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The Art and Culture of Formula Literature: An Analysis of Adventure, Mystery, and Romance



Cawelti Adventure Mystery and Romance PDF 65: A Review of a Classic Book on Popular Literature




If you are interested in popular literature, you may have heard of John G. Cawelti's Adventure, Mystery, and Romance, a seminal work that offers a general theory for the analysis of popular literary formulas. In this article, I will review this book and explain why it is still relevant and important today.




cawelti adventure mystery and romance pdf 65



Introduction




What is popular literature? How can we understand its appeal and function in our culture? How can we appreciate its artistic qualities and evaluate its merits? These are some of the questions that John G. Cawelti tries to answer in his book Adventure, Mystery, and Romance, published in 1976 by The University of Chicago Press.


What is the book about?




The book is divided into two parts. The first part, titled "The Study of Literary Formulas", introduces Cawelti's main concepts and methods for analyzing popular literature. He defines formulas as "the means by which certain types of stories with certain types of characters are told" (p. 5). He distinguishes formulas from genres, which are broader categories that include different types of formulas, and from archetypes, which are universal patterns of human experience that underlie formulas and genres. He also discusses the artistic characteristics of formula literature, such as its use of conventions, stereotypes, variations, and innovations, and its relation to culture, such as its reflection of social values, myths, and fantasies.


Why is it important and relevant?




The book is important and relevant for several reasons. First, it is one of the first and most comprehensive attempts to provide a general theory for the study of popular literature, a field that has often been neglected or dismissed by literary critics. Cawelti argues that popular literature deserves serious attention and respect, not only because of its popularity and influence, but also because of its artistic achievements and cultural significance. Second, the book is rich in examples and insights, drawing from a wide range of popular literary works, such as Mario Puzo's The Godfather, Dorothy Sayers's The Nine Tailors, and Owen Wister's The Virginian. Cawelti demonstrates how to apply his theory to different types of formulas and genres, and how to appreciate their aesthetic and social aspects. Third, the book is still relevant today, as popular literature continues to evolve and diversify, creating new formulas and genres, such as fantasy, science fiction, horror, thriller, romance, etc. Cawelti's theory can help us understand the appeal and function of these new forms of popular literature, as well as their relation to the older ones.


The Study of Literary Formulas




In this part of the book, Cawelti explains his main concepts and methods for analyzing popular literature. He defines formulas as "the means by which certain types of stories with certain types of characters are told" (p. 5). He distinguishes formulas from genres, which are broader categories that include different types of formulas, and from archetypes, which are universal patterns of human experience that underlie formulas and genres. He also discusses the artistic characteristics of formula literature, such as its use of conventions, stereotypes, variations, and innovations, and its relation to culture, such as its reflection of social values, myths, and fantasies.


What are formulas, genres, and archetypes?




Cawelti defines formulas as "the means by which certain types of stories with certain types of characters are told" (p. 5). He argues that formulas are based on the recognition and repetition of certain patterns of action and character that appeal to the readers' expectations and emotions. For example, in the formula of the classical detective story, we expect to find a clever detective who solves a puzzling crime by using rational methods and clues. In the formula of the western story, we expect to find a heroic cowboy who faces various challenges and conflicts in the frontier. Formulas are not fixed or rigid; they can vary and change according to different authors' styles and preferences.


Cawelti distinguishes formulas from genres, which are broader categories that include different types of formulas. For example, the genre of mystery includes various formulas, such as the classical detective story, the hard-boiled detective story, the spy story, etc. Genres are based on the recognition and repetition of certain themes or topics that appeal to the readers' interests and curiosity. For example, in the genre of mystery, we are interested in finding out who committed the crime and how it was done.


Cawelti also distinguishes formulas from archetypes, which are universal patterns of human experience that underlie formulas and genres. For example, the archetype of the quest is a basic pattern that can be found in many formulas and genres, such as adventure stories, romance stories, fantasy stories, etc. Archetypes are based on the recognition and repetition of certain symbols or images that appeal to the readers' imagination and subconscious. For example, in the archetype of the quest , we are drawn to the symbolism of the journey , the hero , the obstacle , the reward , etc.


What are the artistic characteristics of formula literature?




Cawelti discusses four main artistic characteristics of formula literature: conventions, stereotypes, variations, and innovations. Conventions are the rules or norms that govern the structure and style of formula literature. They help create a sense of familiarity and coherence for the readers. For example, in the convention of the happy ending, we expect that the hero will overcome all difficulties and achieve his or her goal. Stereotypes are the simplified or exaggerated representations of characters, settings, or situations in formula literature. They help create a sense of contrast and excitement for the readers. For example, in the stereotype of the villain, we encounter a character who is evil, cruel, and ruthless. Variations are the changes or modifications that authors make to the formulas to create interest and novelty for the readers. They can involve altering or combining different elements of the formulas, such as characters, settings, plots, themes, etc. For example, in the variation of the historical detective story, we find a detective who solves crimes in a specific historical period, such as Sherlock Holmes in Victorian England. Innovations are the creative and original contributions that authors make to the formulas to create new forms and meanings for the readers. They can involve introducing new elements or perspectives to the formulas, such as themes, styles, techniques, etc. For example, in the innovation of the metafictional detective story, we find a detective who is aware of his or her fictional status and comments on the conventions of the genre, such as Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy.


How do formulas relate to culture?




Cawelti argues that formulas relate to culture in two main ways: they reflect and they shape culture. On one hand, formulas reflect culture by expressing the values, beliefs, myths, and fantasies of a particular society or group. For example, the formula of the western story reflects the American culture of individualism, freedom, and frontier spirit. On the other hand, formulas shape culture by influencing the attitudes, behaviors, and expectations of the readers. For example, the formula of the romance story shapes the culture of love and marriage by presenting idealized models of relationships and partners.


The Typology of Literary Formulas




In this part of the book, Cawelti presents his typology of literary formulas, which is based on five main types: adventure, romance, mystery, melodrama, and alien beings or states. He defines each type and gives examples of their subtypes and variations. He also discusses their cultural functions and psychological bases.


What are the main types of formulas?




Adventure




Cawelti defines adventure as "a story in which an individual hero or group of heroes is involved in a series of thrilling events that are set in exotic locations" (p. 39). He identifies four subtypes of adventure: quest, voyage and return, heroic monomyth, and institutionalized adventure. He also mentions some variations of adventure, such as historical adventure, fantasy adventure, and science fiction adventure.


The cultural function of adventure is to provide a sense of excitement and escape from the routine and constraints of everyday life. The psychological basis of adventure is the desire for exploration and achievement.


Romance




Cawelti defines romance as "a story which focuses on a love relationship between two people" (p. 103). He identifies three subtypes of romance: courtly love, sentimental love, and erotic love. He also mentions some variations of romance, such as gothic romance, historical romance, and paranormal romance.


The cultural function of romance is to provide a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in love and relationships. The psychological basis of romance is the need for intimacy and affection.


Mystery




Cawelti defines mystery as "a story which focuses on a crime or puzzle that is solved by a process of investigation" (p. 141). He identifies two subtypes of mystery: classical detective story, and hard-boiled detective story. He also mentions some variations of mystery, such as spy story, thriller, and cozy mystery.


The cultural function of mystery is to provide a sense of order and justice in a chaotic and uncertain world. The psychological basis of mystery is the curiosity and rationality.


Melodrama




Cawelti defines melodrama as "a story which focuses on a conflict between good and evil characters that is resolved by a violent or sensational action" (p. 197). He identifies two subtypes of melodrama: traditional melodrama, and social melodrama. He also mentions some variations of melodrama, such as horror, western, and crime.


The cultural function of melodrama is to provide a sense of moral and emotional catharsis in a complex and ambiguous world. The psychological basis of melodrama is the fear and anger.


Alien Beings or States




Cawelti defines alien beings or states as "a story which focuses on a confrontation between human and nonhuman or supernatural entities or realities" (p. 241). He identifies three subtypes of alien beings or states: fantasy, science fiction, and horror. He also mentions some variations of alien beings or states, such as utopia, dystopia, and cyberpunk.


The cultural function of alien beings or states is to provide a sense of wonder and imagination in a mundane and limited world. The psychological basis of alien beings or states is the creativity and transcendence.


The Mythology of Crime and Its Formulaic Embodiments




In this part of the book, Cawelti analyzes the literature of crime, which he considers as one of the most popular and influential forms of popular literature. He focuses on two main formulas: the classical detective story and the hard-boiled detective story. He also discusses the new formula of crime that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, exemplified by Mario Puzo's The Godfather.


How does the book analyze the literature of crime?




The Godfather and the new formula




Cawelti argues that The Godfather represents a new formula of crime that differs from the classical and hard-boiled detective stories in several ways. First, it focuses on the criminals rather than the detectives, and presents them as sympathetic and complex characters. Second, it depicts the crime world as a parallel society with its own rules and values, rather than as a deviant or marginal phenomenon. Third, it explores the themes of family, loyalty, power, and corruption, rather than the themes of puzzle, justice, or violence. Fourth, it uses a realistic and historical style, rather than a stylized or fictional one.


The cultural function of popular crime formulas




Cawelti argues that popular crime formulas have a cultural function that relates to the mythology of crime in our society. He defines mythology as "a system of stories that express a culture's basic values and attitudes" (p. 71). He suggests that the mythology of crime in our culture is based on two contradictory attitudes: on one hand, we condemn crime as immoral and illegal; on the other hand, we admire crime as adventurous and rebellious. Popular crime formulas help us reconcile these contradictory attitudes by presenting different aspects of crime in different ways. For example, the classical detective story emphasizes the rationality and morality of law and order; the hard-boiled detective story emphasizes the brutality and corruption of crime and society; the new formula emphasizes the complexity and ambiguity of crime and human nature.


The Formula of the Classical Detective Story




In this part of the book, Cawelti analyzes the formula of the classical detective story, which he considers as one of the most popular and influential forms of popular literature. He discusses its patterns, cultural background, artistic problems and successes, relation to other literary genres, and future prospects.


What are the patterns and cultural background of the classical detective story?




Cawelti identifies four main patterns of the classical detective story: (1) a puzzling crime that challenges the reader's intellect; (2) a clever detective who solves the crime by using rational methods and clues; (3) a loyal companion who assists and admires the detective; (4) a satisfying solution that restores order and justice. He argues that these patterns reflect the cultural background of the classical detective story, which emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when science, reason, and progress were dominant values in Western society.


What are the artistic problems and successes of the genre?




Cawelti identifies three main artistic problems of the classical detective story: (1) how to balance the intellectual and emotional appeal of the story; (2) how to maintain the credibility and consistency of the plot and the clues; (3) how to avoid repetition and monotony of the formula. He argues that these problems can be solved by various artistic techniques, such as creating interesting and distinctive characters, using humor and irony, introducing subplots and themes, etc. He evaluates the works of different authors of the genre, such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Georges Simenon, and shows how they succeed or fail in solving these problems.


How does the classical detective story relate to other literary genres?




Cawelti argues that the classical detective story relates to other literary genres in two main ways: (1) it influences and is influenced by other genres; (2) it incorporates and adapts elements from other genres. For example, he shows how the classical detective story influences and is influenced by genres such as the historical novel, the spy story, the thriller, etc. He also shows how the classical detective story incorporates and adapts elements from genres such as the comedy of manners, the Gothic novel, the romance, etc.


The Hard-Boiled Detective Story




In this part of the book, Cawelti analyzes the formula of the hard-boiled detective story, which he considers as another popular and influential form of popular literature. He discusses its differences from the classical detective story, its patterns, cultural background, and artistic evaluation.


How does the hard-boiled detective story differ from the classical one?




Cawelti identifies four main differences between the hard-boiled detective story and the classical one: (1) it focuses on action rather than puzzle; (2) it features a tough and cynical detective rather than a clever and rational one; (3) it depicts a corrupt and violent society rather than a civilized and orderly one; (4) it uses a realistic and colloquial style rather than a stylized and formal one.


What are the patterns and cultural background of the hard-boiled detective story?




Cawelti identifies four main patterns of the hard-boiled detective story: (1) a complex and dangerous case that involves the detective personally; (2) a series of violent confrontations between the detective and various criminals; (3) a femme fatale who seduces and betrays the detective; (4) a bleak and ambiguous resolution that leaves the detective disillusioned and alienated. He argues that these patterns reflect the cultural background of the hard-boiled detective story, which emerged in the 1920s and 1930s, when capitalism, urbanization, and crime were dominant realities in American society.


How does the book evaluate the works of Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane?




Cawelti evaluates the works of three major authors of the hard-boiled detective story: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Mickey Spillane. He argues that Hammett is the founder and innovator of the formula, who created a realistic and complex portrayal of the crime world and the detective's role in it. He argues that Chandler is the stylist and romanticizer of the formula, who added a poetic and moral dimension to the crime world and the detective's character. He argues that Spillane is the sensationalizer and vulgarizer of the formula, who exaggerated and distorted the violence and sexuality of the crime world and the detective's attitude.


The Western: A Look at the Evolution of a Formula




In this part of the book, Cawelti analyzes the formula of the western story, which he considers as another popular and influential form of popular literature. He traces its history from its origins to its current trends, and discusses its patterns, cultural functions, and psychological bases.


How does the book trace the history of the western formula?




Cawelti traces the history of the western formula by identifying six main stages: (1) Cooper and the beginnings of the western formula; (2) Nick of the Woods and the dime novel; (3) Wister's Virginian and the modern western; (4) Zane Grey and W. S. Hart: The romantic western of the 1920s; (5) The classic western: John Ford and others; (6) The Jewish cowboy, the black avenger, and the return of the vanishing American: Current trends in the formula.


Cooper and the beginnings of the western formula




Cawelti argues that James Fenimore Cooper is the originator of the western formula, who created a realistic and romantic portrayal of the frontier and its heroes. He argues that Cooper's works, such as The Last of the Mohicans, established the basic elements of the western formula, such as the setting, the characters, the themes, and the conflicts.


Nick of the Woods and the dime novel




Cawelti argues that Robert Montgomery Bird's Nick of the Woods and the dime novel are the successors and popularizers of the western formula, who created a sensational and violent portrayal of the frontier and its villains. He argues that Bird's work, published in 1837, introduced the stereotype of the Indian as a savage and bloodthirsty enemy, and the theme of revenge as a motive for action. He argues that the dime novel, which flourished from the 1860s to the 1890s, expanded and exaggerated these elements, and added new ones, such as the cowboy, the outlaw, and the gunfighter.


Wister's Virginia


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