Well, I finally did it. I’ve heard about it for years, and I’ve seen it online for lots of money. I’ve read jealously about people who just happen to come across it for ten cents at book sales, and how it’s one of the best pirate romances ever, if not among the best romances period. So I finally caved in. Courtesy of an Amazon gift card, I bought and read Sharon and Tom Curtis’ cult classic, The Windflower.
I don’t know what it says about me that I spent hours wondering whether the book qualifies as a cult classic or classic – but oh well. Not having approached this in any scientific manner whatsoever, I’ve decided it is definitely a cult classic:
- It’s out of print, and expensive. That means supply is low and demand is high. You can’t find a copy on the Web for anything less than $15 for one of the original mass market paperbacks, and while it isn’t the dearest thing out there, it tells me that some people (like me) want it enough to pay heap big money for bits of recycled paper that were originally worth $4.
- It gets extremely positive, but also very selective, word of mouth. The Windflower has had a seesaw standing in the Top 100 Romances at AAR – it fluctuated between #33 and #83 for ten years, then totally dropped out of the top 100 last year. I’m not sure that many people now have heard of The Windflower, let alone Sharon and Tom Curtis. I’d say that’s a sign of a cult classic, not a true classic (whose names more or less never disappear).
- “Weird as fuck.” Okay, so Urban Dictionary is crude, but it gets to the point. A cult classic has its enthusiasts and defenders, whether it’s “so bad it’s good,” or just genuinely “good but unappreciated.” Actually, I think The Windflower is exceptional, not for its premise or character quirks, but because of the gifted hands of its authors, Sharon and Tom Curtis, whose prose is, I think, utterly unique.
To me, a classic is a book that has stood the test of time, and that epitomizes the best qualities of romance novels, a defining exemplar. And hey, popularity can change. Jane Austen only came into public prominence some 50 years after her death; it took Bach 150 years, when Mendelssohn made him cool again. So who knows? Maybe in ten years we’ll see The Windflower in print again.
And you know what? I think I’d go so far as to call The Windflower a personal classic. Yeah, I’d go out on that limb. I don’t think it was perfect, particularly during the last eighty pages which dragged, but I do think that it stands heads and shoulders above most romances in depth of characterization, and especially in the sheer élan and electricity of the writing. You sure as hell don’t see that a lot.
And just for the hell of it, to finish off, here are my top 5 Classic Romances, in no particular order (because no way can I rank them):
- The Windflower, Sharon and Tom Curtis – As explained above.
- Whitney, My Love, Judith McNaught – Okay, it’s not my favourite in the world, but it changed things. Hugely.
- Bet Me, Jennifer Crusie – To me, the epitome of contemporary romance.
- Angels Fall, Nora Roberts – The epitome romantic suspense. When La Roberts is on, she hits it out of the park.
- Dreaming of You, Derek Craven – Possibly one of the first major European Historical romance heroes not to be an aristocrat.
This is where I turn it over to you:
- How do you define a cult classic? A classic?
- What are your Classic Romances?
- Jean AAR