Friday, July 1, 2016

Dated title

When I read George Orwell's Nineteen Eight-Four in the early Sixties, the year 1984 still seemed far in the future. More than three decades after 1984, Orwell's novel is still being read, yet I wonder if its impact has somehow declined as 1984 has faded into the past. Has his choice of a title, plus the passage of time, turned a futuristic novel into, at least in some readers' minds, a historical novel?

This thought follows from my post of two days ago about time-related words like modern and new. You might also include the words contemporary, present, now, current, today, yesterday and tomorrow, among others. The passage of time can change the meaning of these words to the reader. In a similar way, dates mentioned in stories, especially in stories set in the future, can make those stories seem dated as time passes.

When setting a story in some future time, it might be wise to keep that time ambiguous, or at least put  it far enough in the future that it will be a very long time before that future becomes past. When Orwell's novel was published in 1949, he probably didn't imagine people would still be reading it in the 21st century.

In the late Nineties I read a novel about the terrible things that happen on Jan 1, 2000, when the world's computers fail. I doubt anyone bothered to read that novel after that date, when nothing terrible happened at all.

Before Orwell wrote his visionary novel, Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World, a book to which Nineteen Eight-Four is often compared. I don't think Huxley wrote the better book, but I do think he chose the better title. Brave New World will always suggest the future, something Nineteen Eight-Four can never do again.

No comments:

Post a Comment