When we think of great writers, some of the names that come to mind might be Jane Austen, George Orwell or J.R.R Tolkien. They’re writers that not only impacted their respective genres but helped form the basis for what defines the genre. Once you’ve read Jane Austen, you’ll see everything even vaguely romantic takes its structure from her work. George Orwell is one of the most unique voices in speculative fiction, and even writers of modern speculative fiction like Margaret Atwood revere him as a figurehead in the genre. You’ll almost never see a fantasy book that doesn’t have an elven or dwarfish race – two of the most prolific in the Lord of the Rings universe.
Regardless, to be considered among one of the greats a writer has to have significantly influenced their genre. This isn’t, say, an artist that has made a splash in their genre. It is someone who is always going to be talked about if the genre comes up in conversation. And while there are many classically great writers, today we are talking about contemporary greats. These are writers that have come up with the rise of sub-genres and new forms of writing that are pivotal in their respective fields.
The first one I want to talk about is J. K. Rowling. Rowling is, without a doubt, the most influential young adult fiction writer to date. The sub-genre has exploded, with authors like Stephanie Meyer and Sarah J. Maas right behind her, but J. K. Rowling has built a veritable empire off of the Harry Potter series. I’m going to cop so much hate saying this, but I was never a Harry Potter kid. I tried, but it didn’t stick. But I cannot deny the power that the series has, even to this day. It isn’t a YA book, it is THE YA book. It has cast spin-offs like Fantastic Beasts, you can find merchandise without even really trying to look, everyone knows their house (I’m a Slytherin). It’s both justifiably mainstream and a cult classic to people who are a part of the fanbase and who go to extreme lengths to keep producing content outside of what J. K. Rowling is producing. I think that the fandom is what defines a contemporary great. Whilst the classically great writers have their pieces appreciated as works of art, contemporary greats are defined by creating their own culture and, whilst they are still appreciated as works of art, it is an open dialogue between audience and creator.
The other contemporary great I want to talk about is the late Stan Lee. From his more humble beginnings as a comic-book writer for early Marvel to his work into establishing the empire that Marvel is today, the man left his mark on the modern graphic novel and modern film. While there are so many characters now in the Marvel universe, it will always be the Stan Lee cameo in the Marvel films that made the Marvel films. He was the face of one of the largest comic book empires, to the point where it got incorporated into Disney which is one of the largest empires of the modern age. What Stan Lee did in his lifetime warrants him a seat at the table of great writers. And, much like J. K. Rowling, Stan Lee’s Marvel now has a diehard fanbase as well as huge mainstream and casual appeal. I wasn’t a comic book kid either (I know, what was I even into?), but I still try and see most of the Marvel movies that come out each year. He, as much as J. K. Rowling, has been a part of the younger generation’s childhood, and we aren’t going to forget him any time soon. Once again, it is that level of fandom that really elevated Stan Lee’s Marvel to a level of greatness that put him at the top of the genre and I’m sure he’ll be talked about in years to come.
Now, this was designed as a tribute post to Stan Lee who, unfortunately, passed away the day before this post was published. It is always sad to see a great writer leave us, but he has a legacy that will last him many lifetimes and he will go down in history as one of the pivotal figures in the graphic novel and cinema genres. We at Quill Inkers would like to pay our respects to Mr Lee for all the work he’s done in the literary community and appreciate that, without him, we probably wouldn’t have such a diverse range of mainstream literature today. We will miss him.