What does it take for a series to be timeless?
Tamara: It’s got to touch on major human themes like justice, honour, love, betrayal, jealousy, and so on. Also, it’s got to be in its own well-developed world that anyone can see as distant but relatable, and not exactly their own world. If it’s exactly someone’s recognizable world or a riff thereof, then that dates it. I think this is why fantasy and legends have lived on so long.
Ellen: Wisdom. Insight to the human condition, or the way of things, that will be universally true, barring serfdoms, petticoats, or iPods.
Serdar: Time! It takes the passage of time for the wheat to separate itself from the chaff, and for the nature of a thing to have a shot at timelessness. Give something a few decades, and it detaches itself from the noise of the day and the movement of current events; give it a century, and it detaches itself from most of the predominant modes of modern life; give it a millennium, and it detaches itself from most everything we think of as the modern or pre-modern world. The further you go, the fiercer the purification — and the stuff that survives has the most that can speak across time without needing too much amplification.
Bonnie: Universal themes that anyone can relate to, and a shortage of timely pop-culture references. For instance, Peanuts strips from the ’70s are timeless because they deal with universal themes – determination to succeed despite obstacles, insecurity, unrequited crushes. Plus, except for a reference to Billie Jean King here and Bobby Orr there, the stories could be taking place at any time, in any place. Look at a collection of Doonesbury from the same period, and it instantly feels dated, rooted as it is in humor about Watergate and hippies. One is timeless, the other . . . You had to be there.
Ewen: I think some of it is just plain luck, since so much of our cultural output is stuff we end up forgetting within a decade or two, even when it was huge at the time. That C.L. Moore and E.E. “Doc” Smith’s books are harder to find than Heinlein and Asimov’s is I think not because of any great difference in quality, for example, even though Moore and Smith had incalculable influence on what came after. If there’s a thread among the titles that have become timeless, I think it’s that they have something enduring to say about the human condition. Shakespeare and Star Wars each accomplished that in their own ways, and in doing so achieved a place in our cultural canon.
Scott: Having a theme that is timeless. That is, having a theme that spans the generations, is meaningful for all ages, young to old, without being pandering. Helping the timelessness is not having elements that date the work, whether the element is slang, a current issue that isn’t timeless, or even fashion. Romeo and Juliet remains timeless because teenage rebellion, young love, and feuding families are still around. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is timeless because the core theme, the fight against commercialization, still needs to be stated.