As I continue to read through Leland Ryken’s recently published book A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), I am being reminded about and appreciating the value of the literary classics.
In chapter two Ryken answers the question “What makes a classic?” This is in part how he answers that, as he gives us four marks of a classic work:
- “One of the objective criteria is endurance. A classic has stood the test of time and yet is still current. It is both timeless and timely.”
- “A second objective criterion for a classic is that it is influential in the cultures that embrace it, starting with the culture that produced it. As part of this permanent influence, classics have hitorically been part of the educational program of cultures.”
- “The most universally agreed upon component of a literary classic is the criterion of excellence or superiority. This extends both to the form and content of the work. A classic rises above most other members of its class.”
- “An additional subjective test for a classic literary work is that it touches us at a profound level. Before we willingly call a work a work a classic, we need to be deeply affected by it. To meet the test fully, the work needs to be a landmark in our intellectual, spiritual, and literary experience” (pp.16-22)
Do you agree with Leland’s criteria? If so, what works are classics in your experience of reading? How far back do such classics go in history? Do they have to be old as well?