? Benedict Cumberbatch? What a bloomin’ brilliant place!

And when it comes to literature and stories, whole continents of wonderful words have poured forth from such a small island. Let’s see. . . .Shakespeare, for starters. 

Just for starters.

George MacDonald
And a poet or two. Wordsworth, Lord Byron, John Donne, T. S. Eliot (okay, he came from the USA but moved to England), Gerard Manley Hopkins, Yeats, Dylan Thomas…..  

And mythic tales? Beowolf, Canterbury Tales, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, George MacDonald, E. Nesbit, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, G. K. Chesterton, J. K. Rowling…. And many contributors to the Arthurian legends, including Geoffrey of Monmouth, Thomas Malory, and Alfred, Lord  Tennyson. There's a whole pantheon of Big-Time Big Names on the Olympus of Brit Lit.

Beowulf, first folio edition

When it comes to literature, they’ve got at least a 700 year head start on us here in the Colonies. Even God speaks British in the King James Bible! How are we supposed to compete with that?

And don't get me started on British TV shows. Dr. Who? Love it. Detective shows like Morse, Lewis, Endeavor, Sherlock, Broadchurch, Father Brown. . . .can't get enough. 

Benedict Cumberbatch
filming Sherlock

And dramas. Call the Midwife. Pride and Prejudice. Upstairs, Downstairs. Chariots of Fire. Just a sampling, of course.

For comedy, there's Doc Martin, Fry  & LaurieAs Time Goes By, Keeping Up Appearances, and the Monty Python movies. My favorite is Time Bandits.) Again, only a sampling.

And the Brits don't have home remodeling shows (just add open concept and shiplap)  they have architecture shows with jaw-dropping glass walls, cantilevered upper levels,  and skylights that brighten subterranean marvels. Structures that make you wonder, how in the world did they do that!

And even when we want to start bragging about American poets, novelists, screenwriters, etc., we need to pause and humbly reflect that the very language we use for our creations came from that small island off the coast of Europe  all those warring Germanic tribes that finally settled down and started making book deals. Those fun-loving Normans that invaded in 1066. The Great Vowel Shift of the 1400's. Caxton's printing press. And all the yummy ingredients that were thrown into the Stone Soup to create the amazing English language we know and love today.

Seems the whole British Empire thing didn't work out in the long run, but I think the Brits have still achieved world domination – through their wonderful writing and creativity.

Image Credits:
    Revolutionary drummers -- © Can Stock Photo / magmarcz;
    Royal Wedding -- photo by John Pannell; derivative work: César;
    Shakespeare -- Source: Extrait de "L’Homme et la Terre"; Author: Élisée Reclus;
        This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries
         and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or less. 
    George MacDonald --  English: photograph of George MacDonald, taken in 
        the 1800's.
        Public Domain in US because it was published prior to 1923.
    Beowulf manuscript -- by the Beowulf poet, who else?
     This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas 
      where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or less.
    King James Bible, 1611 -- Frontispiece -- Public Domain  -- This work is in the 
       public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where 
       the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or less.
    Benedict Cumberbatch filming Sherlock -- Author: Fat Les from London, UK;
       derivative work: RanZag (talk)


  1. So much to love about British culture - and entertainment!

  2. Could we talk about English Lit vs. Scottish Lit??? Would the Scots want to be included in Brit Lit???? They are so very Scottish. Would the English even consider Robbie Burns speaking/writing in a form of English???? ( sent me into another whole sphere...but then you are so very good at that, dear Patty. Knowing I can count on you to trigger somethin' interesting...)

    1. I was kind of lumping all of Great Britain together, but I know what you mean. I wonder even more what the Brits think about American writers!

  3. And we didn’t even get started on children’s lit! Caldecott, Pooh, Mister Toad, Narnia, Lloyd Alexander, Harry Potter, Secret Garden, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, Nesbit...:)