Poems, plays, stories and other written works that people read over and over again are called literature. Literature can make us think or make us laugh or cry. Literature can entertain us and teach us at the same time. Literature never gets old. Some great poems and plays were written more than 2500 years ago, yet seem fresh and new.
There are three main kinds of literature: poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.
Poetry: poetry is usually not written the way people normally speak. Poems often have special rhythms. Words at the end of lines may rhyme with each other. Poets use language in new ways. They say things in ways that people can easily remember.
Poems that tell a story are called narrative poems. They can be as long as a book. A few long narrative poems have been remembered for hundreds of years. Nearly 3000 years ago, a poet named Homer composed a very long poem called the Iliad. It tells the story of the war between Greece and the city of Troy. Homer used the ancient Greek language, but the Iliad has been translated into many other languages, including English.
Another long narrative poem, called Beowulf, was written in England around the year 600.
Short poems that describe the thoughts and feelings of the poet are called lyric poems. Lyric poems are sometimes like songs without music.
Fiction: Works of fiction are stories that writers make up, usually from their own imaginations. Even if part of a story is about real people, the storyteller imagines what they do and what they are thinking.
Almost every work of fiction has four basic things: characters, plot, theme and style. The characters are the people in the story. The plot is what happens in the story. The theme is the main idea the writer had, perhaps the reason he or she thought up the story. The style is the way the writer tells the story. There are many kinds of fiction. The three main kinds of fiction are drama, novels, and short stories.
A drama is a short story that is meant to be performed as a play by actors. A play is a story told by actors. The story and characters are often made up. Some plays are about real and real events. The actors dress in the costumes, wear make up, and usually perform on a stage in a theatre. Plays are a lot of fun to put on and to perform in. Watching a play can show you how different people live, or even help you understand your own life better.
Some of the earliest plays we know about were written by the ancient Greeks more than 2500 years ago. Plays have changed very little over the years.
The ancient Greeks wrote and performed two kinds of plays-tragedy and comedy.
Tragedy: A tragedy is a serious play that ends unhappily for the characters. In Macbeth, a play by William Shakespeare, a nobleman named Macbeth is told by three witches that he will be a king. Macbeth wants to be king so much that he and his wife murder the king. The king's son flees, and Macbeth becomes king, just as the witches had predicted. But after the murder, life for Macbeth is miserable. In the end, he loses his kingdom, his wife kills herself, and he is killed.
The first writers of tragedy were the ancient Greeks. Their stories were about the kings and queens of the Greek city-states. The greatest tragedies in English are those of Shakespeare.
Comedy: A television show, film, or play that makes people laugh and feel happy is called a comedy. Comedy is also the name for play that has a happy ending.
Story Comedies: Some of the earliest comedies we know about are plays written by Greek playwrights more than 2000 years ago.
Today, television comedy shows that tell a story are called situation comedies or sitcoms. They make people laugh by putting the story's characters in funny situations. The characters get into all kinds of trouble, but the shows end happily. Everything turns out for the best.
In films and plays, comedies usually have happy endings, too. A romantic comedy is about people in love. In the beginning, a boy and girl fall in love. In the middle, they are kept apart by some problem of mix up. But in the end, they get back together.
The story comedies we usually find funniest are about people like ourselves, who have problems like our own. When the characters do silly things, we remember silly things we have done or wanted to do in the same kind of situation. When we laugh at the character, we are also laughing at ourselves. And when the happy ending finally comes, we are happy, too. We have laughed at our own problems and seen them get solved by people not much different from us. Comedy reminds us that it is possible to laugh at ourselves. It helps us not to take ourselves and our problems too seriously. It teaches us that our problems may have a lighter side. Perhaps, most important, it gives us a chance to have fun together.
Novels: A novel is a long story, usually with many characters and complicated plot. It is not written in verse, and it is not meant to be performed by actors. But many novels have been made into films later.
People have been reading novels since the 1700s. one early novel. Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe is about a man shipwrecked on an island for 24 years. It is one of the most popular books ever written in English.
Since Defoe's time, thousands of novels have been written in English, and thousands more in other languages. In the 1800s, great novels were written in Russia, France, England and the United States.
There are several different kinds of novels. Gothic novels are stories of mystery and horror. A very famous early Gothic novel was Frankenstein, which was written in 1818 by Mary Shelley. Many later novels and stories have used this idea about a creature created by a mad scientist.
Science fiction: Novels are about imaginary events that happen in the future or on other planets or worlds.
Mystery novels: Are favorites of some readers. In a mystery novel, a crime has been committed, and a character in the story must find out who did it. Sherlock Holmes, the first famous detective, was the hero of mysteries written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Short stories: Are shorter than novels. Some are only a few pages long. Sometimes they are like fables. they have morals or lessons. Sometimes they are like fairy tales.
Fairy tales: Are stories that were told by people for hundreds of years, even before there was writing. Parents told the stories to their children. The children told the stories to their children, and so on. Often a fairy tale tells about a prince or a princess who is growing up. It may have dwarfs, witches, and magic. Some other short stories tell how people live and think today. In fact, many science fiction stories are really about how today's world is shaping the future.
Non-fiction: Non-fiction is about real events and people, not imaginary ones. One kind of non-fiction is biography- the story of a person's life. Most biographies are about famous men or women. When a person writes the story of his or her own life, the book is called autobiography telling events as they happen, day by day.
Other non-fiction writing includes essays, and speeches. An essay is usually a short piece that the writer gives thoughts or opinions about some subject. Essays are like conversation. A good essay is entertaining and interesting even if you disagree with the writer.
Literature helps the reader think about important subjects. Most of all, it can take us on a trip to the other places, past and future-even when we are sitting at home.