Today, July 14, is the 100th anniversary of Northrop Frye. The Canadian media are making a bit of a fuss about it (for example, here, here, and here). In general, the commemorations are a bit patronizing; his impact was immense, and continues.
Not until I moved to Canada in 1967 did I become aware of Frye, and first only as a local scholar and man of letters. But a year later I entered a graduate program and one of the first books on my reading list was Anatomy. I still recall the slightly psychedelic effect it had on me.
I was, after all, an aspiring novelist, teaching college to pay the bills and in grad school for a master's that would let me go on teaching. I expected my courses would be more of what I'd had at Columbia—which had trained me to be a New Critic, not a new writer.
Instead, Frye offered me not a glimpse of how literature really works, but a whole guided tour. However original you think you are, he taught me, you are telling a very old story.
Anatomy of Criticism and scores of Frye's articles guided me through grad school (and I published two of my grad-school essays in scholarly periodicals), and also made it a hell of a lot more fun. When I had time and energy for fiction again, Frye's archetypal analysis of literature showed me how to put a novel together...and pushed my imagination in directions I hadn't known even existed.
Very occasionally, I corresponded with him. He liked my article on the 19th-century Canadian novelist James De Mille, which was based on Frye's theory of literature. He thanked me for a review of his collected essays On Education. When I heard his death announced on CBC radio one January morning in 1991, I cried as I had when my father died.
So thank you, Dr. Frye, and may your second century inspire and inform as many writers as your first.