Online Degree Navigator Book Review:

Frye, Northrop. 1964. The Educated Imagination. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

The Educated Imagination by Northrop Frye was published in 1964, but like any great book, the writing is timeless.  Writing, like any other discipline, must be informed by what has come before. You wouldn’t start a student in algebra if they’ve never learned how to add or accomplished their times tables. For some reason, since people are fluent (although, maybe not an elegant speaker, or know the technical rules of grammar) in the English language, they think they can write, and write well.

This is the furthest thing from the truth. To be a good writer, you need to be an educated reader. It’s also interesting to note that literacy takes precedence over every subject of study. So we find ourselves in the unique situation of having to be fluent in reading and writing in our mother tongue in order to learn anything at all, but knowing English (or whatever mother tongue is yours) doesn’t make you a good writer by any stretch of the imagination. Therefore, to educate our imagination we must study literature.

What I mean by studying literature is familiarize yourself with as much as the classical literature cannon as you can. The cannon extends from mythology, (and not just Greek mythology) the bible, and of course making it’s way to Milton, Shakespeare and continuing to present day poetry.  What I mean by literature, is poetry, plays, fiction, articles and maybe even critical theory about literature as just a start. Frye believes that “the serious, good writer will release his experiences or emotions from himself and incorporates them into literature, where they belong.” [1] For example, different epochs will have different pulses running through the theme. An example would be the love poetry during the time Shakespeare wrote, “the poet is always in love with some obdurate and unresponsive mistress, whose neglect of the lover may even cause his madness and death,” [2]

This is just one of the many areas and themes of literature. From allegory to critical theory, Frye believes that at the center of it all is poetry. He feels that one should begin with poetry, “then work outward to literary prose, then outward from there to the applied languages of business and professions of ordinary life. Poetry is the most direct and simple means of expressing oneself in words. The most primitive nations have poetry, but only quite well developed civilizations can produce good prose.” [3]

The Educated Imagination is a read and a re-read, not because it is difficult, on the contrary, but because it is so useful. For anyone that wants to write well, this is a quick guide for putting together framework of the kinds of literature you should be reading and why you need to educate your imagination to be a good writer.

 For information about online degrees in English or English Literature please see:

[1] Frye, Northrop. 1964. The Education Imagination, pp.47 .Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

[2] Frye, Northrop. 1964. The Education Imagination, pp. 47-48. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

[2] Frye, Northrop. 1964. The Education Imagination, p. 121. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.