Month: October 2012

Wagon Train to the Stars*: How the American Frontier Experience Created Modern Science Fiction

Wagon Train to the Stars*: How the American Frontier Experience Created Modern Science Fiction

Frederick Jackson Turner changed the face of American history when he introduced his thesis on the importance of the American Frontier experience in 1893. While not initially embraced his work is seminal in understanding how historians and even the public viewed the frontier for almost a hundred years. In Rereading Frederick Jackson Turner we find a succinct series of essays on the American frontier and how it shaped the United States. This powerful collection of essays encompasses Turner’s frontier thesis. No single American Historian has had such an effect on our culture. His ideas are so poignant that they stretch well outside academia. His revolutionary rethinking of the American frontier reached out from the classroom into boardrooms and even colored public policy decisions. So pervasive were his ideas we can now see how these ideas became the basis for segments of American pop-culture.  The introduction to Turner’s book suggests that his thesis of the frontier as the lifeblood of the American character resonated with academia and the public alike. Turner’s readers believed that his work gave reason to the economic downturn that accompanied what they saw as the closing of the West in 1890. To them the end of the frontier meant that America was in the doldrums and new frontiers needed to be opened for America to prosper. They believed they had been shaped by the frontier experience into a people who thrived on the cusp of the unknown and needed frontiers to bolster their individualist spirit.

The rise of science fiction in the early part of the twentieth century can be directly traced to the closing of the Western frontier. Frontier themes permeate early American science fiction. These are tales of high adventure featuring exploration of unknown lands, meeting the natives, and often blasting them with ray-guns. The meshing of Science Fiction and the frontier experience begins in 1898 with the first piece of “fan fiction” Edison’s Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss . This novel which is an unofficial sequel to H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds sets the stage for all modern space opera.  It introduces the audience to almost every aspect of American science fiction. These ideas would dominate the Science Fiction genre until the 1960s.  It is in Serviss’ novel that we see the first hint of the American Frontier in Science Fiction. Where the original story by Wells is a tale of survival against all odds, Serviss’ story is an all American tale of frontier individualism conquering against an unknown and implacable foe. It ties directly into the popular ideas of the American West being promoted in the dime novels of the late 1800s. Later writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs would again revisit these same frontier themes in his Martian stories. Time and again American fiction would probe the new frontier of space carrying with it a cowboy mentality only now dressed up in a spacesuit instead of a stetson and carrying his trusty ray-gun instead of a colt. Native Americans transformed into Aliens ready to play both bad-guy and guide in the new frontier. Is it any wonder that science fiction and American frontier mythology share many of the same genre tropes. Both share in the exploration and conquering of the unknown. Science fiction in America was fiction powered by a cultural belief in “Manifest Destiny”.

This returns us to Frederick Jackson Turner’s thesis. It had and still to some extent has reverberations throughout American society. American History according to Turner is the history of the frontier. Our entire culture revolves around our unique origin.  Every society needs its myths and legends and this is especially true of America with it’s population composed of such disparate origins and background. The frontier provides us with a collective myth on which to base our shared experience as Americans. We are all cowboys, we are all mountain men, we are all astronauts, and we are all seeking the next frontier.

 

Rereading Frederick Jackson Turner “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”, By Frederick Jackson Turner with commentary by John Mack Faragher. New York, NY: H Holt & Company, 1994. 255 pages

*Gene Roddenberry used this phrase to sell Star Trek to TV executives

The Beetle: A Forgotten Classic

The Beetle was first published in March of 1897 in the literary magazine “Answers” as a serial story under the name “The Peril of Paul Lessingham: The Story of a Haunted Man”. Written by the enigmatic Richard Marsh the Serial ran for fifteen weeks and was initially targeted at a lower class audience. Then in September of 1897 the serial was repackaged as a novel and refined for the middle and upper middle class. The name was changed to reflect the tastes of this new audience and the novel was published with mostly good reviews.

The novel was continually in print until the late 1920s and it went through 27 print runs in that time. During the late 19th and early 20th century it would be more popular than Dracula, with which it shared similar themes. The Beetle then fell into obscurity in the 1930s. It was not really rediscovered until the 1960s and had very little critical evaluation until the early 1970s. It’s rediscovery among literary critics is due to the themes of sexuality and gender confusion that pervade the novel. The novel’s intense focus on gender in Victorian society has been the crux of much of the modern literary interest and has spurred new editions to be published by several different printing companies. As the book is in the public domain it can also be found free online at sites such as Project Gutenberg and several free editions on Kindle.

Gender, feminism, and homosexuality are the main focus of the novel. The book explores these in depth and the attitudes of the Victorian to each of these in enlightening. These attitudes tell us much about the foundations of our own culture which owes so much to the Victorians in terms of cultural mores and our expectations of gender roles. The Beetle turns gender roles upside down. Portraying women in drag and showing us a very dominating woman who is often mistaken for a man. Not only does the novel delve into the ideas of gender it is also a cautionary tale of mixing the mysticism of the East with the culture and science of the West. The themes of otherness and of eastern influences which corrupt and even dominate white Victorian society are also very prevalent in the novel. Finally the novel is viewed in terms of the psychological oppressiveness of its environment. The villain/creature roams the streets of London hiding in dark places that allow her freedom to work her black magics on her victims.

Most of the literary criticism of this novel has revolved around the idea of gender. The novel is full of scenes of women dressing and acting as men. Much of this gender swapping is forced by the hypnotic suggestion of the priestess of Isis but the character of Marjorie Holt who is forced to dress and act as a man has already been introduced to the reader as one of the “New Women”. She is a feminist and her feminism is juxtaposed against her transgender domination by the priestess of Isis. This priestess when first viewed is almost universally mistaken for a man. These two women form a core of feminist ideology and gender confusion around which the novel becomes rich fodder for gender, feminist, and queer criticism. “Victorian fear of the den depravity, the hidden potency, of the female.” (Hurley 213) the idea of the female using her sexuality was frightening to the Victorian mind. This is a common theme in Victorian literature and it is fully on display in The Beetle. Not only is the priestess able to dominate her victims mentally she is able to walk in both the world of man and woman. She is the ultimate predator both sexually and physically.

Secondary to the modern reader but more important to those contemporary to the novel is the idea of post colonialism, or even reverse colonialism that is presented. “The Other” as represented by the priestess of Isis can be seen as an infection of Western culture by that of the far East. The creature could be seen as a “means of the appropriation and destruction of symbols of the moral, spiritual, and racial superiority of England’s ruling class- its women.”(Garnett 30). The Monster feeds through its domination of women and men, in this way the creature corrupts Victorian society and everything it touches. It is made plain in the book that the monster craves the white flesh of its victims. It wants both to have that flesh literally and to possess it sexually. This sexual corruption is certainly an allusion to the fear of the “Other” or people moving into London from the colonies. The creature in craving white flesh could be seen as a Victorian fear of miscegenation. The average Victorian must have felt that natives arriving in London were not much better than primitive savages and were there to corrupt and destroy their society.  The Beetle came along at just the perfect time to feed into these ideas of reverse colonization. This may go a long way towards explaining why this novel did so well originally even outselling Dracula in its day and it also may be a reason it declined in sales after the first World War as cultural fears began to change in the West. It would be interesting to look at how interest in the novel changed over time with cultural value changes.

The reader of the novel also can’t help but be struck by the environment in which the novel takes place. Some of the literary criticism has taken the environment and ecology into account when looking at the novel. Based in 19th century London The Beetle takes place in a crowded and dark urban environment. Much of the action of the novel takes place at night and in the shadows. This idea of the environment adding to the fears of the reader has not been lost on the critical reviewers of the piece. Speaking of  Marsh’s work Minna Vuohelainen states “his fiction provides us with phobic readings of monstrosity which are closely linked to the spatial experiences of fin-de-siècle London.”(Vuohelainen 32). Her supposition is that much of the horror in The Beetle is derived from a fear of claustrophobia. London at the turn of the century provided a perfect setting for this type of fear. It was crowded and a constant pallor of smoke lay oppressively over the city. The city was almost a living organism itself giving rise to a fear of being overwhelmed by it at any moment. Onto this backdrop Marsh sets his story of sexual perversion and horror and it created a true psychological mixture that put fear into the audience. I don’t think any of us not living in that city at that time could fully appreciate the gothic novels that revolve around the oppressive nature of London.

            The Beetle is a rich nuanced text full of both horror and what would seem like overt sexual situations to the Victorian mind. By today’s standards these seem a little dated and most of the action is hinted at rather than blatant. There is however something to be said for horror that occurs off screen. Our minds are free to create the most intense horror for ourselves, out of our own imagination, and from our own intimate fears. The Beetle creates a world in which the Victorian mind would have felt fear and anxiety. It is a novel dominated by women out of their natural element. Women corrupted by vile magic. This is true of both the female villain who transforms from Man, to beetle, to priestess or the female victim suffering the sexual appetites of the villain and being forced into a transgendered parody of herself. The Beetle is a masterpiece of horror that gives us many different visions of how the Victorian mind looked at sex, foreigners, and the horror of their own backyard.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Hurley, Kelly. “The Inner Chambers of all Nameless Sin: The Beetle, Gothic Female Sexuality, and Oriental Barbarism.” Virginal Sexuality and Textuality in Victorian Literature. ed. Lloyd Davis. New York: Suny Press 1993: 193-213. Print.

 

Garnett, Rhys. “Dracula and The Beetle: Imperial and Sexual Guilt and Fear in Late Victorian Fantasy”. Science Fiction Roots and Branches. ed.  Rhys Garnett and R.J. Ellis. New York: St. Martin’s, 1990: 30-54. Print.

 

 

Vuohelainen, Minna. “Cribbd, Cabined, and Confined: Fear, Claustrophobia and Modernity in Richard Marsh’s Urban Gothic Fiction.” Journal of Literature and Science 3.1 (2010): 23-36. JLS online. Web. 10 Apr. 2012.

Kafka & Lovecraft : Dreamlands and Nightmares

Kafka & Lovecraft : Dreamlands and Nightmares

Franz Kafka’s reliance on a dreamlike state of existence in his work is reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft. Whose work includes several stories based in a dreamlike state. While Kafka is more classically noted than Lovecraft the two share some major similarities in their use of dreams and nightmares in their works. Both have penned some of the most horrifying fiction ever written. Kafka mastery of what can only be called an absurdest reality shakes the reader to the core. You identify with the characters and come to feel his anguish and despair on a personal level that can break you down while reading. There is such a sense of depression associated with works like The Metamorphosis that they become infectious. This is the strength of his writing style. Kafka in his writing tapped into the ideas of Freud and  the symbolic nature of dreams to create works that touch us on a deeply emotional and primal level.

On the other hand  Lovecraft created stories that are horrifying and touch us no less deeply than Kafka but he does not rely on the Freudian symbolic dream. In fact Lovecraft often challenged the very idea that dreams were symbolic. Lovecraft saw dreams as meaningful  and almost as real as the waking world. While Lovecraft seems to reject Freud you can not help but to see the symbolic relationships between the creatures of Lovecraft’s nightmares and the mental problems he faced in his own life.

Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is probably the one of the most disturbing pieces of short fiction I have ever read. When reading a classic novel or piece of fiction I endeavor to identify with the protagonist or at least one of the major characters. Gregor Samsa’s plight in Kafka’s work hits me at home in so many ways that it becomes disturbing. At thirty-eight years of age I was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome. I had always known I was different from everyone around me. I am the only person I know that had to actively teach myself how to smile and I still don’t have a convincing one. I remember my mother’s constant admonition as a child to either smile or to stop grimacing when I tried to smile. So a story about a man waking up to find himself a virtual alien is a story that deeply touches me as someone who feels like an alien at times. I remember vividly realizing I was not like other people and how it felt to be an alien. This story brought so many memories back to me from my childhood that when I read it the first time a few years ago it stuck with me. My copy is now dog-eared and almost falling apart. I have sought to find meaning for my own life in the pages. To write something like this Kafka must have felt much as I have felt about life. This gives me some small comfort that I am not alone and leaves me with some mixed feelings about Gregor.

Unlike Kafka, Lovecraft was often dismissive of Freud and in at least one story mentions Freud in passing while dismissing the Dream symbolism in Freud’s work as “Puerile”. Lovecraft embraced the ideas of Carl Jung. To Jung dreams were based on real things not just symbolic and they represented shared archetypal information. Lovecraft embraced the idea of the collective consciousness that we have racial and subconscious memories that play out in our dreams.Lovecraft wanted to reader to believe that his creatures could actually exist in some dreamlike state or in some archaic half forgotten racial memory of eons past. Like Kafka Lovecraft touches me on a very emotional level. The idea that just beyond our limited perception is an entire world of horror waiting for the chance to step over and engulf us is at its heart the ultimate nightmare.

These two authors use dreams and nightmares to evoke a sense of horror and depression in their readers but they do so using different psychological mechanisms. I think it is important to compare their styles so that future authors can more easily understand the broad panoply of human psychological and subconscious fear. The mind is a wonderful and dangerous tool. Herein lie worlds of Freudian subconscious symbolism and  worlds of Jungian unplumbed instinctual memory. Who knows what may lurk deep in our primitive reptilian cortex.

 

“Virgin Land” by Henry Nash Smith: A Starting Point for the American Steampunk Movement

“Virgin Land” by Henry Nash Smith: A Starting Point for the American Steampunk Movement

 

Virgin Land by Henry Nash Smith is not your typical history text. It is not a retelling of the story of the west or the frontier. It is an examination of how Americans view western expansion through the myths, legends, and symbolic culture associated with it. Smith delves into the topic of what the West and the frontier meant to the American psyche. This is not a book which discusses established history but a book about what people believe about their past. This exploration of the American Western experience is important to the burgeoning American Steampunk movement. Currently the movement revolves around the abundance of Victorian and neo-Victorian British literature, dress, and ideology while the American Steam era experience has been to some extent ignored. Henry Nash Smith gives those interested in exploring the mythology of the West and the American experience a place to start.

 

Virgin Land reads much like an anthropology text. Smith gives us an insight into how people develop their own mythology and how this mythology would affect later historical events. The strength of the text lies in its ability to find relations between myth and the realities to which the myths refer. Smith takes the reader through various periods of American mythology relating to the frontier. We begin with the Lewis and Clark expedition and the search for a passage to the Orient and progress through to the ever expanding Mythos of the Wild West. We find not only these myths expressed in terms of superstitions, and folk tales but also in the form of larger than life heroes and heroines who populate the virtually fairy-tale West. Like the Greek and Roman heroes, the frontier was brought to life with stories of men and women whose exploits are beyond those of normal men, and much like Homer the dime novel author brought these stories to the eastern masses.

Each great civilization creates for itself its own mythical past replete with its monsters, heroes and treasure.  Smith’s book sets the stage for what could be called the American mythological past. Not unlike other more ancient civilizations our American origins have been recast into something less history and something more heroic. The great frontier struggles are seen as struggles between good and evil. Often bad men are recast as heroes of the people and not so bad men are recast as their monstrous enemies. The west of American myth is populated with a menagerie of evil red Indians, larger than life mountain men, sure shot cowgirls, spring fed mountain valley paradises, and later even a masked man toting a gun filled with silver bullets. Smith provides anyone interested in the Steampunk movement perfect examples of mythological characters and situations. There is enough here to provide ample fodder for stories, novels, and more.

 

 

Virgin Land “The American West as Symbol and Myth”, By Henry Nash Smith. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1970.

The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews Author David Drake

The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews Author David Drake

Known best for his Hammer’s Slammers series and his Lord of the Isles series David Drake has become an icon of military science fiction and fantasy over the years. We are happy to bring you an interview with the creator of the Hammerverse.

The Hitchhiker asks…

 

Question 1- You come from a history and legal educational background how did you end up in the writing business and what advice would you give to a person trying to get into the writing business today?

 

And Latin–don’t forget the Latin background, because it’s very important.

When I was in high school, a teacher (Eugene Olson) was a professional writer on the side. I determined that some day I would sell a story. Writing grew into a small hobby, but I didn’t dream of becoming a full-time writer.

Then I was drafted. When I got back to the World, I used fiction writing as a way to organize my memories and feelings, and to let out my considerable anger in an acceptable fashion.

After eight years of working as a lawyer, I realized that the particular stresses of the legal profession were going to kill me, so I quit and got a job driving a city bus. I spent more time writing because I had more time, and I figured the money would be very helpful. To my utter amazement, my writing career took off and I became a full-time freelance writer.

I didn’t begin writing in order to be a writer: I began writing to learn an interesting skill. I proceeded in a, well, in an obsessive fashion from 1970 on in order to control my anger and despair. I don’t really have advice for someone who Wants to be a Writer–who wants to get into the writing business today or any time–because that wasn’t me.

 

Question 2- How did your experiences in Vietnam prepare you for writing your fiction? Do these experiences show up in any of your books?

 

I served with an elite unit, the 11th Armored Cavalry; the Blackhorse Regiment or 11th ACR. In 1970 nobody I knew believed we were Saving Democracy. I suspect grunts in Iraq and Afghanistan have the same contempt for blowhards speaking similar twaddle today.

But we did our job. Everybody in the Blackhorse did his job. We kicked the ass of whoever they pointed us at, not because we believed in the war or in democracy or in any damned thing: we kicked ass because we were the Blackhorse.

I carried the attitude over into civilian life. My job is writing, and I do my job the best way I can; every time, every day. I’m David Drake, a writer, and I rode with the Blackhorse.

Yes, my military experiences show up in my fiction–even in humorous fantasy short stories. And bears shit in the woods.

 

Question 3- You helped start Carcosa a small publishing company, what are some of the pitfalls of publishing and how have those changed over the years especially in light of the internet. (We are interested because at the Freehold we have our own small press publications that will be coming out this fall)

 

I’ll give you two points; one which you probably think you know.

 

1)         Don’t put in more money than you’d be willing to burn in the driveway. Do not assume that anyone, ever, will buy one of your books.

Jim Groce and I put up all the money for Carcosa. Carcosa books are now sold for considerable sums of money, but Jim and I lost all the money we put in.

 

2)         Be aware that if you’re in a partnership, you may learn more about your partners than you wanted to know.

 

You should be publishing because you want to get certain books that you think are important out into the hands of readers. No other reason justifies small-press publishing.

 

Question 4- Who are the writers that have influenced you and your writing the most over the years?

 

There are a lot of ways to answer that. My prose style owes more to Tacitus than to any writer in English, and translating Ovid has taught me a great deal about the nuts and bolts of characterization.

In the SF/fantasy field, though, Henry Kuttner and Clark Ashton Smith. Kuttner started out as a crude stylist, but he always knew how to tell a story and he always went for the emotional punch. His stories have heart; even the hackwork is written with belief. Further, he kept learning from every story.

Smith’s vocabulary is unfortunate; he gives the impression of having taken it from a dictionary, not from the wide reading that would have permitted him to use the words in the correct context.

Despite that, his settings are gorgeous and his plot development shows that he really understood concepts about which Lovecraft merely mouthed words: his own insignificance and the insignificance of mankind. Smith’s work shows a detachment which I find in no other writer in the field, and the best of his stories are crushingly effective even after multiple rereadings.

 

Question 5- Tell us a little about your political beliefs, You told me in our email exchange that you are not a libertarian. What do you describe yourself as?

I have no ideology. My family in Iowa was Republican, but when I moved to NC I registered as a Democrat so that I could vote usefully in primaries.

I used to describe myself as apolitical, but my friend Eric Flint–a Trotskyist labor organizer–said I was the most political writer he knew, save for himself. It’s true that I analyze human interactions in terms of politics, so politics are at the heart of all my fiction.

I suppose I believe, as did Dickens and Orwell, that a society which ran on Christian principles (note that I did not say Christian theology) would be ideal for human beings. Again like Dickens and Orwell, I don’t believe there’s any possibility of such a society existing among human beings; but I wish it were the ideal toward which most people strove.

I don’t believe that’s going to happen either.

I try to be courteous; and honest; and even kind. I am in despair when I look at the world around me and at my own failings.

 

Thank you for the interview. I know there are several readers here who are ecstatic you took the time to do this for us.

The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews Dr. Gregory Benford

The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews Dr. Gregory Benford

 

This week the Enquiring Hitchhiker has several new interviews. The first of these is with  Dr. Gregory Benford. Dr. Benford is one of the leading authors of hard science fiction working today. His novel In the Ocean of Night was one of my first introductions to the idea of artificial intelligence.

 

The Hitchhiker asks…

Question 1. Ben Bova has commented that there is too little science fiction about scientists, their lives and the work that they do. Clearly, you are an exception to the rule but why do you think this is the case, even among scientists who write science fiction?”

 

Writing well is hard, and scientists are often single-minded, so never develop the narrative skills to really enjoy writing, as I do. I realized early on an advantage: You get to use material from part of life that few know and few writers attempt.

 

Question 2. You come from a science background how did you end up in the writing business and what advice would you give to a person trying to get into the writing business today?

If you possibly can, don’t write for money. It’s too hard to make it work, especially full time. I’ve always been a hobbyist and think that gives you freedom to enjoy it more. I’ve been very lucky in timing, coming in as the New Wave energy lapsed and there was appetite for more traditional, Campbellian sf. I added some literary graces to hard sf. Many have done this now of course.

 

Question 3. Who are the writers who have most influenced your writing?

The usual: Hemingway, Faulkner, the great English poets pre-Shakespeare, & in sf, Clarke, Heinlein, Disch, Russ, Silverberg, John D. Macdonald, Donald Westlake, Raymond Chandler. I learned a lot from them about narrative craft.

 

Question 4. This is sort of a personal question so bear with me on this. You and I are both from the South and we both work in a science field (albeit archaeology isn’t exactly a hard science). When I first started I moved to the border area of New York and Pennsylvania to work on a multi-year dig. I experienced a massive amount of anti-Southern bigotry not from the local people but from my fellow archaeologists who tout themselves as paragons of civility and liberalism. Did you experience anything similar as a Southerner turned scientist?

 

I changed my Alabama accent to a flat California one first year of grad school at UCSD…for good reason. Liberals aren’t really liberal, though they’re blind to that–they’re in love with a value system that needs villains. Be aware. When I taught in the English Dept. at UCI (honors program, and upper division journalism), I noted that American literature has been strongly Southern (Twain, Faulkner, Welty, both Tom Wolfes etc) but literary theory has a Northern cast. Many think it odd that I’m from the South, but that just reflects the monoculture of academe—which desires diversity in everything but opinion.

 

Question 5. Can you tell us a bit about your role at Reason Magazine and maybe a brief run down of your political beliefs?

I’m a Contributing Editor. I write a piece for the magazine when they bring me an interesting topic. I used to help shape issues, writing cover stories, but in recent years do much less. I’m a middle level libertarian. Don’t believe in open borders, as some do. Prefer some aspects of old line, cultural conservative views, which note the importance of continuity and community in shoring up liberties. Dislike our militarist impulses of late, though my father was a professional who fought in WWII and Korea and retired as Commandant of the artillery school, Ft. Sill. (I and my identical twin brother were in the reserves but never served.) I grew up in occupied Japan and Germany and saw the aftermath of that colossal struggle. A list:

1. I don’t think trying to manage Arabs or others is our proper job. Our Navy should keep the sea lanes clear for trade, but policeman is not our role; doing that endangers the structure of our Republic, as Eisenhower pointed out.

2. Nor do I like borrowing money from China to give it to people who hold us in contempt, hoping to curry favor.

3. I’d like a simple tax code and an end to the long-ago lost War on Drugs.

4. In law, change the costly legal rules from “discovery” to disclosure, as the Brits do.

5. I would consider advocating that California leave the Union, since it is simply too large an entity to run its affairs without being able to control its borders, make most of its laws or print its own money. We see now the limits of the Federal Republic model.

These ideas put me outside most political movements, of course.

 

Dr. Benford thank you for the interview.

The String of Pearls: The Power of the Serial Killer in Horror Fiction

The String of Pearls: The Power of the Serial Killer in Horror Fiction

 

The String of Pearls is one of the perfect Gothic horror novels of the Victorian era. Not only is the protagonist utterly vile and depraved he is actually horrifying. Sweeney Todd is one of the most iconic and terrifying monsters. The strength of his characterization is in the fact that there really are Sweeney Todds out there in the world. The boogie man is a myth, Frankenstein is a fantasy,  and Dracula is a will o’ wisp. Sweeney Todd on the other hand might live and work next door to any of us. He is  Jeffery Dalmer, and Ed Gein. He is the dark side of human nature and he is a stand in for every cannibal and serial killer that has ever existed. From the Greek Cronus to Hansel and Gretel the cannibal serial killer haunts our very nightmares. This is why The String of Pearls has stood the test of time even with a writing style that I believe many contemporary people would find daunting. This story still captures our imagination and haunts us over a hundred years later. I really could not help but think of movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre when reading this book and while it is supposed to be about the life of Ed Gein after reading this I can see how the story of Sweeney Todd helped flesh (pun intended) out the film.

As a simple metaphor Sweeney Todd stands for the indifference of men in society. The hustle and bustle of the industrial wasteland of our society where people, even hundreds of people, can go missing and no one raise an eyebrow. Sweeney Todd works on the fear that we can disappear into the crowd and be lost even in the busiest city in the world. In The String of Pearls he acts as murderer but he could just as well be a stand in for the a fear of losing ourselves and our individuality in the great throngs of people who inhabit our daily lives. This is a fear that can be understood by anyone who has ever stood on a street corner in a large city or who has been packed into public transportation in any city. It plays on a very real and instinctual fear not just of the predators among us, but the lack of interest that people can show their neighbors in urban settings.