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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 48 | volume IX | May-June,2006



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                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 48May-June,2006
Essays

The art of creating a legend

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Umberto Eco

What distinguishes 'literature' from 'light fiction'? Umberto Eco looks to the past for an answer

    I've read that there have been animated discussions in France over the protests of the town of Villers-Cotteret – the birthplace of Alexandre Dumas – at having the ashes of their author moved to the Panthéon in Paris. I fear that in Italy, many would also protest if this great popular narrator (it's a bit of a stretch to ascribe to him this kind of canonisation) were to be buried next to those who are already canonised by way of scholastic decree. But in truth, we are not the only ones who have a difficult time discriminating between literature and the so-called “light fiction”.
    Certainly, light fiction exists and encompasses mysteries or second-class romance novels, books that are read on the beach, whose only aim is to entertain. These books are not concerned with style or creativity – instead they are successful because they are repetitive and follow a template that readers enjoy.
    If this is the case, then did Dumas aim to write light fiction, or did he not even worry about such things – as some of his critical and controversial writings would suggest? He had “slaves” who helped write numerous books and he wrote lengthily to earn more money. But with some works, he was able to create characters we can define as “legendary,” who populated the collective imagination, and who are copied and retold as happens with such characters of legend and fairy tales.
    Sometimes he succeeded in creating a legend by pure literary ability: The Three Musketeers is quick; it reads like a sheet of jazz music and even when he produces those dialogues, which I have defined as “piecemeal dialogues”: two or three pages of short and unnecessary quips (which he does merely for length), Dumas does it with “boulevardier” grace.
    And what about The Count of Monte Cristo? I have written previously about how once I decided to translate it. I would find phrases such as: “He rose from the chair upon which he was sitting.” Well, which other chair should he have risen from, if not from that upon which he was sitting? All I had to say in my translation was, “He rose from the chair”, or even “He rose”, as it is already clear he was sitting at a table.
    I calculated that I had saved the reader at least 25%






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