Author: Jonathan David Baird

Born and raised in the South Mountain area of Appalachia. Jonathan David Baird has worked professionally as an archaeologist since 1994. He has a masters degree in English literature from Fort Hays State University. His focus of study was the influence of Darwin's theory on late 19th century Gothic horror literature. He also has a masters from Ft Hays in American history with a focus on the frontier and frontier mythology. Jonathan has an avid interest in medieval combat and fought at Battle of the Nations (the world championship of medieval combat) in 2017. Besides medieval combat his interests include traditional skills, primitive technology, and ethnobotany. In 2014 Jonathan was elected and served for for two years as one of the district supervisors for Soil and Water in Burke County, North Carolina only leaving due to his move out of the district. Jonathan blogs at NukeMars.com (A Journal of Speculative Reality), he has written for and edited several anthology collections, he writes comics and his comic Dark Maiden debuted in the top ten ecomics in the world, In 2018 Jonathan completed the MFA program at Lindenwood University and is currently working towards his PhD. Jonathan is also a Melungeon. Melungeons are a tri-racial group (Portuguese, African, and Native American) originating in the Appalachian Mountains.
Zombie Amalgamation: Origins of the Modern Revenant

Zombie Amalgamation: Origins of the Modern Revenant

Durher
The idea of the reanimated corpse shambles along the pages of history, and even before there were written records the undead were with us. The modern iteration of the zombie is not one of these creatures, but it is something new. A revenant fueled on modern fears of infection, and mass hysteria, while birthed from the ancient fear of reanimated corpses. The power of the modern zombie comes from the persistent fear of disease and infection. This infection is then paired with different social, economic, and cultural fears to create an ever evolving, but constantly horrifying creature that has become a staple of modern American and even global popular culture. The zombie is a stand in for all sorts of fears. Romero used the zombie to first lay bare the fear of encroaching infectious communism in Night of the Living Dead then he turned 180 degrees and took a shot at commercialism in Dawn of the Dead. Romero proved that the zombie can stand for almost any modern fear because essentially the mindless, raving zombie is man himself.

 

Four Distinct Origins

Our modern zombie who slowly ambles or even quickly chases our hero across the film or TV screen is really the amalgamation of four separate monsters from different portions of the world. The revenant, the ghoul, the vampire, and the Haitian creature of the same name, but different attributes raised up by voodoo. All these undead forms combine in the modern cinematic zombie. It wasn’t until late in the twentieth century that all these were finally condensed into one by George Romero that we get the fully formed creature.
The revenant who is sometimes confused with the modern zombie is probably the closest ancient creature to the modern zombie myth. Revenants were undead creatures from Western European mythology that rose from their graves at night after burial to harass and attack the living. Traditionally those killed by revenants did not themselves come back from the dead. Instead like vampires in Eastern Europe the revenants spread disease and death to the living they attacked. Chapter 24 of book five of the History of England by William of Newburgh attempts to lay out a chronological history of revenants and their attacks on innocent people.

It would not be easy to believe that the corpses of the dead should sally (I know not by what agency) from their graves, and should wander about to the terror or destruction of the living, and again return to the tomb, which of its own accord spontaneously opened to receive them, did not frequent examples, occurring in our own times, suffice to establish this fact, to the truth of which there is abundant testimony. It would be strange if such things should have happened formerly, since we can find no evidence of them in the works of ancient authors, whose vast labor it was to commit to writing every occurrence worthy of memory; for if they never neglected to register even events of moderate interest, how could they have suppressed a fact at once so amazing and horrible, supposing it to have happened in their day? Moreover, were I to write down all the instances of this kind which I have ascertained to have befallen in our times, the undertaking would be beyond measure laborious and troublesome; so I will fain add two more only (and these of recent occurrence) to those I have already narrated, and insert them in our history, as occasion offers, as a warning to posterity. (Newburgh)
Revenants were always thought to have been evil personas in life as well and their evil deeds haunted them beyond the grave. The revenant is also killed in a similar way to the more popular vampire. Beheading the corpse and burning it traditionally stop the revenants from returning from their graves. Revenants however do not have a taste for human flesh. They are most often depicted attacking with claws a teeth but not devouring their victims. The revenant is however a mindless killing machine, much like the modern zombie
Ghouls like revenants are undead creatures. They haunted graveyards at night and unlike the revenant they ate the bodies of the dead and sometimes the living. The mythology of the ghoul was originally Mesopotamian and later Arabic but the idea spread into Western culture at the end of the 18th century from the gothic horror novel Vathek.

“At the moment that their attendants were placing two wreaths of their favourite jasamines on their brows, the Caliph, who had just heard the tragical catastrophe, arrived. He looked not less pale and haggard than the goules that wander at night among graves.” (Beckford 99).

Ghouls display some very classic zombie features. These creatures seek out human flesh in Western stories it is usually the flesh of the dead but in Arabic stories it can be either, they are also undead creatures who have left their graves for the land of the living. The biggest difference and like the revenants is that their curse is not transferrable. They may kill the living but they do not infect the living, they are also not mindless often being depicted as cunning hunters.
The vampire unlike the other two early creatures is an infectious disease of a sort. In the vampire we come close to the very modern nature of the zombie. While vampires lack some distinct criteria such as mindlessness, he and his kin are more closely related to the modern zombie than even the Haitian undead which bears its name. Vampires have become creatures of infection and so are the modern zombies. In fact the infectious nature of zombism is what powers the fear of the zombie. Without the ability to infect a zombie would not really be much of a monster. This infectious nature of vampires was not a classical aspect of the monster and other than one or two stories of vampires creating other vampires the infectious nature of vampirism is really a result of an update to the story in the 19th century. Most vampire attributes “are in fact creations of the fictional vampire, as drawn by Western writers of the nineteenth century.” (Wasik, Murphy). As the 19th century wore on more and more was learned about infectious disease and rabies was raging in Europe. Even on the verge of a cure the disease was being linked to vampirism in fiction. Vampires were to come into possession of the most powerful horror that science could conjure…disease. The idea that a sane man or woman could be permanently transformed into a raging blood fueled monster is terrifying. Even more so would be the zombie who is not only a raging infectious monster, but mindless as well.

The final creature needed to create the modern zombie was an undead creature resurrected by magic and controlled by a mystical wizard or witch. The word Zombie or Zombi is relatively new. It is supposed to have been first used in the book History of Brazil by Robert Southey in 1819. The book is online and after an exhaustive search of volume 1-3 in both English and Spanish this elusive first mention of the word was not to be found. Not to be detoured the next mention of zombies comes to us from the Haitian tradition. In Haiti the zombie is the corpse of a person thought to be revived into a sort of half life by a practitioner of voodoo. This necromancer is called bokor. These undead creatures serve at the behest of the bokor, who has removed the living soul from the body and use it to control the zombie. Zombies are not considered to be mythology in Haiti article 246 of the Haitian criminal code mandates that,
“Est aussi qualifié attentat à la vie d’une personne, par empoisonnement, l’emploi qui sera fait contre elle de substances qui sans donner la mort, auront produit un état léthargique plus ou moins prolongé, de quelque manière que ces substances aient été employées et quelles qu’en aient été les suites.“ this roughly translates to “Any qualified attempt on the life of a person, by poisoning , the use made against it without substances that cause death , have produced a more or less prolonged lethargy , however these substances have been employed and whatever may have been the result” (Haiti criminal code)
While zombies are considered people in prolonged states of lethargy induced by chemical substances under the law the mythology of the traditional zombie has little to do with our modern idea. Other than being revived corpses these creatures have very little in common with the popular mythology of the modern zombie. To find the roots of our modern brain eater we must combine aspects of all the undead that have shambled into Western culture.
Modern Amalgamation.

Since the modern zombie is a combination of several creature archetypes from Western literature how did these creations amalgamate into the modern mythology? George Romero most certainly did not create his zombie creations out of whole cloth. His zombies have a very distinct Hollywood linage. White Zombie released in 1932 is the first zombie film. It depicts the traditional Voodoo zombie controlled by an evil bokor in this case played by Bela Lugos. Lugusi plays Murder Legendre who is a white bokor controlling zombies that work on his plantation. In a way this movie is a social commentary on the evils of slavery which ties into later zombie films which often have social commentary at their core. White Zombie is important because it set the stage for the look and feel of zombies in movie. The shambling dead eyes and even a hatred for the living that the dead exhibit in the movie translates to later work that would make the zombie less controllable and more menacing.
The modern zombie would never have developed without the work done by Richard Matheson in the book I am Legend which was published in 1954 and the movie made from the book called The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Prince in 1964. The film was released just four years before Romero was to film Night of the Living Dead and it is without a doubt a direct precursor to both Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Matheson’s book and later movie depict a world that has been wiped out by a virulent virus. The virus kills most people but others it transforms into what are essentially vampires. The vampires have all the classic weaknesses. They can only come out at night, they are allergic to garlic, they can’t stand to see their reflection in mirrors, and they must be staked in the heart and then burned. These are not however the classic vampires in another sense. They are weak and slow. They shamble about exactly how you would expect a modern zombie to do. They do have a limited intelligence and can speak at times, but this seems to be an exception that only certain undead possess. The movie and the book are also social commentary. You discover at the end that not all the vampires are evil and that many of the vampires that the main character hunts down and kills during the day are actually fully human but suffering from vampirism. The moral of the story is a thinly veiled attempt at addressing racism. With his work Matheson sets up almost all the factors you will see in the future concerning zombie films. His work explores contagion, social commentary, post apocalypse living conditions, undead hordes attacking people who have walled themselves off from the outside, and isolation. Isolation is almost certainly the cure to infection but it is also a prelude to fear. Who is to be trusted? Matheson packs all this into his work.
Modern Fears and the survival of the Zombie

Romero picks up where Matheson left off. The importance of these films are that all of Romero’s Zombie movies are social commentaries. In an interview he did with Rick Curnutte in the Film Journal Romero states, “We really were trying to make it as much a metaphor as it was a thrill ride. And I’ve always tried…I don’t know, I’ve never wanted to just do movies about guys in hockey masks with knives, you know? I don’t think that way. I sort of think of what underlies it first.” (Curnutte,Romero). This is at the heart of what makes zombie movies constantly relevant. There is a constant repositioning of the zombie as a social problem. Romero’s zombies are contagious but that contagion is of an unknown origin. In the interview with Curnutte he said, “There were three proposed causes, and we cut two of them out because the scenes were boring and the scenes around them were boring, and that one we left in because it was part of that newscast and it made it seem a little bigger. And that became for a while, people said, “Oh, that’s what happened.” You know, some Venus probe came back and brought some kind of bug. And so I was determined…I don’t want there to be a cause.”(Curnutte, Romero) If the cause were known it may be curable. Romero wanted to keep the audience paranoid and thinking. It worked.
The idea that zombism is an infection becomes real to a modern audience. This realism is important in the staying power of the zombie as a modern monster. Matheson’s vampires were too much a creature of legend. Vampirism is equated with magical thinking. The zombie gave the audience a monster with a scientific cause. A virus that can reanimate the brain and causes the dead body to walk among the living. While this is still a dead body walking around to the modern audience disease, infection, and even inoculation are just as magical. They are things that can’t be seen affecting people in ways that are not understood by the average person. Deep down we see infection as the harbinger of death…why not an undead harbinger.
Zombism as a metaphor for infection and even death was enough to scare the audience but the modern zombie represented much more. Directors like Romero came to link zombies with communism, commercialism, AIDS, terrorism, and even the fear of global warming. Anything that the modern mind feared could be linked to the zombie. At the end of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty first vampires had been reformed. They sparkled and granted eternal life to good little boys and girls. Werewolves hardly existed on the horror scene replaced by serial killers in masks, who were frightening, but were certainly not world threatening. Frankenstein had stopped being scary the day after the first heart transplant, and forget about the mummy. The mummy was stuck in action comedy. Zombies became kings of horror because the zombie was everything and everywhere. Anyone could become a zombie at anytime.
This brings us back to the real underlying fears of zombism. Infection and Isolation are the currents within the mythology that cause fear to wash over the public. We have talked at length about infection, but what about isolation? In a zombie movie or TV show isolation is the result of the zombie apocalypse. You are left alone in a world of monsters who want to eat you and survivors who want to steal what you have and occasionally they also may want to eat you. You are alone. The reason this is horrifying to the viewer who is not really experiencing a zombie outbreak is the fact that the viewer realizes that they are living in this isolation even without hordes of zombies at their door. Isolation is even more personal than the fear of infection. We all experience isolation. Do we know our neighbors in the twenty first century? Do we trust them? That is a fear that everyone can relate too. It is not a fear that other traditional monsters inspire.
Conclusion

When looking for the roots of the modern zombie the quest can either take you to creatures that are not quite a perfect fit, or to creatures that when combined become the modern zombie. Modern zombies are creatures of modern mythic thinking. They are the embodiment of the fears of modern men written on the template of older monsters. The ancient undead pulling themselves out of the grave pale in comparison to the power modern men have given to our current creature. No monster had the power to destroy the entire world, which was solely the domain of gods in older mythic thinking. The zombie is able to accomplish that feat without a second thought, because infections do not think. Zombies are scary because the zombie embodies any fear we may have as an individual and they embody fears that all humans have such as disease and isolation. This is a very powerful combination. It leaves the zombie in the position of the king of the monsters, a creature so flexible it encompasses any fear.
Bibliography
Beckford, William. Vathek. Paris: Perrin, 1893. Print
Curnette, Rick “There’s No Magic: A Conversation With George A. Romero” The Film Journal. http://www.thefilmjournal.com/issue10/romero.html . Web. 4 Dec 2014.
Haitian Penal Code http://www.oas.org/juridico/mla/fr/hti/fr_hti_penal.html . Web 4 Dec 2014.

Halperin, Victor, Edward Halperin, Garnett Weston, Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorn, Robert Frazer, John Harron, Brandon Hurst, Xavier Cugat, and William Seabrook. White Zombie. Los Angeles, CA: Roan Group Archival Entertainment, 1999.

Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. New York: ORB, 1995. Print.

Newburgh, William. The Church Historians of England, volume IV, part II; translated by Joseph Stevenson (London: Seeley’s, 1861) Web. 4 Dec 2014

Salkow, Sidney, Robert L. Lippert, Logan Swanson, William F. Leicester, Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter, Colli F. Delli, Gene Ruggiero, and Richard Matheson. The Last Man on Earth. Beverly Hills, CA: Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2007.

Streiner, Russ, John Russo, George A. Romero, Duane Jones, and Judith O’Dea. Night of the Living Dead. New York, N.Y: Elite Entertainment, 2002.

Wasik, Bill, and Monica Murphy. Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus. , 2012. Print.

We have a New Anthology At Crosstime Publishing

We have a New Anthology At Crosstime Publishing

The Book of Unchained Shadows is out now. I only make these promotional posts when a new book comes out, so don’t worry we are not becoming an ad drenched site. This anthology features some very talented new authors. If you like horror, if you like ghosts, the undead, etc you will love this book. The stories are set in chronological order. It starts with a Viking tale and ends with a story in a contemporary setting.

Misconceptions about the First 190,000 years of Human History/Paleo Lifestyle

Misconceptions about the First 190,000 years of Human History/Paleo Lifestyle


There are many people that base what they know of the first 190,000 years of human history on Hollywood movies about cavemen rather than any academic research. The reality is that anatomically modern humans lived a hunting and gathering lifestyle exclusively for almost 190,000 years. They did this, not because they were too stupid to invent agriculture or that they had no idea what animal husbandry was, they lived that lifestyle because it was easy. In fact it was so easy a “caveman could do it”.

Got your attention?

Hunters and gatherers did not invent agriculture because it was a better lifestyle. The fact is that agriculture is not optimal for human health and it certainly is not as easy as hunting and gathering. Agriculture has a host of health and social problems that come with it that are extremely negative and the majority of these problems have not been overcome until relatively recently. This begs a question…If farm living is so much harder why would anyone do it?  The answer is relatively simple, necessity. The first people who moved to the agricultural lifestyle did so because of ecological change, change in climate, and population pressures that occurred at the end of the last ice age.

There are myriad reasons why humans did not develop agriculture before or during the last ice-age, but for the most part the ready availability of prey animals and small population densities made agriculture less desirable. Around 12,000 years ago there was a perfect storm of change that forced humans to try something new. That something new was not inherently better than what had come before. The change in diet associated with agriculture probably led to thousands of early deaths and has led to centuries of gastrointestinal problems as human beings adapt to this new lifestyle.

But, but, but….you can’t possibly be suggesting we return to the lifestyle of hunting and gathering. No, that is not what I am saying. We could not return to that lifestyle even if the population wasn’t so large, or even if someone believed it was a good idea. The ecological factors that made it possible for people to subsist easily are no longer present. Vast herds of megafaunal prey animals no longer roam America and Europe and will not again in the near future. Secondly our technological society has finally begun to mature to a point where human beings are better off as agriculturalists than as hunters and gatherers.

This does not mean we can’t objectively look at the differences between the hunting and gathering lifestyle and the agricultural lifestyle so we can understand why humans chose each. There are several advantages to being a hunter and gatherer.


1) Medical- Medicine didn’t magically become better when people started living in villages in fact medical problems got much worse when we started living on top of each other. Diseases that were often avoided because of isolation suddenly became pandemic. To see this in action look at what happened in North America after Columbus. The Native Americans had arrived on this continent as hunters and gatherers in small isolated groups. The trip to North America acted as a natural bottle neck for disease. Very few diseases that infected humans were carried across. These band of hunters and gatherers were isolated from human disease vectors that had evolved in the old world. When these diseases were reintroduced they decimated the agricultural civilizations that had sprung up in North America. Without such killers as measles, chicken pox, even the common cold the population had never evolved resistance.

So, you have all those same injuries and illnesses that hunters and gatherers faced like hunger, broken limbs, etc plus more disease in agricultural society. This lasted until the early modern period and it was often exacerbated by a much larger population vying for fewer resources. Pray if you are ever dropped back in time before about 200 years ago. It is somewhere underpopulated.

2) Society- Contrary to pop culture the strongest person was not always “Boss Caveman”. I may need to remind you these hunter and gathering groups are simply extended or direct family groups consisting of father, mother, children, and grandchildren. Sometimes uncles,aunts  and their children as well. Thirty people is the normal size of these bands. They are not states they are not even really tribal. Bands and family groups. There are no rules, rulers, kings, or serfs and government hasn’t been invented yet. Just because movies tell you that UGH was beating his tribe into submission doesn’t mean that was the norm.
As for WAR?  What war? Can you call a fight between groups that max out at about 60 people a war? It is a conflict more akin to a family feud. Most Hunter and Gatherer groups, we have had the privilege to observe in the modern age don’t go to “War” they count coup of one kind or another. Sometimes they do kill somebody sometimes a people get hurt. That is the nature of being human. When compared to the horrors inflicted by agricultural societies?

I have had people call hunting and gathering societies communist utopias. They were not. They were neither Utopian nor were they communistic. In fact communism as we know it, in which individuals live communally for the welfare of the group, is an invention of agriculture. These hunting and gathering bands are the haven of  the original rugged individualist.

The major advantage to living in large groups for these early people was child rearing. Children survive with more regularity in a settled society. Score one for “It takes a village”.  As the population rises in these settled agricultural communities they soon exceed the normal number of people associated with hunting and gathering. You can support more people on less land with agriculture. Soon you have government and with government comes a type of power humans had never had over each other before. In a hunting and gathering society when the bands become too large and one group tried to dominate another they break apart and go their separate ways. This doesn’t happen for agriculturalists. They are tied to the land or they are dependent on specialized knowledge of others to survive. They can’t run away over the hill and survive without interference from the state.

Yes, we are better off today than 13,000 years ago but it took quite a bit of heartache to get here and we didn’t get here because agriculture was a better choice.

Saying that hunting and gathering is a better lifestyle choice than agriculture until the modern period is not Marxism projected backwards, if anything it is individualism projected backwards. Neither is it a “Noble Savage” fallacy. There is plenty of evidence that life was not always easy no matter which lifestyle you lived. Humans evolved to live a particular lifestyle. We lived in that lifestyle for tens of thousands of years and it was not lack of intelligence or imagination that kept us there it was simply easy…we all get in a rut sometimes.

 Some popular misconceptions about paleolithic man. 

1) Paleolithic Humans were prey for carnivores such as the cave lion, or the short faced bear. and lived in constant fear of their surroundings..false.
Human’s have been apex predators since before becoming anatomically modern. Large carnivores may have been able to kill the occasional human but archaeological remains suggest early humans hunted other carnivores much more often than they hunted humans.

2) Paleolithic Humans lived exclusively in caves…false. Caves were certainly utilized, but humans are very adaptable and probably lived in many different types of structures made from local materials.

3) Paleolithic humans were always dirty, hungry, and disease ridden…false. We dealt with disease above. As for being dirty we can’t really tell from the archaeological record, but we can surmise based on hunters and gatherers that have been studied. Bathing is a fact of life in most of these societies and cleanliness is often ritualized. As for hunger it really depends Archaeological evidence shows that many groups of hunters and gatherers went through periods of boom and bust from year to year, others are more constant in their nutritional intake. It almost always depends on the area in which the people lived and the abundance of food. Looking at skeletal remains of hunters and gatherers verses agriculturalists, hunters and gatherers are often in much better physical shape probably as a result of better diet (Hunters and gatherers actually work much less than agriculturalists so it isn’t from physical labor).

 

For more reading:

Mashall Sahlins’ study The Original Affluent Society goes into detail how hunter and gatherer societies functioned, http://www.primitivism.com/original-affluent.htm

http://www.academia.edu/416145/The_causes_and_scope_of_political_egalitarianism_during_the_Last_Glacial_a_multi-disciplinary_perspective

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajpa.20334/abstract;jsessionid=C9F7CA5045C73D36D8813F2E5237FAB0.f02t04?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage&userIsAuthenticated=false

http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13590840310001619397

ooks.google.com/books?id=eTPULzP1MZAC&pg=PA120&dq=Gathering+and+Hominid+Adaptation&hl=en#v=onepage&q=Gathering%20and%20Hominid%20Adaptation&f=false

And if you want to see a writer go a bit too far with the Noble Savage idea:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201105/how-hunter-gatherers-maintained-their-egalitarian-ways

Futurism and Modernism in Conflict: How Science Fiction Saved the Future

(Quick note: These examples of futurism are provided to give a brief overview of the types of works which reached across from literature to film and are not meant to represent a full accounting of the hundreds of authors and stories that informed the futurist movement between the two wars)

  

     In his seminal work Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age, Modris Eksteins develops a thesis that World War I is responsible for any number of the modern world ills; from the coarsening of public artistic performance to the emergence of Fascism and in particular the horrors of Nazism. This paper will seek to counter some of Eksteins’s contentions and present a secondary analysis of the cultural climate that grew out of the First World War. Alongside the modernist movement there was a second cultural trend that grew out of the First World War. This trend transcended the modernist penchant for nihilism and sought to put a positive and progressive face on the future. Out of this cultural movement grew much of our modern world, our technology, and our modern idea of human equality. The most important thing this cultural trend brought about is how Western society looks at the future. This was a futurist movement; one in which depictions of the future, while not always perfect, were certainly wreathed with hope. This hopeful and powerful message was almost universally accompanied by an open-minded and progressive social and political message. One in which mankind transcends its childhood and the petty bickering that brought about the Great War. This movement predicted man would inherit the stars if only he embraced his fellow man.

      Eksteins laments the rise of the Nazis and the modernist movement believing the ideas of the modernists “in striving for freedoms… have acquired the power of ultimate destruction”[1]. Eksteins’s view of the world is based on a pessimistic belief that modernism had infected all aspects of society’s cultural and social life blood. This modernism would be the foundation for the changes brought about by the war and lead ultimately to the extremes of fascism. The modernist movement was art meant to challenge traditional morals and free man from the constraints of the prior age. This movement sought to replace the old conservative beliefs utterly even if it meant revolution or even war. The rise to power of Hitler brought about a new wave of modernist thought; one that sought to murder tradition and reform society in his image.  It was a movement that lacked a moral compass and those who embraced it saw themselves above the morals of any age.  Hitler would ride this wave of modernism from the Rites of Spring into the Reichstag and bring with him artistic as well as cultural nihilism. “Nazism was a headlong plunge into the future.”[2] Hitler sought to create a new world and a man of the future. A human being divorced from morals owing allegiance only to the nation. This was the culmination of the modernist idea, a man of tomorrow- the nihilistic superman.

      Where modernism invaded the elite levels of society turning the art world upside down and creating spectacle out of art, and monsters out of men, the futurist movement invaded the more pedestrian levels of society.  The penny dreadful gave way to the pulp novel and anthology industry of the early 1920’s. The futurists were just finding their footing after the war. They found a home in the lurid covers of the pulp magazines displacing the aging Gothic horror stories with tales of ray guns and heroes like Buck Rogers.  These new pulp writers rejected both the conservative ethos of the past and the nihilistic ethos of modernism. Instead they embraced a new moral philosophy. This futurist philosophy envisions a different kind of superman than the modernists. The futurist Overman was a moral paragon. He believed in equality not just between men and women, but between the races. He would assert that there was only one race and that was the human race. These new writers wrote about overcoming the short falls of mankind through the application of his intellect. The futurist movement was even embedding itself in the old guard of science fiction writers. H.G Wells’ tone of writing changed dramatically after the war. Moving away from tales that depicted the morose and dark end of the human race or an island full of subhuman monsters that hinted at the base animal nature of man himself, Wells moved into more upbeat and dramatic stories like The Shape of Things to Come in which the future while at times bleak still holds hope for mankind. This different type of science fiction begins to see the light of day at the movies as well. A host of movies with futurist themes begin to crop up targeted at the middle and lower classes. These movies captured the imagination of the people who viewed them and often changed the way the average person thought about how the future would unfold. The culmination of the futurist movement would be a hope and optimism about man’s future.

     Wells lays out an outline for the futurist movement in the introduction of The Shape of Things to Come. Here he discusses the fact that the world must come to grips with its own power and that the time has come for the world to look at itself as one community of men rather than separate countries. “Steam power, oil power, electric power, the railway, the steamship, the aeroplane, transmission by wire and aerial transmission followed each other very rapidly. They knit together the human species as it had never been knit before.”[3] The very essence of futurism is the idea that the human race is an innovative and technologically advanced people who must stand together and stride forward together into the future. Of course this is a very Utopian idea and even Wells realized it would be an idea that could only be accomplished through an application of force which as a pacifist he abhorred. Thus The Shape of Things to Come becomes a treatise on the application of kindly force. This idea of the force for good that protected civilization against the enemies of tolerance and fellowship became almost ubiquitous in futurist literature and informs such modern genre staples as Star Trek’s Federation.

 

     Even before Wells had a chance to write The Shape of Things to Come the ideas of futurism were infecting the pulp literary scene. Anthony “Buck” Rogers (as he was called in the novel) premiered in 1928 in a pulp publication called Armageddon 2419 AD.  This novel by Francis Phillip Nowlan would be an unwitting blue print for the ideas of futurism. It contains all the tropes associated with the movement. It not only had rayguns, flying packs, and rockets, but it also included social commentary. Social commentary would be the staple that bound together the entire futurist movement. Anthony Rogers was also a new type of man. The character had been a soldier in the Great War. He had become an engineer upon coming home and had been thrust into the future because of an accident in a mine. He was a fish out of water. A character who was used to examine and comment on the social and political customs of the future with little or no reason given for why he was doing this. From his perspective we learn about the future and how that future was different from our own time. This is an important part of the futurist model in the early years and this trope would recur time and again as a descriptive methodology.

 

  The women in Nowlan’s novel particularly Wilma Derring are the equals of any man[4]. This was not just a rehash of the “New Woman” feminist from the Victorian period. Wilma Derring and women in the pulps often not only broke stereotypes they were in fact the heroes. Looking at the pulp novel covers one may think these women are little more than damsels who were in need of saving. That was advertising what the reader discovered inside was often an entirely different story.  In his book Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction, 1926-1965, Eric Leif Davin contends that in the 1920s and 1930s women writers in particularly feminists often wrote for the pulp science fiction market and brought in very active and powerful female characters. “In their stories we find women as social reformers, abolishing war, and transforming government and society.”[5] This speaks to both the influence of women in the early futurist movement and the power of their ideology which is a polar opposite of that of modernism. While the contributions of these early female authors would be forgotten and even written out of the history of science fiction during the more conservative 1950s their contribution and humanizing of the genre early on gave the futurist movement a more socially conscious foundation. Strong female characters would persist in the literature of the movement even if they were not translated into visual depictions on the pulp covers or in the movies. 

 

      Besides the feminist overtones these novels also introduced the common science fiction trope of the authoritarian and fascist government that had to be overthrown by the heroes. This could be viewed as a direct assault against the nihilism of the modernist movement. Hitler could have easily fit into the role of any of the dictator type characters that had become a common pulp science fiction trope by the 1930s.  Ming the Merciless who was Flash Gordon’s nemesis was particularly prophetic. While Ming could be seen as a very direct allusion to the “Yellow Menace” his appearance and attitude is much more in keeping with Hitler and Nazism. These villains began to take on even more Nazi like traits in the science fiction serials as the run up to the Second World War began. Wells’s novel The Shape of Things to Come would be translated into film in 1936. It too would prophetically predict the atrocities of men like Hitler, warning the viewer that “If we don’t end war, war will end us.”[6]. 

   Besides the social aspects of the futurist movement, which are important, the main thrust of the movement is the attempt to envision the future. Technological advancements and how these achievements would revolutionize the future is the main aspect which sets it apart from the other social and cultural movements. We know that the plups made everything from rockets to ray guns popular, but it was often the small things that made the most impact on the audiences. Small innovations first visualized from reading about them or seeing them in movies would entrance the public. If in a year or two after seeing or reading about these innovations they were suddenly part of real life the audience became more willing to suspend their disbelief and believe that futurism really did hold the key to the future. Little known today the movie Transatlantic Tunnel featured a host of time saving and entertaining futuristic devices that were merely background props, but would soon become reality. Released in 1935 the movie depicts the building of a railway tunnel under the Atlantic between Great Britain and the United States. The movie features innovation that was unheard of in 1935. Video phones, pocket sized radio phones, live feed global television etc are all seen in the film as a common and unremarkable part of the future[7].  The movie is grounded in such a way that it plays out not as some futuristic epic, but as a time just a few years into the future. The clothing and the sets are familiar to the viewer. These inventions are treated as inevitable eventualities not fantastic creations of an unreachable and unknowable distant future. This is the allure of futurism and this is how it took hold in the minds of average people. They expected the world to conform to this new model. This model allowed the creation of today’s world a world in which progress is inevitable. Futurism provided the modern world with that expectation of the newer better model of ever invention just around the corner.

  
       The futurist movement was not a movement that attracted as much attention as the modernist movement. It was a movement outside of the society elites and spoke directly to the middle class. It crept along quietly infecting the masses with ideas of ray guns, rockets, cell phones, and computers. It was a movement that spoke to the future and offered to people ways to look at society in new and innovative ways. Here was a secret almost furtive movement that became an avalanche. The Futurist movement slowly fulfilled its promises with one technological innovation after another. A man transported in time from 1880 to 1940, a mere 60 years, would barely have been able to fathom the technological changes. These changes were heralded not by the modernists, but by the futurists.  Middle class kids who grew up on Buck Rogers’s pulps and H.G. Wells novels in the 1920s and 1930s became engineers and scientists who made their childhood dreams into reality. The same kids who went to the movies to watch Metropolis and The Transatlantic Tunnel would create technological wonders that rivaled anything they watched on the movie screen. 

These same kids would grow up and face off with the modernist ideology of Hitler and Nazis. World War Two would be the climax in a struggle not just for territory or political power it would be ultimately a struggle between two competing philosophies. These philosophies could not exist in harmony. They were natural enemies in a struggle to tame the future. Modernism rejected the past, but sought to remake the future in a cacophony of violence and disruption. Futurism also sought to throw off the conservative past, but sought a future of progress both technologically and socially. Futurism did not wish to throw away morality it sought a new morality one more humane than what had gone before. This did not mean that the futurist idealist would not fight to protect the future they envisioned. Wells had laid the ground work in The Shape of Things to Come. The future was worth fighting for and it was the futurist movement, born out of the conflict of the First World War, that provided the inspiration for the machines that would eventually end the Second World War, and begin the modern age.

  

End Notes

 

 

1. Modris Eksteins, Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000),14.

2 . ibid, 303.

3.  H.G. Wells, The Shape of Things to Come (London: Gollancz, 2011), 22.

4. Philip Francis Nowlan, Armageddon–2419 A.D. (Project Gutenburg.Urbana:University of Illinios, 2010), http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/32530/pg32530.txt (accessed November 30, 2013).

5.Eric Leif Davin, Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction, 1926-1965 (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2006), 234.

6.  Things to Come, Directed by William Cameron Menzies, 1936 (Chatsworth, CA: Image Entertainment, 2001), DVD.

7.  Transatlantic Tunnel, Directed by Maurice Elvey, 1935 (Hollywood, Calif: PRS Productions. 2009), DVD.

 

The SteamGoth Anthology Series Has a New Addition

The SteamGoth Anthology Series Has a New Addition

g1ggI generally don’t push products on this site, but I make an exception for our flagship line of books from Crosstime Publishing.

This week Goggles, Gears and Gremlins debuts on Amazon and Kindle.

Click HERE

The Kindle edition is 99 cents so please check it out and if you like it try out one of the other two books in the SteamGoth series… (and if you really love them please leave a review with Amazon)

 

sss

 

 

Sorcery, Steam, and Steel

 

 

 

 

 
mmm

 

 

 

Monsters, Magic, and Machines

 

The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews David Gerrold

The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews David Gerrold

The Enquiring HitchhikerDavid Gerrold has long been on my personal list of the best science fiction authors. Other than Robert Heinlein, I doubt there is another writer who had more influence on me during my childhood. David Gerrold was not only the author of the classic Star Trek episode The Trouble with Tribbles, he was also the creative force behind Land of the Lost. If you are a longtime reader of this site, you know I sing the praises of the that show whenever I get the chance. We even have an entire hour long podcast “showdown” explaining why it is superior in every way to the short lived Spielberg dinosaur abortion called Terra Nova… You can listen to the podcast here Prehistoric Hysteria. We are very privileged to bring you this interview.

The Hitchhiker asks…

Question 1. The Star Wolf series and Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda seem to have quite a few things in common. The Morthan Solidarity is very similar to the Nietzcheans. Did you have any input into that?

I have absolutely no information about Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda. I never saw it or anything connected to it.

 

Question 2. Land of the Lost probably had more influence on me as a small child than anything else I watched. First I want to thank you for creating the show. Second I would like to know if many people tell you that this show influenced them? I became an archaeologist because of my interest in the Sleestaks and the Pakuni.

 

 I always appreciate hearing from people who watched Land Of The Lost as a kid — especially the notes about how the Sleestaks made them wet their pants. Several people have told me that they became interested in science because of my writing, but you’re the first archaeologist.

 

Question 3. Robert Heinlein seems to have been a major influence for your work and so many others. What do you think our modern world would look like without his influence?

Hard to imagine a world without Heinlein. His hard-science stories demonstrated such a clarity of thought that he may very well have been the most influential author of the 20th century. He wasn’t afraid to discuss ideas and possibilities in a way that made people aware that these were very real things. More than anyone else, I think Heinlein’s work made readers believe that space travel was not only possible, but inevitable.

 

 

 Question 4. I have been eagerly waiting for the next War Against the Chtorr novel. I believe that Jim McCarthy is one of the first non-heterosexual literary characters I encountered as a teen. In many ways my introduction to him shaped my first impression of all gay, lesbian, bi, and transgendered people. Do you believe that positive literary examples have paved the way for the current LGBT social movement?

Positive literary examples are always the first step in changing the public perception of anything. Look at Mark Twain. Huckleberry Finn and Puddinhead Wilson were subversive novels for their time. The most noble character in Huckleberry Finn is the slave, Jim. Just about everyone else is a scoundrel.

I don’t think there were very many positive LGBT characters in science fiction before the seventies. Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthology was a challenge to authors and one of the challenges was sexual issues.

My own book, The Man Who Folded Himself was the first SF novel with an openly gay hero and possibly the first mainstream novel with a positive ending for the gay hero. Instead of brickbats, it got award nominations. Ursula K. LeGuin’s Left Hand Of Darkness made it possible to think about transgender people and John Varley’s stories set on Luna often included gender-fluid characters. Joanna Russ won a Hugo for “When It Changed” which blew up the cliched idea of the planet of beautiful women.

Most readers seemed to welcome honest discussions of sexuality in SF worlds. But some were appalled and even today we still hear the occasional homophobic whine. But I think that SF not only predicted a wider acceptance of LGBT people, but that such predictions also helped turn the possibility into an inevitability.

·  

Question 5. We generally ask a political question. I realize that our site is mostly read by libertarians, but we have often given a forum to people who disagree. Can you give us a brief summation of what you believe and how libertarians can relate to your work even if you don’t relate to libertarian ideas?

My political views are very simple. Be kind to everyone, whether they deserve it or not — or at least until your threshold of bullshit is overwhelmed. Take care of the children, educate them well. Feed the poor, heal the sick, honor the elderly, because that’s how you pay it forward.

The mechanics of living that philosophy are left as an exercise for the reader.

Thank you for taking time out to do this interview. I really appreciate the work you have done in the science fiction genre.

A True History of Bacon and the Celtic Gods

A True History of Bacon and the Celtic Gods

glossarypictboar2Let me tell you a story about the Celtic gods.

Being immortal (and bored) the gods of the Celts often held contests among themselves and made wagers. Being the Celtic pantheon they were always hungry, and so the gods decided that one food must be chosen to represent their greatness. A wager was struck, and the gods agreed that Man would decide. Celtic tribes from all over Europe were gathered together to vote for which food would be the fit for the gods.

Each god spoke in turn to the people…

Lugh, the great thundering voice from the sky, declared, “The Bull of Heaven provides the heroes portion and STEAK is the food of the gods. because the cow can turn simple grass and straw into a meal fit for a king.”

Danu, goddess of Earth and Sea, laughed from her place among the waves. She declared, “SALMON is the food of the gods, because it always returned to feed the people each year. sacrificing itself for the good of all mankind.”

Morrigan, the goddess of death, sent a raven and it spoke to the people. “No my friends, the lowly CHICKEN is the food of the gods, for it gives not only meat for the table, but eggs, and when you are ever in doubt about what something tastes like it always tastes like chicken.”

Math, being the god of trickery and magic, knew that his voice would not be heard above all the great thunder from the sky,  or the crashing of waves, or even the caw of the raven. So Math said not a word. He waited until the tribes had argued about which god or goddess had said the wisest words, and then he announced that, since he had not chosen a food for consideration, he would instead cook a meal of each dish and allow the people to taste the choice of each god in turn, so they may know which is truly the food of the gods.

So Math cooked hundreds of steaks, prepared piles of salmon, and thousands of chickens were baked, fried, and BBQ-ed for the people assembled. Each dish was perfect and the people could hardly contain themselves for the smell was maddening.

Math then said….”People of the Celts I have cooked only enough food for you to take one bite of each of the three dishes. You then must decide which of these is to be the food of the gods.”

The people came and waited in line, taking only one bite from each type of food…steak, salmon, and chicken.  The arguments rose and fell. An entire day went by but no one food was judged the best of them all.

Math heated up the grill once again, because the people wanted another taste, but this time Math secretly laid one strip of BACON on each piece of Steak, Salmon, and Chicken. Again the people lined up and took one bite each of the three foods.

A cry went up. Something was wrong. The food had been perfect the first time. It had been the greatest mouthful of food that anyone had ever eaten… but this! This time the food was even better: Perfection had turned to heavenly delight…

Math stood before the people in his apron triumphantly as the people shouted, “BACON is the food of the gods, for only the pig can turn shit into sugar, and a perfect meal into something divine.”

The pig has since been the most holy animal of the Celtic people.

The End

The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews Author C.J. Cherryh

The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews Author C.J. Cherryh

The Enquiring HitchhikerThe Enquiring Hitchhiker is proud to bring you this interview with multiple Hugo award winning Author C.J. Cherryh.

1. I discovered your writing in 1985 with the publication of Cuckoo’s Egg. I really loved the detail you put into the world building, and “fish out of water” stories are my favorite type of fiction. Where do you find your inspiration for these unique cultures?


I’m a linguistics major with a specialty in Roman Law and Bronze Age Greece, and I’ve knocked around the world quite a bit—been IN that position a lot.

2. At the time you first started submitting your work, science fiction was a very male-dominated genre. What was it like being a female in such a testosterone-laden club?

No problem at all. The very earliest meetings in the Ivory Tower in NYC were co-ed, and the field always has been. I found absolutely no problem except reader and reviewer assumptions that because I was female, I’d be writing fantasy.

3. While I agree with what I have read you have said about grouping science fiction and fantasy into one category, why do you think that hard science fiction tales are lagging behind tales with more of a fantasy/horror orientation?

They’re harder to write when science is nipping hard at our heels. And we lost the businessman with the sf novel in his briefcase when we lost Heinlein and Asimov and the industry simultaneously lost Don Wollheim, Lester del Rey, and other editors with hard sf experience. At the very time the industry should have been promoting new ‘hard science’ writers—it was reeling from purchase by oil companies and the stupid decision (Thor Tool) that equated books with other goods in warehouse.

4. The future belongs to those who show up. I seem to see a very disturbing trend in the science fiction community towards fiction that depicts the human race as either degenerate or not worthy of inheriting the future. What happened to the optimism of the genre?


Not lacking in me. I think it’s education that’s let people down—and a push for ‘individual survival.’ Industry takes multiple people, and technology takes multiple industries. The largest sort of organization is what we need, not fragmentation. There’s nothing going on with the climate or anything else we can’t address technologically, but the people grabbing media attention are trying to get the deniers to get their heads out of the sand and waaaay overdoing it in scaring the rest of the public into believing we can’t solve this. We certainly can—but not if we each retreat into our bunkers.

5. The Freehold as a publication is dominated by a libertarian ideology, so we often like to gauge the political leanings of the people we interview. What are your political beliefs, and how do you see your beliefs affecting the future?

I don’t discuss those, out of respect to my readers, who have their own. I am pro-technology but no believer that corporations are always right, pro-history but do not believe it has to repeat unless through stupidity, pro-magic but not magical thinking, pro many things but not pro-abandonment-of-responsibility, and I hold so many opinions on both sides of so many lines I’m not comfortable advocating any single party as right, since none are entirely right.

Thank you for the interview, and I hope to meet you in person at a convention soon.

Ancient Curse, Modern Cure: The Horror of Victorian Sexual Repression

Ancient Curse, Modern Cure: The Horror of Victorian Sexual Repression

 

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The social aspects of nineteenth century Gothic horror are a study in the dichotomous nature of the Victorian mind. This period, characterized by its sexual repression, gave rise to some very salacious fiction, especially of the horror variety.  Early in the century The Second Great Awakening had renewed religious fervor in both Europe and America. This is juxtaposed against eighteenth century cultural trends that had seen great strides towards intellectual, scientific, and sexual enlightenment. The reemerging repressive attitude seems to have been a reaction to the more libertine nature of the previous century and it is possible this grew out of advances in female empowerment. The temperance movements and the social purity movements of the period acted as a political outlet for women in a time when they were locked out of more traditional political activity. These movements worked hand in hand with the newly empowered religious institutions to counter any and all things they perceived as sexually or morally deviant.  Sexuality had to go underground and find new outlets of expression safe from the burgeoning social nanny state. One of the most obvious of these outlets was the convergence of sexuality and literature specifically as found in Gothic horror fiction.

Gothic horror became a cloak under which the Victorian who wished to explore ideas of a more sensual nature could feel free to do so with abandon. From the first half of the century we have such works as The String of Pearls (better known today as Sweeney Todd). Here, ideas regarding sex are completely disguised in the form of a cannibal, his victims, and his accomplices: The sex is merely suggested and never acted upon openly. However, the very act of eating human flesh is one of the most intimate acts one could possibly imagine and becomes a means through which the author relates the deviancy of the characters. It also doesn’t take much imagination to link the horror created by Sweeney Todd to many sexual practices that would have been considered deviant at the time such as bondage and elicit affairs between married partners. The story is full of semi-hidden double entendres, but it was far from the open bucking of cultural conventions when compared to later more explicit works. These later authors touched on subjects as varied as physical seduction, bestiality, and very surprisingly frank depictions of transvestism. Two late Nineteenth Century novels represent the peak of this trend towards sexualization in Gothic horror literature, Bran Stoker’s Dracula and Richard Marsh’s The Beetle.

The two novels explore sex in a very open and frank way. While it is still depicted as deviant and dangerous, there is no doubt it was meant to titillate the reader.  Not only did these novels seek to express sexual themes, they also took shots at British imperialism and conformity. To the modern reader sex and imperial rule would seem very disconnected but, to the Victorian sensibility, sexual prowess and imperial might were intimately intertwined. Inserted into this mix, the villains of both Dracula and The Beetle seek to overturn British hegemony through “means of the appropriation and destruction of symbols of the moral, spiritual, and racial superiority of England’s ruling class- its women.”(30). Thus the two novels explore the ideas of sexual deviance through the domination of racial “others” over pure British womanhood. This interracial aspect of sex acts depicted in both books feed into both fear and arousal. 

      In the article, “Purity and Danger: Dracula, the Urban Gothic, and the late Victorian Degeneracy Crisis”, Kathleen Spencer seeks to explore the sexual undertones of Bram Stoker’s Dracula from the perspective of the body of literature available during the Victorian period. It is her belief that the novel should be read in context with the other novels that explore sexual and supernatural situations, in order to form an overall synthesis of how sexual mores are expressed in these works. Spencer breaks these works down into their composite pieces to illustrate how abnormal sexual situations could be presented through supernatural aspects without causing the Victorian reader to reject the works outright. This would be important in inoculating the literature from conventional social forces that may seek to ban these novels.

 Authors like Stoker set their works in the contemporary period to lure their readers into a sense of the normal. Spencer states that, “First and most important, the new authors insist on the modernity of the setting not on the distance between the world of the text and the world of the reader, but on their identity. A modern setting means, most profoundly, an urban setting, as by the end of the Nineteenth Century well over half the population of the British Isles lived in cities.” (200).   The authors of the time were intent on relating to their readers and to bringing them into their stories. They used a variety of techniques, from using familiar settings to creating intense emotional content, to capture the reader’s attention. This increased the tension within their narrative and resulted in much more vivid storytelling. The authors then introduced fantasy elements to shock the reader out of their normal lives, allowing them to embrace ideas and situations that would not appear in mundane society.

 Spencer then goes on to explore further how sexuality is expressed in Dracula and other novels of the period. She contends that, “the crucial distinction between Dracula and his opponents: he is degenerate.” (213). Dracula represents the opposition to the sexual norm. He and his creations are monsters of the fantastic and illustrate the dangers of degeneracy and sexual deviance. These monsters are powerfully alluring, but they can be defeated. Men and even woman can hold out against their sexual power, at least for awhile, and those that can’t are doomed. It is important that those characters shown to fall prey to the sexual deviant are damned, as this plays into the themes that protect the novels from conventional social criticism. If these novels are seen as cautionary tales against evil then they could break social/sexual taboos without fear of reprisal by moral authorities.

The Beetle, published the same year as Dracula, delves even further into what Victorians would have seen as sexual aberration. It was so successful that it outsold Dracula into the first decade of the Twentieth Century.  Victoria Margree calls the novel The Beetle “an extended homoerotic and masochistic fantasy.” (76) The book focused on the strict attitudes against female empowerment and women acting as men. We, as a society, may not be as concerned with female identity as we once were, but the interplay of homosexuality in the book fits well into the fears and anxiety of our own society and its struggle with the idea of gay marriage and rights. This is a novel that broke all the rules regarding sex and morality of the period and managed to be one of the best selling novels of its day without raising an as much as an eyebrow among the religious elite.

The horror genre continues to be a place in which authors, artists, and especially filmmakers can explore the fringes of human experience. Attitudes toward sexuality may change, but horror fiction continues to push the boundaries of society on that front. My generation often attended horror movies just to see the scantily clad bodies of the girls who would be menaced once again by those eternal supernatural creatures. Those movies taught us that having sex would surely result in decapitation or a bloody death in a lakeside cabin. It never prevented me from returning each week and it certainly never really turned anyone off sex. We were just playing the same century long game of hide and seek with the puritanical among us.

 

Works Cited

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

Kathleen L. Spencer.Purity and Danger: Dracula, the Urban Gothic, and the Late Victorian Degeneracy Crisis.”ELH, 59.1 ( 1992): 197-225 The Johns Hopkins University Press. 

Margee, Victoria. “Both in Men’s Clothing: Gender, Sovereignty and Insecurity in Richard Marsh’s The Beetle.” Critical Survey 19.2 (2007): 63-81. Web. 10 Apr. 2013.

The Admirable Crichton: One of the Most Influential and Unknown Stories of Science Fiction History

The Admirable Crichton: One of the Most Influential and Unknown Stories of Science Fiction History

robots_crichton2The name Crichton pops up in science fiction over and over again. From the irritable know it all robot in Buck Rogers, to the robot butler in Red Dwarf, and again as the lone human surrounded by a universe of aliens in Farscape. Why are all these characters named Crichton and what do they all have in common?

In 1902 J.M. Barrie (yes the same J.M. Barrie who created Peter Pan) penned a short comedy about a butler named Crichton modeled on the real life Scotsman James Crichton who was himself a genius in several disciplines at once (a polymath). In the play Crichton is shipwrecked on a desert island with his employers and quickly proves more capable than those who would profess to be his betters. He is so capable that he becomes the leader of the group of castaways. His knowledge is also so complete and efficient that he turns the desert island into a small self-sufficient colony. On being discovered by the outside world Crichton once again returns to the life of a butler and those whom he saved on the island take credit for everything that Crichton accomplished.

The play itself is in no way science fiction and does not have the fantasy elements of Barrie’s other works. The purpose of the play was to serve as a critique of British society and the class system. Barrie wanted to show that the lower classes could be, and quite possibly were, more level headed and capable of ingenuity than the vaulted upper crust. Barrie had also considered ending the play with Crichton marrying the daughter of his employers. That ending would have stretched even his ability to poke fun at the stifling class system and it was not used for fear of causing an uproar. Little did Barrie know that he would be creating a literary meme that has popped up over and over again in both literature and film. This play has reached  across the entire panoply of literature and it has often found a fertile home for itself in science fiction. It is a perfect match for a genre in which ideas of class, and race are often explored in a fictional milieu.

This site probably owes its name to the meme Barrie created. The Freehold was named after Robert Heinlein’s Farnham’s Freehold. In Farnham’s Freehold the African American servant Joseph not only prove himself the equal to his employers he goes on to save them time and again throughout the novel. Heinlein’s novel shares many characteristics with the Barrie play and while there is no overt proof that the two are linked, such as the name Crichton, Heinlein often utilized classical literary references in his work.

The most obvious references to The Admirable Crichton all occur in television serial science fiction. The Crichton robot in Buck Rogers, the Kryten robot in Red Dwarf, and the human character in Farscape were all named after the lead character of Barrie’s play and all have one or more traits of that character. In all three of these shows Crichton acts as a repository of knowledge and information.

Crichton in the Buck Rogers serial is the least like the Crichton from the play but still retains certain aspects of the character. This Crichton considers himself above his human masters. Refusing to acknowledge that such lowly beings could have created him. While he retains the knowledge of the play’s title character, and his ability to save the crew from certain death from time to time, this Crichton lacks any amount of humility and serves only because he is programmed to do so.

The other two Crichtons are much more in line with Barrie’s creation. The Kryten robot in Red Dwarf is the closest. He is a mechanical butler who has been shipwrecked, has vast amounts of knowledge, and who saves the crew of the Dwarf with his ingenuity. Kryten is far more capable than anyone else on the crew and is only held back by his programming from becoming the defacto leader. He is also constantly encouraged by his fellow crew mate Lister to act beyond this programming. It is very likely the fact that this show is British that it comes so close to the original idea. The idea of class struggle has become a common trope on British television.

The latest version  of Crichton comes in the form of John Crichton of the television show Farscape. At first glance this version does not seem to match the Barrie play. John Crichton is a scientist, and an astronaut. He does not seem to meet the classic idea of the servant who finds himself preforming above the abilities of his betters. However, once you scratch the surface it comes closer philosophically to the original play than either of the other two television iterations. The best example of this is the episode “Crackers Don’t Matter”.


In this episode the show explores the idea that all the aliens consider themselves superior to John Crichton. It is constantly reenforced on the show that Crichton is a barbarian from a technologically primitive society. The reality of the situation is that, while Crichton may not have the luxury of coming from a society with advanced technology, he is willing to learn how that technology works. His alien adversaries and friends take this technology for granted and don’t understand the first thing about how it actually functions. Crichton soon understands their technology better than the aliens and uses this knowledge to his advantage.  John Crichton stranded millions of light years from home turns the tables on those who profess to be his betters. An exploration of class, race, and culture that rivals and even surpasses Barrie’s original work.