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Mark Twain vs. Charles Dickens! Who Was the Greatest Writer of All Time?

September 11, 2011
Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Charles Dickens. Is he the greatest writer of all time? Perhaps! Image via Wikipedia

Anti-Stratfordian Mark Twain, wrote "Is S...

Or maybe it was Mark Twain! Image also via Wikipedia

HOW DID WE DETERMINE THE TOP 2?

There is no perfect method to figuring out who is the greatest writer of all time.  I didn’t want to put it to a vote because it would have taken too long, and there are far too many of those 64 option brackets going around nowadays; it’s become trite.  Putting together a bracket where the winner of Jules Verne vs. H.G. Wells meets up against the winner of Leo Tolstoy vs. Fyodor Dostoyevsky would have been a disaster on so many levels.  To avoid that, I found a scientific method to narrow the choices.

I counted author titles in Classics Illustrated comic books.  A book can’t be considered a classic if Classics Illustrated never made its own version, so I gathered my collection (please don’t ask why I just happened to have a collection lying around) and counted books per author.  That narrowed the selection to five prolific authors.  Below I list the honorable mentions and why they didn’t make the FINAL CUT.

HONORABLE MENTION

  1.  God- The Bible- Yeah, Classics Illustrated never made a version of The Bible (at least it’s not in our collection).  We feel kind of funny giving God “Honorable Mention,” but he does have an unfair advantage over the other more mortal authors.  We want to at least acknowledge God and hope God understands… please.
  2. William Shakespeare- Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, Taming of the Shrew- Are you kidding me?  The only reason Shakespeare didn’t make the final cut was because he wrote plays.  Yeah, if he had written Spider-Man the musical, it would have been awesome, but playwriting (as difficult as it is) leaves out narration, a crucial component when being considered a candidate for BEST WRITER EVER!  If he had written a few novels, perhaps he’d win.  Maybe his estate can magically find a few lying around.
  3. Alexandre Dumas- The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Corsican Brothers-  It’s too bad he was French.  Unfortunately, the books were written in French and had to be translated, so we cannot judge the quality of wordsmanship.  Yeah, that’s unfair to foreign books, but other countries can make their own lists.
  4. Jules Verne- Twenty Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in 80 Days, A Journey To the Center of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, The Mysterious Island- Great science fiction, but science fiction is too small a niche (and then there’s that translation thing again).
  5. H.G. Wells-  The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, Food of the Gods, Island of Dr. Moreau, The First Men in the Moon, In the Days of the Comet, and a bunch of really intellectual stuff-  Again, science fiction is a small niche, and his books (by today’s standards) are incredibly boring.

WHY AREN’T ANY RECENT AUTHORS BEING CONSIDERED?

First of all, no recent authors have Classics Illustrated comic books based on their novels.  Second of all, I don’t know if any modern authors will still be read 50 years from now.  Will readers three generations from now say, “Heeeeere’s Johnny,” and automatically associate it with The Shining?

Yeah, I know it’s from the movie, not the book.

MARK TWAIN vs. CHARLES DICKENS

The title of this article kind of spoiled the suspense, so let’s rate our two of the finest authors of all time.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL- BEST STORY EVER!

A Christmas Carol is probably the best story ever written.  Not only is it a great story, but it was one of the most influential stories of all time.  However, it has Christmas in the title, and that cannot be overlooked when determining the GREATEST WRITER OF ALL TIME!  At a time when we must be sensitive to everybody’s religion, or lack thereof, we must hesitate to reward someone who wrote a story with such overtly religious overtones.  No, the story is not really about Christmas.  Yes, the themes in the story are deep.  Yes, this is probably the most referenced/parodied/borrowed from story of all time.  But Dickens put the word Christmas in it, and an author with his foresight should have recognized that you must not offend anybody’s religious belief when writing the most influential narrative of all time.

THE MUSICALS

Oliver  (based on a Charles Dickens novel) is a waaaayyyy better musical than Tom Sawyer (based on a Mark Twain novel), but judging a novel by its musical is like judging a college football player’s career by what he did in the NFL, and that is not allowed.  Dickens’ status as a writer would be upgraded because of the Oliver musical, but I don’t know about musicals, so Dickens might actually be downgraded here except it wasn’t his fault that his book was made into a popular musical.

MARK TWAIN vs. SAMUEL CLEMENS

Mark Twain had a cool pen name… or Samuel Clemens had a cool pen name.  Pen names are cool.     Charles Dickens didn’t have a pen name, and with a last name like Dickens, he should have.  Dickens.  Ha ha.

WHOSE BOOKS ARE EASIER TO READ?

Um, well, I can finish Mark Twain books way more easily than I can finish most Charles Dickens books.  Great Expectations, I’m sure it’s great (it’s in the title), but I have never been able to… uh…  The worst part is that I can’t blame it on a poor translation.

THE SECOND BEST OPENING LINE EVER!!

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Only “Call me Ishmael” stands out as a better first sentence in a novel, and that’s (maybe) debatable.

TWAIN’S GREATEST ACHIEVEMENTS

Tom Sawyer- The scene where Tom Sawyer convinces everybody else to paint the fence for him is one of the BEST SCENES EVER!  And the trick can actually work.

Huckleberry Finn- Yes, the novel has n-words, but at least that makes it relevant today (see Dysfunctional Literacy’s article “Huckleberry Finn, An Old Book with N-Words” http://dysfunctionalliteracy.com/2011/05/08/an-old-book-with-n-words/ ).

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court- A premise that gets ripped off almost as much as A Christmas Carol.

The Prince and the Pauper- When Disney makes a Mickey Mouse version, you know you’ve arrived.

DICKENS’S GREATEST ACHIEVEMENTS

A Christmas Carol- Scrooge Duck, Bill Murray, Patrick Stewart, and a bunch of old actors whose names I can’t remember.  BEST STORY OF ALL TIME!!

Great Expectations- At over 600 pages, the only expectation I have is that I will never finish it.

Oliver Twist-  “May I please have some more?”  It’s not as enduring as “Thank you, sir.  May I have another?” but for a musical, it’s remarkably memorable.

A Tale of Two Cities- If this book had been about 150 pages longer, I probably never would have finished it.

Hard Times- It’s supposed to be great, but I know I’ll never read it.

FINAL VERDICT

When you have an awesome responsibility like choosing the best writer ever, you have to put your own biases aside.  Yes, Mark Twain is an American writer.  Yes, Mark Twain is easier for me to read.  But even I have to recognize that Charles Dickens wrote the BEST STORY EVER!  And that Charles Dickens also wrote the SECOND BEST OPENING LINE EVER!  And that Charles Dickens also wrote a book that became one of the most popular musicals ever!  And that Charles Dickens wrote a bunch of books that are highly regarded even though I’ve never read them.

Therefore, as much as it may dismay me because I really like Mark Twain, I must declare that Charles Dickens is the GREATEST WRITER OF ALL TIME!

*****

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