Don’t you even try to tell me that the literary classics aren’t relevant today! I’ve heard it all, and I’m not interested. Come on people, they are called classics for a reason. The themes, the characters, and even the words themselves are timeless. No matter when you pick up a classic, there will be something in it that resonates with you (I promise). I bet you are wondering if I have a real world example…of course I do. I feel as though I have been unusually blessed in my literary life. I always seem to read the right book at the right time, so that all of a sudden I can understand references and allusions in popular culture. Case in point: reading A Tale of Two Cities right before the newest Batman movie was released.
It is shameful to admit as an English major that I had never read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, not in high school or in college. In fact I was never asked to read any Charles Dickens and didn’t until after I graduated. Needless to say, I’ve had some catching up to do and I’m still working on it. So, I grabbed A Tale of Two Cities off of my shelf and made it one of my summer reads. The novel took some time for me to really settle in to and I understand why people may struggle with it. Dickens was a master of details, and he takes his sweet time laying the ground work and the character background before the plot really seems to find a comfortable pace. It makes me sad that people get bogged down in all of that in the beginning of his novels (and most classics) that they give up on them. Because if you can power through all of that and read on, the pay-off is sweet!
Once the French Revolution truly begins in the novel, it is difficult to put down. Dickens was so thorough in his descriptions of French life before and during the revolution that some scenes seem almost graphic. The novel paints a clear picture of how the oppressed people became the bloodthirsty oppressors, but does so without any form of black and white judgment. It lets us explore a national revolution with access to the complicated human emotions on both sides. That’s what makes novels like this so prolific. The hope is that a reader will emerge with a better understanding of the horrors that plague the human legacy, so that we can learn not to repeat them; if not as a society or as a race then at least as individuals. A theme like that is absolutely relevant today…just ask Christopher Nolan.
I finished reading A Tale of Two Cities on July 21st and saw The Dark Knight Rises on July 22nd, so I immediately recognized the parallels between the novel and the new movie. They would be difficult for anyone to miss. Without giving too much away, here’s a few of the obvious:
- Ripping the rich from their homes and sharing the spoils
- A bloated “judicial system” holding ridiculous public trials
- Thin ice rather than the outright, gruesome horror of the guillotine (but same idea)
- Storming Black Gate Prison = Storming the Bastille
Now, despite the similarities, it would be incorrect to say the movie was based on the novel or that it was just a reenactment of the French Revolution. In the movie it was a misguided criminal leading the revolution with no aim what-so-ever at freeing the people of Gotham or moving forward with a new government; that of course is why Batman has to step in and attempt to save his beloved city once again.
So, when I saw the movie the first time I thought that I may have been overreaching with the similarities. You know how it is…when material is fresh in your mind you somehow find a way to apply it to everything else you see or read. However, I felt vindicated when I saw the movie a second time (yes, I’ve already seen it twice so feel free to judge me). During my second watch, I realized that Commissioner Gordon is actually reading directly from A Tale of Two Cities at the very end of the movie. I knew the words sounded familiar so I double checked the end of the novel and sure enough, there I found a slightly different version of what was read in A Dark Knight Rises. I wasn’t overreaching the first time I saw it. The classic novel is still prolific in popular culture. And the classics may be more relevant than ever. I love it!
So, what does it all mean? Pick up a classic novel and you’ll be surprised at how many references to it you will begin to notice (and understand) in your daily life. Hollywood is more well read and on top of allusions than we like to give them credit for. And go see the new Batman movie, it’s worth it.
If you aren’t a Batman fan (do those people actually exist?), don’t worry! There are plenty of other references to this novel in popular culture:
“He knew enough of the world to know that there is nothing in it better than the faithful service of the heart.” ~Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities