Britain has so many great novelists that one or other of them has a major anniversary just about every year. So, for example, 2017 was the 125th anniversary of J R R Tolkien's birth and the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's death; 2018 was the 200th anniversary of Emily Brontë's birth; 2019 will be the 125th anniversary of Robert Louis Stevenson's death; 2020 will be the 150th anniversary of Charles Dickens' death. We have decided to write a blog about each of Britain's most momentous novelists as their major anniversary arrives.
Here we will explain the process we used to rank our candidates. It needed more thought than you might expect. 'Momentous' is not the same as 'great'. Our idea of momentousness means lasting impact. This is clearly different from book sales or critical acclaim or any of the other measures normally applied to authors. It begs the question of what we should be measuring and how we can measure it.
First things first, why should novels have any lasting impact? Readership of popular novels tends to drop precipitously within a year of publication, then again after their author stops writing. Highly acclaimed novels have more staying power but lack penetration. They are typically only read by literary professionals, bookworms and students. The upshot is that if an author is to have significant lasting impact, it will probably come through who and what they influence or inspire, especially if it happens to be a successful TV series or movie. Admit it, you would never have heard of Dodie Smith were it not for Disney's '101 Dalmatians' movies.
Our plan then is to rank the authors that inspired or influenced the most lastingly popular/influential TV shows, movies, novels, merchandise and computer games. Our method is an adaptation of Google's website ranking system. They use the number and popularity of backlinks. We will use the number of influences and the popularity of those influenced. We will then filter the result to get names that roughly match consumption by genre, our method for which is described at the end.
Computer games are the easiest place to start. The market is split between console style games and Internet based MMORPG (role playing) games. The current best selling console style games are 'Candy Crush', 'Call of Duty', 'Star Wars: Battlefront II', 'Super Mario ...', 'NBA 2K18', 'Madden NFL18', 'Assassin's Creed', 'Legend of Zelda' and 'Grand Theft Auto'. The most popular MMORPG games are 'World of Warcraft', 'Final Fantasy', 'Elder Scrolls', 'Runescape', 'Black Desert', 'Guild Wars', 'Neverwinter', 'Star Trek Online' and 'Star Wars: The Old Republic'. These look pretty representative to us. Some of the console games are puzzle, sport or war games, with no literary influence. The others are Middle-earth style fantasy worlds, 'shoot 'em ups', space battles or space exploration. All the MMORPG games are Middle-earth style fantasy worlds, apart from Star Wars and Star Trek, which are a space battle and a space exploration repectively.
Middle-earth style fantasy games are inspired by J R R Tolkien. We will return to him. Space exploration games, including Star Trek itself, are inspired by Gene Rodenberry's 1960s 'Star Trek' TV series. He says his main influence was C S Forester. Space battle games derive from the 'space operas' of Garrett Serviss and Doc Smith, which were reinterpretations of H G Wells' novel 'War of the Worlds'. George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, acknowledges them as an important influence too. We will return to his other influences below. Console 'shoot 'em ups' derive from Spacewar! and Space Invaders, both of which were ultimately inspired by 'War of the Worlds' and Dime Westerns.
Merchandise - mostly licenses for toys and clothes - is fairly straightforward too. Eight sets of characters stand out, each with multi-billion dollar merchandise sales. Seven of them belong to Disney. The most valuable of all is Mickey Mouse, but only because he is Disney's trademark, so we will ignore the squeaky little vermin here. Disney Princesses are the second most valuable franchise. Three princesses are based on Brothers Grimm stories, two on Hans Christian Andersen, one on Charles Perraud, one on Barbot de Villeneuve, one on Arabian Nights, but they bear virtually no relationship with the literary original. We will ignore them too. The other literary origin top sellers are Winnie-the-Pooh based on A A Milne's stories, Harry Potter based on J K Rowling's stories, and Lion King loosely based on Shakespeare's Hamlet. In addition, Spiderman and the other Marvel comic superheroes have some literary roots (more below),
Fantasy merchandise is not as valuable as the Disney characters and Harry Potter, but it is more valuable among adults. By and large, it consists of miniature characters that are used in playing fantasy games and dungeon notes for fantasy Game Masters. It tends to be sold through specialist retailers, the biggest of which is Games Workshop with 400 retail outlets all over the world. The total market is perhaps $500m, all of which is based on Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings'.
Will all the above continue to be popular? We think so. Computer game titles come and go, but the themes have not changed since the early 1980s. There is no obvious reason they ever will. Fantasy merchandise seems to grow in sophistication and popularity. Non-fantasy merchandise is mainly based on venerable children's classics. Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sinbad are at least 300 years old. Antoine Galland said that he heard about them from a Syrian storyteller, so they might be centuries older than that. Cinderella, Snow White and Rapunzel are at least 200 years old. Even dear old Winnie-the-Pooh is 80-years-old. It seems to us that if a children's character remains popular for twenty years after its author's death, it is likely to stay popular forever.
Book sales are generally too small, too localised and too transient to have much lasting global impact. Hardly any novels are widely read thirty years after their author's death. But high book sales do contribute to our idea of momentousness. A position on the all-time best seller lists keeps an author's name and work in the public eye. It keeps their books on library shelves. It keeps their titles in print. It encourages readers to try their other stories. Even so, our scoring system reflects quickly diminishing momentousness returns from total book sales. We have decided to use a proportion of the cube root.
When we say book sales, we mean, 'or equivalent'. Books were not the dominant form of fiction publishing for most of the 19th century. Between 1820 and 1850, working class literacy levels doubled from 30% to 60%, but books were unaffordable for most people. Publishers satisfied the new demand by adapting newspaper wood-pulp and steam-press technologies to make cheap literary periodicals in which novels were published in instalments. Figures for Victorian era book sales are unreliable, but we estimate that literary periodicals accounted for more than 80 percent of the market. Some novelists sold prodigiously in these literary periodicals, but relatively poorly in books. We try to adjust the sales figures accordingly.
Before literary periodicals, fiction fell into one of five foundation genres: 'Realists' established by Henry Fielding, Samuel Richardson and Honoré de Balzac; 'Romances' established by Walter Scott and Jane Austen; 'Adventures' established by Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift; 'Gothic novels' established by Horace Walpole and E T A Hoffman; children's stories established by Arabian Nights, Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm.
Foundation genres were of little interest to the working classes, who were the target audience for literary periodicals. Most foundation genre tales were of convoluted courtships leading to marriage and the acquisition of land. Yawn! Too slow, too dull, and irrelevant to working class lives. Working class readers' wanted thrills, exoticism, sensation and, ideally, a few limbs getting lopped off. Early literary periodicals were therefore packed with shocking true-life stories of murder and disaster, which is why they came to be known as Penny Dreadfuls.
From the mid-1800s, Penny Dreadfuls spawned a clutch of exciting new fiction genres which still dominate fiction publishing today. They are: Science Fiction, established by Jules Verne and H G Wells; private detective fiction by Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and G K Chesterton; procedural detective fiction by Wilkie Collins and Freeman Wills Crofts; action thrillers by Alexandre Dumas, Erskine Childers and John Buchan; psychological thrillers by Dostoyevsky and Joseph Conrad. Meanwhile the foundation genres were modernised: Realists by Dickens and Mark Twain; action Romances by James Fenimore-Cooper, Dumas and Baroness Orczy; romantic Romances by the Brontë sisters and Thomas Hardy; Adventures by Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson and H Rider Haggard; Gothic novels by Sheridan Le Fanu, M R James and Bram Stoker; children's stories by Hans Christian Andersen, Lewis Carroll and Joel Chandler Harris. Just one major genre arrived after the decline of literary periodicals, namely fantasy, established by George MacDonald, Robert E Howard and J R R Tolkien.
We are going to try to measure British novelists' influence on other popular novelists. Our method is to count the self-declared influences by qualifying novelists. We are not interested in the opinions of unsuccessful authors, one hit wonders, or those that write sleaze or trash. Entirely arbitrarily, we will therefore only consider the influences on those novelists that have over 200m book sales (or equivalent) during at least 20 years in at least 20 languages through no more than 200 titles.
British authors to qualify are Agatha Christie (with 3 billion book sales), Charles Dickens (500m equivalent), J K Rowling (475m and counting), Arthur Conan Doyle (400m equivalent), Edgar Wallace (350m equivalent), Jackie Collins (325m), J R R Tolkien (225m) and Roald Dahl (225m). We will add the following Penny Dreadful stars: William Makepiece Thackeray, Robert Louis Stevenson, Wilkie Collins, H G Wells, Joseph Conrad, George Reynolds, H Rider Haggard, Anthony Trollope and Thomas Hardy.
Christie said that her main influences were Poe, Doyle, Chesterton and Anna Katherine Green. Dickens: Victor Hugo, Shakespeare, de Balzac, Scott and Arabian Nights. J K Rowling: Jessica Mitford, Jane Austen, C S Lewis, J R R Tolkien and E Nesbit. Conan Doyle: Poe, Stevenson and Verne. Edgar Wallace: Haggard, Edgar Burroughs and Doyle. Jackie Collins: Dickens and Micky Spillane. Tolkien: George MacDonald, Haggard and Norse/Celtic sagas. Dahl: Dickens, Kipling, C S Forester and Thackeray. Thackeray: Dickens, de Balzac and Jonathan Swift. Stevenson: Dickens, Poe and Scott. Wilkie Collins: Scott, de Balzac and Cooper. Joseph Conrad: Henry James and H G Wells. H G Wells: Verne, Mark Twain and Mary Shelley. Haggard: Stevenson. Reynolds cites Eugène Sue. Hardy: Dickens, Shakespeare and the Brontë sisters.
Foreign authors to qualify through total book sales are: Danielle Steel, Harold Robbins, Georges Simenon, Sidney Sheldon, Theordore Greisel, Leo Tolstoy, Dean Koontz, Alexander Pushkin, Stephen King, Robert Ludlum and John Grisham. To these we will add the foreign novelists mentioned above as having influenced best selling British authors: Verne, Poe, Dumas, Twain, Harris, Howard and Cooper.
Danielle Steel cites Colette and 'the Classics'. Simenon: Freeman Wills Crofts. Sheldon: Dickens, George Bernard Shaw and Thomas Wolfe. Koontz: Stephen King, G K Chesterton, Dickens, Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein. King: Richard Matheson, Poe, Machan, Lovecraft, Tolkien and Bradbury. Grisham: John Steinbeck and John le Carré. Jules Verne: Dumas, Poe, Victor Hugo, Defoe and Cooper. Poe: Dickens and E T A Hoffmann. Dumas: de Balzac, Shakespeare and his father. Twain: Dickens, Cervantes, William Howells and George MacDonald. Harris was a folklorist. Howard: Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Burroughs and Conan Doyle. Cooper: Jane Austen, Scott, de Balzac and Tolstoy.
Note that the main sources of influence are the novelists that established or modernised the fiction genres. Depending on how you look on it, this either reflects the extraordinary inventiveness and quality of writing during the Penny Dreadful era, or the lack of inventiveness since. There have been no significant new fiction genres for fifty years. In our opinion, there will never be another. Almost every globally popular modern novel can trace its influence to Gilgamesh and Homer, through Shakespeare and Cervantes, then through Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift and Samuel Richardson. Their most recent common ancestor is one or more of the thirty novelists that created or established the new/modernised fiction genres. These thirty fit our momentousness criteria of lasting impact because they will always be the ultimate influence on their genre.
Setting a 200 million book sales qualifying limit might seem harsh on novelists that value quality over quantity, or who died young, started late or still write. Actually, the only obvious victims are the Brontë sisters and Ken Follet. The Brontës do not fit our model. They have had enormous collective influence, but each wrote only one major novel and their influence is seldom considered separately, We have disqualified them. We feel less guilty about everyone else. There is a big gap - of 75 million or so - below 225m to eight other British authors. Two of the eight - Roger Hargreaves and Beatrix Potter - were illustrators more than story tellers. Two - Ian Fleming and Alistair MacLean - have not aged well. Three - Lewis Carroll, Rudyard Kipling and C S Lewis - have dropped off reading lists through political incorrectness. That leaves Follet. Much as we enjoy his books, we doubt that they will have direct lasting influence. Below these eight is a big gap to a huge number of novelists, none of which, in our opinion, will have a significant lasting impact.
Movies and TV shows have enormously bigger audiences than books. They can also be repeated frequently and forever. Some of them are influenced by novels. An adaptation might provide ten times more lasting impact than the original book. But it isn't straightforward. Normal length novels are too big for comprehensive adaptation into a movie and too short for easy adaptation into a TV series. Plots tend to age poorly. The narrative style might not convert well onto the screen. Whatever the reason, some screenplays - James Bond and Jungle Book spring to mind - are so different from the original work that the original story becomes little more than a source of snappy names. We are mainly interested in the others, those that are more faithful to the original story.
Successful movie producers and screenwriters, like novelists, tend to get inspiration from other successful storytellers. If a successful movie producer or screenwriter has literary influences or literary inspiration, the novelist's influence will pass down through the generations. This is especially noticeable with movies because the most successful movies tend to be made by a small number of successful production franchises. To see what they are, and what literary influences they might have had, we looked at boxofficemojo's inflation adjusted list of the most successful movies of all-time. Our interest is only in the non-musical dramas, although we do include animations.
The winner, from David O. Selznick's hugely successful production franchise, is 'Gone With The Wind', based on Margaret Mitchell's only published novel. She said that her major literary influences were Edith Nesbit, Dickens and Thomas Dixon.
'Star Wars' is the most successful production franchise. The original movie came second. It has four sequels in the top 20 and four more in the top 100. Remember that Star Wars is also an important source of computer games and merchandise. George Lucas, its creator, says that his inspiration came from Flash Gordon, an early comic superhero, and the space operas of Serviss and Doc Smith. He says that his other main literary influences were Edgar Rice Burroughs, Frank Herbert and Joseph Campbell.
Disney is the second biggest production franchise, mostly through their animations. They have 'Snow White' at 10, '101 Dalmatians' at 12, 'The Lion King' at 19, 'Mary Poppins' at 27, 'The Jungle Book' at 32, 'Sleeping Beauty' at 33, 'Pinocchio' at 41 and 'Bambi' at 50. The first two and last three are reasonably faithful adaptations of stories by the Brothers Grimm, Dodie Smith, Charles Perraud, Carlo Collodi and Felix Salten respectively. The three in the middle are loosely based on stories by Shakespeare, P L Travers and Rudyard Kipling, respectively.
Steven Spielberg is the third major production franchise. He directed 'E.T.' at 4, 'Jaws' at 7, 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' at 21 and 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' at 77. All four, as well as many of his other successful movies, came from his imagination but he says that his big influences were H G Wells, Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke and Robert Heinlein. He also made 'Jurassic Park' at 17 and 'Jurassic World' at 24, both of which are reasonably faithful adaptations of novels by Michael Crichton. Crichton cites his main influences as Doyle, Verne, George Orwell, Twain and Haggard.
James Cameron is the fifth major production franchise, below Selznick. He created, wrote and directed 'Titanic' at 6 and 'Avatar' at 15. He also created, wrote and directed the 'Terminator' movies as well as 'Aliens' and 'The Abyss', all of which were pretty popular even though they didn't make the Top 100. Cameron says that his main literary influences are Tolkien and the science fiction books he read as a child, especially those of Burroughs, Haggard and Wells. He pitched Titanic as 'Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic', with a clear Shakespeare influence.
Marvel superheroes pack out the inflation adjusted list as well as the dollar list. And don't forget Flash Gordon's influence on Star Wars. The first recognisable superheroes appeared in American comic strips in the early 1930s. According to Bryan J Robb in his book about the history of superheroes, they were inspired by novels. He says that trope superpowers were inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs' characters Tarzan and John Carter; meek alter-egos and ingenious escapes were inspired by Baroness Orczy's Scarlet Pimpernel; trope masks and costumes by Johnston McCulley's Zorro; dashing bravery and swashbuckling martial skills by Robin Hood, William Tell, Zorro and Alexandre Dumas's Musketeers.
Three other movie franchises stand out: Harry Potter, Tolkien and James Bond. Eight faithful adaptations of the 'Harry Potter' books, three of the 'The Hobbit' and three of 'The Lord of the Rings' all make it into the Top 100. J K Rowling and J R R Tolkien's influences are mentioned above. Ian Fleming has three of the less faithful James Bond adaptations in the Top 100. His main influences were Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, who in turn cite Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe.
There are some other non-franchise adapted screenplays in the top 30. They are 'Doctor Zhivago' at 8, 'The Exorcist' at 9, 'Ben Hur' at 14, 'The Graduate' at 22, 'The Godfather' at 25. and 'Forrest Gump' at 26. In our opinion, these are triumphs of movie-making rather than literary story-telling. The authors wrote no other successful stories. We doubt they will be remembered for any reason other than their movie adaptations. For the record, the highest non-franchise non-literary non-musical drama is 'Independence Day' at 39.
One factor common to most popular modern movies is that they build towards a thrilling climax where success or failure hang in the balance right to the end. Wikipedia says that this suspense thriller format started with Gilgmesh and Osyssey, followed in the modern era by 'The Count of Monti Cristo'. We can't see it. The heroes of these stories do have an ultimate objective, but the books are structured as a collection of adventure episodes, each of which is too short to build suspese. We moved on fifty years to consider 'Scarlet Pimpernel', 'Kidnapped', 'King Solomon's Mines', 'The Lost World', 'Barsoom' and 'Tarzan'. We think they too are too episodic and heroic to be the forerunners of modern suspense thrillers. Ken Follet says that the first modern suspense thriller was 'Riddle in the Sands' by Erskine Childers. It has the right structure, but the timing is wrong for us. It seems to consist of interminable sailing between islands we have never heard of. In our opinion, the first novel that has the timing and structure to have established the modern suspense thriller (and the modern spy thriller for that matter) is John Buchan's 'The Thirty-Nine Steps'.
What then of TV? Successful TV series have the greatest reach of any cultural form. Once again, TV producers and screenwriters tend to get inspiration from other successful storytellers, so influence can pass down through the generations. Some popular TV series are based on novels or influenced by novelists, although less than you might think. Novels are too short to adapt into a series. Modern novels are inappropriately structured for serialisation, cliff-hanger endings or intermittent breaks. Penny dreadful era novels are more appropriately structured but less relevant to modern lives. Typically, classics aside, a novel's characters and locations are incorporated into new stories written specifically for TV. We will point out where adaptations are more faithful.
The most popular global TV drama of recent times, 'Game of Thrones', is one of those that has been faithfully adapted. The story is much fuller then normal novels because it is based on a pentology. Author George R R Martin says that his influences were Tolkien, Jack Vance, H P Lovecraft, Bernard Cornwell and Dickens.
Most of the other popular recent U.S. TV exports are superheroes (see above) and Gothic dramas. Gothic dramas are about the supernatural: vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies and man-made monsters. These subgenres all have mythological and/or folklore origins. Each subgenre has a famous 'origin' novel. In the case of vampires it was Bram Stoker's Dracula; for man-made monsters it was Mary Shelley's 'Modern Prometheus'; for werewolves it was Guy Endore's 'Werewolf of Paris'; for zombies it was H P Lovecraft's 'Herbert West–Reanimator'; for ghosts it was Sheridan Le Fanu's 'The Watcher'. Most of the subgenres were refined into what we know today by Hammer Films or George A Romero. Each subgenre has at least one hugely popular modern TV series: vampires in 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and 'Vampire Diaries'; werewolves in 'Teen Wolf'; ghosts in 'American Horror Story'; zombies in 'The Walking Dead'; and man-made monsters in 'Westworld'.
Westworld is loosely based on a novel by Michael Crichton, who is mentioned above. Mary Shelley said that her main influences were Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, her novelist parents. Stoker (who was Irish but lived and worked in London) cites Emily Gerard, Sheridan le Fanu, Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde and Irish folklore. Lovecraft cites Poe, Algernon Blackwood, M R James and Arthur Machen. Endore cites Robert Louis Stevenson and Hans Heinz Ewers.
Superheroes and Gothic dramas are distorting the normal pattern of globally popular TV series. We think it is a fad that will be replaced by a resurgence of previously successful TV genres. There was a time when America character dramas about feuding families, ruthless businessmen, politics, power, sex, gangsters or cowboys dominated global TV. We think that time has gone. We guess that if and when the world gets bored with superheroes and the supernatural, they will turn to American Science-Fiction, fantasy, horror, medical drama, crime shows and reality TV.
In the case of Science-Fiction, the models are likely to be 'Star Trek', 'X-Files' and the stories of Michael Crichton. X-Files is based on a screenplay by Chris Carter who cites his literary influences as Lovecraft and Thomas Harris. In the case of fantasy, the model will probably be 'Game of Thrones'. In the case of horror, the original model was 'The Twilight Zone', most of which were written or adapted by Rod Serling and Richard Matheson. Serling says his main influences were Lovecraft, Poe, Hemingway and H G Wells. Matheson said his were Kenneth Roberts, Bram Stoker and Tolkien. We guess they will be influenced by Stephen King novels. Modern American medical dramas tend to be more reality based than literary, although the most popular, 'House', was devised as a medical version of Sherlock Holmes according to creator David Shore. American TV crime shows come in 'cosy', 'hard-boiled', police procedure and reality varieties. For the time being the reality shows dominate. It would come as no surprise to us for the cosy or hard-boiled shows to make a comeback. The former were inspired by G K Chesterton's 'Father Brown' and Dashiell Hammet's 'Thin Man'; the latter by Hammet's 'Continental Op', Hammet's 'Maltese Falcon' and Raymond Chandler's 'Philip Marlow'.
Almost all the globally popular non-American TV dramas are British. The most popular of recent years are 'Sherlock', 'Downton Abbey', 'Night Manager', 'Parade's End', 'Dr Who', 'Luthur', 'Poldark', 'Mr Selfridge', 'Midsomer Murders', 'Poirot' and 'Father Brown'. There is something of Groundhog Day about them. The original Sherlock Holmes was replaced by Miss Marple which was replaced by Morse which was replaced by Poirot which was replaced by the new Sherlock. The original Poldark was replaced by Upstairs, Downstairs which was replaced by Brideshead which was replaced by Downton which was replaced by the new Poldark. And so on.
It seems to us that the world loves British period dramas, bucolic/quirky sleuths and children's stories, but precious little else. Children's stories aside, they derive from novels by Austen, Dickens, the Brontës, Thackeray, Wells, Conan Doyle, Crofts, Chesterton, Christie, le Carré, Greene, Ford and their disciples. We can't see this changing. In terms of influences for authors we have not mentioned already, le Carré cites Graham Greene, P G Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh and Joseph Conrad; Ford Maddox Ford cites Joseph Conrad; Caroline Graham cites Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers.
As promised, we thought about highly acclaimed novels. This is well outside our comfort zone, having not read any highly acclaimed novels since school. We relied on the Nobel committee, a middle-brow survey (Goodread's 'Top 100 literary novels of all time') and a high-brow survey (BBC's 'Greatest British novels' worldwide survey of literary professionals) to get a list of the most acclaimed novelists.
The British Nobel Laureate novelists are Rudyard Kipling, William Golding and John Galsworthy. The overseas ones are Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner, François Mauriac, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Samuel Beckett, Patrick White and Saul Bellow. British authors that did well in the surveys were: George Eliot, Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Thomas Hardy, Evelyn Waugh, J R R Tolkien, Joseph Conrad, E M Forster, Robert Graves, D H Lawrence, William Thackeray, Ford Maddox Ford, Henry Fielding and Graham Greene.
After refreshing our memories by reading the most acclaimed novels from the most acclaimed authors, we looked for their influence on other authors, movies and TV series. It may be just our ignorance, but as far as we can see, it is vague or nothing. Perhaps modernist novels by Steinbeck and Hemingway have had some influence on the grittier TV dramas like 'Breaking Bad', 'Luthur' and 'The Sopranos'. Perhaps Conrad's anti-heroes and dark settings had some influence on anti-superheroes like Batman. Perhaps the 'teen angst' and 'alienation of youth' novels by Salinger and Huxley had some influence on Spiderman and X-Men. Then again, perhaps the superheroes influenced the authors, since they were roughly contemporaneous.
This is all rather dispiriting, but perhaps predictable. In order for a creative work to be popular, it has to appeal to the general public, but the general public is too poorly educated, too thrillseeking and too short of time to get pleasure from deep multifaceted creative works. Professional critics are the reverse. Further, some of the most acclaimed novels - by Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, for instance - have no dialogue and no action, which does not adapt well to TV or movies.
Literary influence comes in chains. We have mentioned the most important direct literary influences above but didn't dig into the indirect influences. For example, Dean Koontz says that his main influence was Stephen King whose main influence was Ray Bradbury whose main influence was H G Wells whose main influence was Jules Verne. We are going to score these indirect influences. The first bunch below are known for their Science-Fiction, adventure and fantasy novels; the second for their detective and spy novels; the third for their romance, character novels and thrillers; the fourth for their child and/or young adult novels.
Jack Vance said that his main influences were Jeffery Farnol and P G Wodehouse. Arthur C Clarke cites Jules Verne, H G Wells and Edgar Rice Buroughs. Robert Heinlein cites H G Wells, Mark Twain, Burroughs, Ayn Rand and Rudyard Kipling. Edgar Rice Burroughs cites Verne, H G Wells, Conan Doyle and Kipling. Ray Bradbury cites George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Edgar Allan Poe and H G Wells. George Orwell cites Aldous Huxley, H G Wells, Dickens, Joseph Conrad, William Somerset-Maughan and Dostoyevsky. Bernard Cornwell cites C S Forester.
Dorothy L Sayers said that her main influences were Chesterton, Wordsworth and Dante. John Buchan cites Conan Doyle and Stevenson. Evelyn Waugh cites Chesterton. Chesterton cites Dickens, Stevenson, MacDonald and Wilkie Collins. Graham Greene cites H Rider Haggard, Henry James and Conrad.
Kenzo Ishiguro says that his main influences are Atwood, Proust and Dostoyesvsky. William Golding cites Jules Verne, H G Wells and Homer. Virginia Woolf cites James Joyce, Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare. E M Forster cites Jane Austen, D H Lawrence and Joseph Conrad. P L Travers cites Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and the Bible. Dodie Smith cites Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. A A Milne cites J M Barrie. C S Lewis cites Tolkien, E Nesbit and George MacDonald. Philip Pullman cites John Milton and William Blake. David Walliams cites Roald Dahl.
One more point about inspiration and influence. We generally use the terms to mean 'the inspiration to write' and 'influence on writing style'. There are two important additional meanings. One is the inspiration to read. After all, every successful author started out as an enthusiastic reader and something inspired them to read when they were young. Until the 1880s it might have been Arabian Nights or the Brothers Grimm, then perhaps Hans Christian Andersen or Joel Chandler Harris, then Beatrix Potter or Enid Blyton. More recently it might have been Roald Dahl or Dr. Suess. The other meaning of influence refers to the ability to get published. Many authors owe their success to other authors, either because they were promoted or mentored, or because they were given money or opportunity to get published. This was especially common during the Penny Dreadful and Net Book Agreement days. We will return to this in the individual blogs.
Our process will be to score momentousness by author. As a nominal base, we will give +0.02 times the cube root of an author's total book sales or its equivalent. For example, the cube root of 100 million is 581 times 0.02 would give score of 11.62. Our other scores are relative to this base. We will give: +3 for each direct major influence on an influential qualifying author and +½ for each indirect major influence; up to +15 for influencing TV adaptations; up to +10 for influencing movie adaptations; up to +10 for influencing computer games; up to +5 for spin-off merchandise; and up to +5 for social legacy. We know these scores are subjective, but it is our list and we think they are fair.
Our scoring system will create a list that is top-heavy with children's authors. In some ways this is fair enough. Children and young adult movies and TV shows are popular with a major section of the population and those that are literary based are dominated by adaptations of British novels. On the other hand, we want a list that reflects consumption. We therefore decided to filter our results according to the five year average of worldwide book sales and worldwide movie boxoffice sales by genre, taken from Nielsen Bookscan and boxofficemojo respectively.
For books: Crime, thrillers and adventures came in with 26% of the market; Science-Fiction, fantasy and horror with 8%; children, 26%; young adults, 13%; leaving general fiction with 27%. For movies: Crime, thrillers and adventures came in with, 25%; Science-Fiction, fantasy and horror, 20%; children, 25%; young adults, 11%; leaving general fiction with 19%. Much the same then. The only significant difference is due to superheroes and space adventures, which are hugely popular in movies and comics, but virtually absent in books.
Fractions are going to make this tricky. We feel like we should be aiming for three children or young-adult writers, one or two Sci-Fi or fantasy writers, two or three detective or adventure writers, and two or three general fiction writers (by which we mean character, social, political, romance or conflict stories). We will announce the position of each author as we come to write their blog.
3. H G Wells
4. J R R Tolkien