We often learn the classics in school, from Homer to Shakespeare, and few would debate their uncontested value today. At the same time, less entertaining writers like Pope, Dryden, and Spencer appear in many a college curriculum, much to many students' dismay, but nothing from Tolkien or J. K. Rowling ever gets mentioned. So why is some art considered just popular tripe, whereas others are deemed literary masterpieces?
Understandably, most authors are canonized once they're no longer alive and their work has stood the test of time, but this is changing. Living authors like Toni Morrison are anthologized now as well as many others that even the most well-read haven't heard about or read. Needless to say, books ought to be judged by merit and not book sales, but it seems odd that such renowned authors get left out simply due to their genre.
Think about it, when was the last time you heard of a course in school that covered a fantasy, sci-fi, or even a more recently penned historical novel? Plenty of exceptions abound, by it seems the establishment turns its nose to novels that don't deal with some esoteric form of absurdism or talk about some psychologically deranged character in order to describe our “modern” times. What do you think, is there a real difference between high and low art or is this all just a case of the emperor's new clothes?