Stan Lee deserves the Nobel Prize in Literature. I don’t say this lightly nor to shock, I say this because I believe it in my heart and I know that others will too. Stan Lee’s contribution to story-telling and Western culture has been undeniable, but he is often overlooked as being just a comic book writer, not a real writer. People expect Nobel Prize winners to write literary fiction, poetry or historical texts that expose previously undiscovered information, but this isn’t always the case. In 2016 Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature ‘for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.’ Has Stan Lee not created a new dynamic expression within the great comic tradition? Did his works not breathe fresh life into comics? Did he not challenge the comic industry’s censorship? Did this not flow into other forms of story-telling? In the Fantastic Four Stan Lee began using more casual dialogue than comics had previously. The heroes weren’t always proper and formal, but real and at times funny, this has been adopted by the next generation of writers who have relied on more realistic dialogue rather than a stiff upper lip. Characters are now far more relatable to readers.
As early as 1908 the Nobel Prize in Literature broke from poets and authors and named Rudolf Christoph Eucken their laureate for his works in philosophy. The prize was ‘in recognition of his earnest search for truth, his penetrating power of thought, his wide range of vision, and the warmth and strength in his numerous works he has vindicated and developed an idealistic philosophy of life.’ A beautiful sentiment and one that also applies to Stan Lee. Through his work in Spiderman Stan Lee began drawing real world problems into his comics. Spiderman had deal with anger, responsibility, impressing other teens and also doing the right thing. His youthful exuberance leapt off the page. There was a lot of humour but there was a real depth in the exploration of how and why we do the right thing and how and why we can be corrupted. Villains weren’t just some maniacal entity totally separate from us good people as had been previously depicted, but a potential part of all of us that we had to choose to be better than.
1936 saw Eugene O’Neill awarded the prize for his plays ‘for the power, honesty and deep-felt emotions of his dramatic works, which embody an original concept of tragedy.’ Stan Lee reinvigorated the classical portrayal of tragedy. His characters are larger than life with powers beyond that of regular mortals and as such when they fail there is often massive collateral damage. These heroes are forced to atone and continue on in the face of torture, loss, and grief. And Lee not only depicts tragedy as that of hero versus villain but also hero versus self. The hero that has been hurt and wanting to lash out needing to decide what is right and if they will do it. It is something that each and every one of us faces every day. Do we react with pettiness or do we do better.
In 2005 Harold Pinter won not only because of his theatrical plays but also his screenplays. Yes, the silver screen has been represented in the Nobel Prize in Literature, they have recognized modern and visual story-telling as valuable. Of Pinter it was said, ‘who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression’s closed rooms.’ The X-Men would be one of Lee’s most famous examples of scrutinizing oppression. Each side has their own prejudices, and each side has their defectors. It isn’t simply mutants taking on nonmutants but humanity in general recoiling from what is different from them. And then the divide within the mutant community as to should they do the right thing and use their powers to help humanity or give the humans what they deserve for treating those that are different so cruelly. Mutants, nonmutants, there are good and bad characters in both camps. This is an insight into who and what we are, not merely a fantastical story with awesome characters.
Short story writers have even gotten a look in courtesy of Alice Munro in 2013. Other short story writers had been awarded but it was also for their novels. Munro was the first to be recognized as ‘master of the contemporary short story.’ Different forms and lengths are being constantly recognized in the Nobel Prize, isn’t it time that comic books writers and graphic novelists got a look in? Don’t you think it’s time for Stan Lee to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature? I do.
This year, the hauntingly brilliant Kazuo Ishiguro was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The reason – ‘who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusionary sense of connection with the world.’ Ishiguro is a master of building in metaphor upon realism to give a giant that represents the human existence. His excellence is not in question. His deservingness of the prize is not in question, but I would argue that Stan Lee is also deserving. Perhaps 2018 should be his year. The person who takes toxic waste and mutant genes and uses that to make us understand what it is to feel different and yet be the same. The person who makes us not only embrace the other but to believe in them and root for them. The person who makes us recognize the bigotry in ourselves and want to be better. Give Stan Lee the Nobel Prize in Literature, please. Plus, it’d give us geeks a sense of pride and belonging too. It’d make us feel like our stories mattered.
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See the list of past Nobel Prize in Literature recipients here
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