Adventures in Digital History

Quantifying and Qualifying Literature

After looking through the first four chapters of Ben Blatt’s Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve and seeing the different tests he’s performed using literary data from thousands of books, I’m really interested in two different things: examining commonalities between authors who write books in the same genre and examining either the evolution or complexity of fanfiction authors.

For the first idea, I wanted to examine authors who write different genres and see how similar or different the writing styles or frequency of words are between them. For example, group together J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Books of Earthsea, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. These are all fantasy books with an emphasis on magic. These were the ones I am most familiar with, but we could also potentially include George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Heroes of Olympus, Trials of Apollo, Kane Chronicles, and Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments, and any other fantasy series I’m probably missing here. I think it would be interesting to compile all of these books and examine the things that are most common between them. This came to mind when thinking of the similarities between Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. The plotlines are a little too similar, and I would love to explore THAT possibility in greater depth. Then when I discovered Ursula K. Le Guin, I found out her Earthsea Cycle, which featured the magic school arc, was written in the 1960s. So, I’m honestly dying to know how similar Rowling’s series is to Le Guin’s and Tolkien’s.

My other idea was to explore some of the trends in fanfiction authors. There is a LOT of fanfiction on the internet. Some of it’s good. Most of it’s bad. A lot of it is extremely sexual in nature (seriously, there’s a lot tagged as “explicit” which usually implies there’s sexual content). However, there are several good authors out there. I read fanfiction (shocker, I know) and I have a list of authors that I consider to be good to high quality. Some of these authors have written thousands of works. Blatt even makes an interesting point in his book that one author, whose name eludes me at the moment, has written more words about a fandom than the original source material. That’s impressive, if you ask me. I know of a few authors (especially in the Star Wars community) that have been writing for years. Some of these stories are from the 1980s and 1990s, which is so fascinating once you discover them. Heck, the Star Wars Expanded Universe (or as Disney calls it, “Legends“) is published fanfiction that went through George Lucas. I also believe 50 Shades of Gray started out as Twilight fanfiction, so that’s some food for thought. My point is that fanfiction has been around, and will continue to be around. I think it would be interesting to compile some of those stories, especially from the longest running and most prolific authors, and perform some of the analyses Blatt does in his book. If he can do it for mainstream literary works, why not fanfiction?

Those are all the ideas I have at the moment. I’m sure more will come to me as we continue reading Blatt’s book. But until then, happy Spring Break everyone!

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