Literary Cannon

I just finished watching one of the special features on “Batman,” and one of the people said something that really interested me. He said that because Batman had been around for so long, 65 years at the time this special version of the film was released, and because both batman and his story were recognized by so many people, that Batman, and his comics, HAD to be considered part of the literary cannon. This got me thinking, partly because the issue of what ought to be in the literary cannon and with what standards we judge what ought to belong in nearly every single English course I’ve taken. I love the idea that special features on what many could consider to be a very Hollywood film, one without much educational value, would bring up the issue of what we read and the standards by which we judge if it is “good” or “literary.”

Ha, another special scene clip! This dude taught the first course on comic books at his university, and was told by the dean that they had no academic value what so ever. He got accreditation by showing how the Superman comic had great similarity to the Biblical story of Moses. I can only assume he looked at it from an angle as to how they were born in our society, what their function is, and what we can take away from them.

Hmm…before I saw this second clip I was about to declare I didn’t think Batman ought to be considered part of the literary cannon, but now I’m not so sure. Batman tells the story of overcoming diversity, how one person can look at all the evil in the world, be deeply and profoundly affected by it, and still say, “I am one person, but as one person, I can make a mighty difference.” And he does. I was reading a post on Whitney’s blog about Beowulf recently, talking about taboo and terror. She quotes lines 189-193, which strike me as describing many of the issues Batman confronts.

So that troubled time continued, woe
that never stopped, steady affliction
for Halfdane’s son, too hard an ordeal
There was panic after dark, people endured
raids in the night, riven by terror.

Gothem is plagued by villains, people bent on destroying the city. As soon as the city seems safe, after one villain has been locked away, another appears, bringing with them a seemingly greater threat. At times, the scope of the villainy seems too much for Batman to handle; while he may escape with his life, it frequently seems he alone will not be able to save the city.

So my question now becomes, is Batman indeed a part of the cannon because it is a great literary work in its own right, or should it belong to the cannon because it reinterprets and helps us communicate fears and concerns the human race has had for hundreds of years? I just don’t know.


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