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Environmentalism in the Realm of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature [Unabridged]
 1443835137, 9781443835138

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Environmentalism in the Realm of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature

Environmentalism in the Realm of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature

Edited by

Chris Baratta

Environmentalism in the Realm of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, Edited by Chris Baratta This book first published 2012 Cambridge Scholars Publishing 12 Back Chapman Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2XX, UK British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Copyright © 2012 by Chris Baratta and contributors All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. ISBN (10): 1-4438-3513-7, ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-3513-8


Introduction ................................................................................................. 1 Part I: Industrial Dilemmas Chapter One............................................................................................... 11 The Secret Life of The Death of Iron Frederick Waage Chapter Two .............................................................................................. 31 “No name, no business, no Precious, nothing. Only empty. Only hungry”: Gollum as Industrial Casualty Chris Baratta Part II: The Natural World, Community, and the Self Chapter Three ............................................................................................ 47 Seeking Spaces: An Analysis of Environmental Solutions in Science Fiction and Utopian Literature Annette M. Magid Chapter Four .............................................................................................. 59 Nature, Community and the Self in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Nicola Griffith’s Slow River Susan Bernardo Chapter Five .............................................................................................. 69 Sugared Violets and Conscious Wands: Deep Ecology in the Harry Potter Series Melanie Dawson


Table of Contents

Part III: Materialism, Capitalism, and Environmentalism Chapter Six ................................................................................................ 93 The Literary and Literal Dangers of a Flawed Valuation System: Reading Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rainforest through the Political Lens of Hannah Arendt Audrey Golden Chapter Seven.......................................................................................... 111 The Pedagogical Potential of Margaret Atwood’s Speculative Fiction: Exploring Ecofeminism in the Classroom Sean Murray Part IV: Dystopian Futures Chapter Eight........................................................................................... 129 Destroying Imagination to Save Reality: Environmental Apocalypse in Science Fiction Keira Hambrick Chapter Nine............................................................................................ 143 Linguistic Disintegration in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road Dawn A. Saliba Chapter Ten ............................................................................................. 157 Ecofantasy and Animal Dystopia in Richard Adams’ Watership Down Chrissie Battista Select Bibliography ................................................................................. 169 Contributors............................................................................................. 171 Index........................................................................................................ 173


The Earth faces environmental problems right now that threaten the imminent destruction of civilization and the end of the planet as a livable world. Humanity cannot afford to waste its financial and emotional resources on endless, meaningless quarrels between each group and all others. There must be a sense of globalism in which the world unites to solve the real problems that face all groups alike. —Isaac Asimov1 To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth, becomes part of his daily food. In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. —Ralph Waldo Emerson2

The idea for this collection began with the creation of a panel for the 2011 NeMLA convention. And, it was a combination of factors that led me to develop the focus for the panel, which was titled Environmentalism in the Realm of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature. As a child, I, surely to the surprise of my parents and siblings, balanced the traditional childhood activities of baseball and Star Wars with a more intimate activity: my love of reading. I remember shuffling through my father’s National Geographic magazines to satiate my love of nature and wildlife; at first, I was content with the photographs of landscapes far different than my suburban environment, and of photos of cheetahs, giraffes, and great white sharks. But as my curiosity grew, I began reading the stories of scientists and activists who were able to travel to these distant lands. My 1

Isaac Asimov, I, Asimov: A Memoir Paperback (New York: Bantam, 1984), 129. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature,” in The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Brooks Atkinson (New York: Random House, 1968), 6.




love of reading grew, and I soon came across Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance tales, given to me by a neighbor. Using these novels as a starting point, I soon ventured into the world of Forgotten Realms and, of course, into Middle-Earth. I remember the first paper that I wrote for 9th grade English: an analysis of R.A. Salvatore’s The Crystal Shard. A non-traditional choice, indeed. But, other than reading Thoreau’s Walden in high school, it wasn’t until graduate school that I encountered nature writing and ecocriticism. I was introduced to the works of Annie Dillard, Barry Lopez, and Gary Snyder, among others. I dived headfirst into a study of ecocriticism, captivated by the philosophies put forth by John Muir, Murray Bookchin, and Harold Fromm, to name a few. And it was at this point that I started to connect the world of science fiction and fantasy literature to environmentalism. I haven’t looked back—though I continue to search for my paper on The Crystal Shard—and I continue, like science fiction and fantasy literature, to look forward to where the current environmental crisis is taking humanity. It is my hope that my continued research in the field of ecocriticism will yield some solutions to the many problems we face today. Many of these solutions, as well as the problems they need to resolve, can be found in science fiction and fantasy literature. My attempt to articulate the need for ecocriticism in literary studies would simply fall short compared to what Louis H. Palmer has already said: “I take on one of the most vexing issues in the overlap between literary and environmental studies—the questions of stake”3. Some, those who may not be so inclined as to acknowledge the importance and the necessity of literature or environmental studies, might dismiss the notion that anything is “at stake” in literary studies. These individuals are mistaken; what is at stake—according to Palmer, and according to the contributors of this volume and the authors they have studied—is nothing less than “the ultimate survival of life on Earth.”4 An ecocritical approach to literary analysis has shifted, to a degree, the critical angle that has dominated literary studies from an anthropocentric view to a more biocentric view. Ecocriticism urges us to embrace the fact that the study of the nonhuman world is just as important a study of the human world when we investigate current social and cultural constructs of civilization. Science fiction and fantasy literature has been the one of the beneficiaries of the emergence of ecocriticism. Ecocritical study urges an 3

Louis H. Palmer, “Articulating the Cyborg: An Impure Model for Environmental Revolution,” in The Greening of Literary Scholarship: Literature, Theory, and the Environment, ed. Steven Rosedale (Iowa City: Univ. of Iowa Press, 2002), 165. 4 Ibid., 165.

Environmentalism in the Realm of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature


individual to embrace new ways of thinking about the natural world, and, more importantly, the relationship between man and nature. The objectives of an ecocritical study are to usher in a new way of seeing and understanding the consequences of the destruction for the natural world, humanity’s impact on the environment, and the possible solutions to environmental degradation. On one hand, ecocriticism incorporates the study of empirical knowledge and the methods of scientific observation. On the other hand, it embraces the humanities, with its ability to probe “discursive constructions of experiences and ideology in the shifting seas of language and subjectivity.”5 As any work of literature must do, ecocritical texts demand that a reader not only understand his philosophical and ideological anchors, but also understand the possible flaws in his moored way of thinking. In order to achieve success in this endeavor, an ecocritical study must do two things: disconnect the reader from the culturally and socially constructed systems of thought that are grounded in the man/nature binary and establish a connection between the reader and the natural world. This is a difficult task, obviously, but it is necessary in order to achieve an understanding of the stakes involved in the current environmental crisis. Science fiction and fantasy literature has been fulfilling these two goals for almost a century; and, the emergence of ecocriticism as an important critical theory has once again highlighted the importance of science fiction and fantasy. If we bring together a study of environmental writing and ecocritical texts with science fiction and fantasy literature, we can find answers to some important ecocritical questions: How is a text raising awareness on an issue? How is a text embracing a new consciousness? How is this new consciousness a paradigm shift in human thought? An unfortunate aspect of science-fiction and fantasy literature that is lost on the casual reader (or the non-reader) is its importance as a genre to serve as a reflection of reality. Art, especially literature, has a unique ability to show an individual what he or she cannot see, even if it is right in front of his or her nose. Science fiction and fantasy literature brings us to new worlds; we meet new creatures, new heroes, and new villains. We are introduced to new mythologies, and we witness new atrocities and new wars. But, despite the fact that what we encounter in the text of a fantasy novel is indeed new, we should not be shocked to discover that underneath the surface, these creatures, mythologies, and atrocities are quite familiar. Science fiction and fantasy authors draw inspiration from the reality that surrounds them. And even though science fiction and fantasy literature 5

Ibid., 165.



wrenches us from our daily doldrums and propels us into unfamiliar lands, we really never leave our own reality. In a 1999 interview, Ray Bradbury stated that “Science fiction is a depiction of the real.”6 Science fiction writers have tackled a myriad of issues concerning humanity and environmental destruction. For example, Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains”, which offers a stark warning for humanity’s reliance on technological progress, depicts a society that has disconnected itself from the natural world in favor of a life that resembles the warnings and consequences of technological determinism— a theory that states that a society’s technology, and not its people, drives the development of its social structure and cultural values. Science fiction chronicles changes and advancements; it presents readers with an alternative view of social, technological, and industrial progress. As humanity continues to progress, building more, exploiting more, consuming more, science fiction writers became aware of the detrimental effects that humanity’s progress is having on the natural world. Olaf Stapledon, an early 20th century science fiction writer and influence on Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, once stated that humanity’s overconsumption of natural resources would lead to its inevitable demise. This was stated in the early 1900s. In his biography on Isaac Asimov, Michael White notes that the “problem of how humankind was mistreating the environment and creating problems for the future”7 was of particular interest to the legendary science-fiction author. Patrick D. Murphy, in “The Non-Alibi of Alien Spaces: SF and Ecocriticism,” cites the central themes of detachment and estrangement in science fiction literature as a corollary to ecocriticism and its role as a critique of current environmental practices. Ecocriticism acknowledges this detachment from the natural world in its critique of an anthropocentric worldview, and pushes forth with its biocentric and/or symbiotic critical approach to bridge this gap. Murphy states that “the writing and reading of SF [science fiction] are intimately linked to, and based on, getting people to think both about the present and about this world in which they live.”8 Combining this sentiment with the goals of science fiction and fantasy writing can provide the foundation for a new environmental awareness, 6

David O’Leary, “An Interview with Ray Bradbury,” The Weekly Wire, December 1999. 7 Michael White, Isaac Asimov: A Life of the Grand Master of Science Fiction (Cambridge: Da Capo, 2005), 254. 8 Patrick D. Murphy, “The Non-Alibi of Alien Scapes: SF and Ecocriticism,” in Beyond Nature Writing: Expanding the Boundaries of Ecocriticism, eds. Karla Armbruster and Kathleen R. Wallace (Charlottesville: UVA Press), 263.

Environmentalism in the Realm of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature


one that is needed for a new understanding of not only how humanity is connected to the natural world, but also to what created our disconnect. And, since science fiction writing can be dystopian in nature, we can see— through the power of allegory—into the future: we can see what could happen if we succumb to the dangerous and reckless behaviors of our current anthro-dominated commodification and destruction of the natural world. Chris Brawley discusses the power of mythopoeic imagination in fantasy literature, which he states “provides readers with a quasi-religious experience often termed wonder.”9 With regards to this “wonder,” sciencefiction and fantasy literature can help in two ways: it can, through creativity and awe, raise awareness for an issue in a way that reality is unable to and it can force an individual to turn bring this awareness back to the mundane world in a re-evaluation of the role of nature.10 Fantasy literature has an ability to bring reader’s out of their comfort zone—away from the daily intrusions of the media, jobs, political dysfunction—and into a world where the landscapes and characters are unfamiliar, thereby placing them within a world outside of their current modes of knowledge. In doing so, fantasy literature stirs the imagination and asks readers to step outside of prescribed, anthropocentric constructions of knowledge and into new, unfiltered modes of experience and knowledge. Brawley refers to this as “a shift from an anthropocentric paradigm to an ecocentric or biocentric paradigm.”11 This is a key point where ecocriticism and science-fiction and fantasy literature converge. This collection will discuss the environmental and ecocritical themes found in works of science fiction and fantasy literature. Through an analysis of these literary works, we can see and understand how they address the environmental issues we are dealing with today. More importantly, we investigate the solutions that these works present to ensure the sustainability of our natural world, and, in turn, the sustainability of humanity. In the section titled “Industrial Dilemmas,” industry is the focal point in a shift from environmental consciousness to one of industrial and technological “progress.” These essays look at technology as the tool that separates man from nature, and in doing so, marks a significant shift in human consciousness. Fred Waage’s “The Secret Life of The Death of Iron”, discusses a lesser known 1931 work written by Serge-Simon Held, an author who, it is speculated, wrote no other works. The Death of Iron 9

Chris Brawley, “The Fading of the World: Tolkien's Ecology and Loss in The Lord of the Rings,” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 18.3 (2007), 292. 10 Ibid., 292. 11 Brawley, “The Fading of the World”, 294.



(La Mort du Fer) recounts a “fatal flaw” of chemistry found in iron which causes all built structures on earth to disintegrate, throwing human civilization into chaos and savagery from which emerges a new mystically-bound society respectful of nature. Waage establishes the significance of the novel as a work of ecological science fiction, and sees it as a generational successor to Emile Zola’s Germinal, in which nature itself rebels against its abuse by technology and industrialism. ‘“No name, no business, no Precious, nothing. Only empty. Only hungry’: Gollum as Industrial Casualty” looks at Sméagol/Gollum as the representation of the tortured soul, torn between his natural self and the corruption of industry, symbolized by the One Ring, an entity that breeds a lust for power and an abandonment of nature. The paper analyzes the struggle of the individual as he is confronted by the external battle of the natural and the industrial, posing the question: Where and how do we see ourselves—as individuals, as a society—in Gollum? The essays in the section titled “The Natural World and the Self” envision a time where individuals are forced to examine their identities in a world where environmental disasters, due in large part to human activity, have forced society into a new way of being and a new way of functioning. Annette Magid’s essay “Seeking Spaces: An Analysis of Environmental Solutions in Science Fiction and Utopian Literature” explores the interface of nineteenth century communal thoughts, environmental determinations and gender issues juxtaposed with twentyfirst century concerns for community survival. She looks at gender roles in the utopian and communal ideals of writers and philosophers, such as Robert Owen and Gene Rodenberry. In “Nature, Community and the Self in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Nicola Griffith’s Slow River”, Susan Bernardo examines how nature and narrative come together in the novels Slow River and Parable of the Sower to illustrate the importance of a symbiotic relationship with the natural world. She analyzes how the novels illustrate ways that water and its availability shape and sustain both individuals and the societies they live in, while also laying the groundwork for a society that respects and harvests natural resources and helps people to flourish. With an analysis of the diverse backgrounds of each novel’s main protagonists, Bernardo connects the struggle for earth’s most valuable and sought after resource—water—and the enduring challenge to gain and regain and understanding of the self in the setting of an ecological crisis. Melanie Dawson’s paper, “Sugared Violets and Conscious Wands: Deep Ecology in the Harry Potter Series”, explores the presence of deep ecology in the Harry Potter series. She argues that J. K. Rowling’s works present the importance of comprehending

Environmentalism in the Realm of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature


a deeply individuated set of coexisting consciousnesses, an importance set within its battle between good and evil. She analyzes the ecological importance of an important theme in the series: living in the wizarding world – successfully – requires a deep understanding of evolving strategies of coexistence, once one’s eyes are opened to the presence of an intertwined system of laws governing all forms of life. “Materialism, Capitalism, and Environmentalism” contains contributions that look at the damaging effects of the capitalistic order on the environment and on those forced to reside within its economic and ideological systems. In this section, scholars investigate the effects of the machinery of capitalism on the social bodies and on humanity. In “The Literary and Literal Dangers of a Flawed Valuation System: Reading Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rainforest through the Political Lens of Hannah Arendt”, Audrey Golden examines Yamashita’s novel alongside Arendt’s postwar political-theory texts The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) and The Human Condition (1953). The connection is made to illuminate the ways in which a misunderstanding of materiality and the capitalist valuation system can result in environmental destruction and, ultimately, near apocalypse. Positing that Yamashita’s novel can be read as an allegoristic warning to practitioners of materiality, Golden analyzes the literary treatment of superfluity and its connection with specific characters and objects throughout the text, which are all described through the language of commodification. In “The Pedagogical Potential of Margaret Atwood’s Speculative Fiction: Exploring Ecofeminism in the Classroom”, Sean Murray looks at how Atwood’s dystopian fiction— Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood—offers a unique pedagogical opportunity to analyze the thematic unity of the three novels, while involving students in an investigation of the solutions to the environmental destruction and gender inequality found in the three works. Using an ecofeminist approach, Murray sees the novels as a critique of patriarchal power and feminine subordination; this abuse of women, Murray posits, goes hand in hand with environmental degradation. “Dystopian Futures” offers three contributions concerning the consequence of environmental destruction. In “Destroying Imagination to Save Reality: Environmental Apocalypse in Science Fiction”, Keira Hambrick argues that environmental science fiction allows readers to explore the possible outcomes of current ecological crises. Her essay exposes and investigates how the novel’s environments reflect and engage with such contemporary concerns as climate change, overpopulation, and food production. Dawn A. Saliba proposes that Cormac McCarthy’s postapocalyptic novel The Road, presents the collapse of both the natural



world as well as human culture and language brought on as a direct consequence of a nuclear-winter cataclysm. In her essay titled “EcoLinguistic Disintegration in Cormac McCarthy's The Road”, she discusses the concurrent disintegration of language and the ecological, and posits that The Road serves as warning, not just of an environmental decay, but of a moral one as well. Saliba analyzes how McCarthy creates a world that, though fictitious, reflects the non-illusory teleological, if not eschatological, folly and destructive nature of humanity. Christine Battista’s essay “Ecofantasy and Animal Dystopia in Richard Adams’ Watership Down”, looks at the ecological implications of Adams’ 1972 novel. She sees the novel’s ecocritical value in its ability to shift its point-of-view from one that is anthropocentric to one that is more focused on—and more connected to—the nonhuman world. Told through the eyes of a family of rabbits, Battista argues that the novel allows us to embrace a shift in our ontological connection to nature. The strength of this collection is the interdisciplinary approach that each essay takes in order to investigate and analyze the environmental issues threatening human existence. It is not limited to ecocriticism and environmentalism, but instead uses these two fields as the foundation for an in-depth look at many issues that society, both nationally and globally, faces today. Margaret Mead once stated, “We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment.” The works discussed bring to light the consequences of humanity’s irresponsible destruction of the natural world, and, in turn, its own existence. They also yield a keen understanding of these consequences and the solutions needed to avoid them.



The purpose of this paper is threefold: to discuss my search for SergeSimon Held, the mysterious author of a 1931 French ecological science fiction novel, La Mort du Fer (The Death of Iron); to discuss the cultural context in which it was written, with a view to establishing its significance; and to introduce the reader to the novel itself. My particular emphasis will be on La Mort du Fer as a generational successor to Emile Zola’s Germinal, in which nature itself rebels against its abuse by technology and industrialism.

I. The Quest I first became acquainted with Serge-Simon Held’s novel La Mort du Fer when preparing an environmental study of Ross Lockridge Jr.’s Raintree County. In his biography of his father, Larry Lockridge says that during his convalescence from scarlet fever, shortly after graduating from Indiana University in 1935, Ross Lockridge—who had spent his junior year in France—“read an obscure 1931 French novel, Serge Simon Held’s La Mort du fer—“The Death of Iron”—that would bear strange fruit a few years later.”1 This fruit would be his epic and never-to-be-published poem, The Dream of the Death of Iron, partly inspired by his own disease; its “main narrative source,” however, was Held’s novel: “He initially thought of writing a poem as “a series of fragments” based on this novel in which French [and ultimately world] industry is mysteriously debilitated by a phosphorescent rot in all its iron and steel leading to apocalyptic social dislocation and collapse.”2 Larry Lockridge believes that this disease of metal came to figure “materialism,” and that his father came to see “the growth of industry as spiritual illness and literal blight. The fiery iron mills 1 2

Larry Lockridge, Shade of the Raintree (New York: Viking Penguin, 1994), 159. Lockridge, Shade, 185.


Chapter One

[of Held’s novel] were like diseased hearts and the contagion spread deep into the ground and into people’s skin and bones. The antidote to all this was a renewed spiritual link to the body and the natural world. He had emerged from his sickbed a worshipper of nature.”3 In later correspondence Larry Lockridge says “there is no underestimating the impression that it made on him,” and it “was instrumental in seeding the environmental values of R[aintree] C[ounty].”4 I thought that to have such a strong environmentalist effect on (in my view) a great writer, Held’s novel must, for all its current obscurity, have impressive powers, so as well as getting a copy to read (there are only five in U.S.libraries),5 I went questing for information on the work and its author. The fruitlessness of this quest, so far, has been astonishing. From the Bibliothèque Nationale catalogue, one learns that La Mort du Fer was published by the preeminent entre-deux-guerres house of Arthème Fayard in 1931, and that it was “imprimé” (printed) by the press F. Paillart in Abbeville--a city on the English Channel in Northeast France, near the locale where the novel is set. In the International Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb) I learned that the novel was published in the pioneering pulp sci-fi anthology Wonder Story Annual, 1952, in an English translation sci-fi novelist Robert Silverberg explains was originally made—by another notable writer in the genre, Fletcher Pratt—for the Otto Gernsback serial Wonder Stories, beginning in September, 1932.6 Held is not even present in Dreher and Rolli’s exhaustive Bibliographie de La Littérature Française, 1930-39. Jacques Sadoul’s Histoire de la Science Fiction Moderne, 1911-71, repeats, in a footnote, the information about Pratt’s translation in Gernsbach’s Wonder Stories, and notes “a disquieting similarity in theme to The Metal Doom of [British novelist] Dr. David H. Keller, which was serialized starting in May, 1932. Sadoul asks “Did the good doctor perhaps know French, and did Gernsback [perhaps] want to “make reparation”?87 3

Ibid., 185 Lockridge, Larry. Email to the Author. 3 Mar. 2011. 5 Lockridge, Larry. Email to the Author. 11 Mar. 2011. 6 Silverberg, David, “Reflections: The Death of Gallium,” in Asimov’s Science Fiction. Silverberg says he learned of the novel from Donald Tuck’s Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. 7 Jacques Sadoul. Histoire de la Science-Fiction Moderne (1911-1971) (Paris: Albin Michel, 1973), 82. David Szondy’s blog “Tales of Future Past” refers to Held’s work and reprints a cartoon of urban chaos possibly from Pratt’s translation. 4

The Secret Life of The Death of Iron


I found a living French writer, Claude Held, who wrote that he had no knowledge of Serge-Simon Held, but suspected the latter was, like himself, of Alsatian origin: Held is a common name in Alsace, and many residents of Alsace and Lorraine fled to Paris in 1870, when the FrancoPrussian war resulted in their cession to Germany.98 So far, genealogy sites for Alsace have not yielded my author, although I learned that “Held,” “hero” in German, is often used by Jews as an “ornamental surname.” Months after my initial searches I was startled to find a new online reference to Held’s novel in the blog “Stalker: Dissection du Cadavre de la Littérature” (“dissection of the corpse of literature”), conducted by French literary controversialist Juan Asensio. Asensio bewails that the work is both “remarkable” and “perfectly forgotten, even unknown, as though it had never been published,” despite being short-listed for the Prix Goncourt.9 He praises the “realism” of Held’s narrative, within which the novel develops a theory that “iron is a form of life, susceptible to an infection which, in its development, resembles that of a real [i.e. organic] virus,” killing the “aged body of a France paralyzed by the collapse of its metal industry.”10 Asensio emphasizes the realistic localization of its action, in the North of France—a geographical specificity which aids in understanding the cultural context of its creation. Given this endorsement, I found it astonishing that my survey of French periodicals of 1931-32—a limited one to be sure—such as L’Europe and La Revue Bleue, found no mention of La Mort du Fer, with one exception: André Thérive’s book review column in Le Temps,11 which devotes one surprisingly derogatory paragraph to it: There has been much talk of The Death of Iron, by M. S.-S. Held, which attaches itself clearly to futurism [“anticipations”] á la Wells, and which bears the characteristics of a novelist. You will recall in reading it The Age of Lead by M. Henri Falk and several analogous works: and you will speculate that the subject would have enchanted Paul Adam. But the book is very poorly put together: a very awkward alternation between private intrigues and “historical” narratives, the poorly-paced sequence of the story, sometimes detailed, sometimes rushed, and especially an irritating composition which constantly retools the subject, rendering it ultimately 8

Claude Held, email to the author, 15 Dec. 2010. Juan Asensio, “Au-delá de l’Effondrement 28: La Mort du Fer de S. S. Held,” Stalker, (17 Nov. 2010). 10 Ibid. 11 André Thérive, “Les Livres,” Le Temps 18 (Feb. 1932), 3. 9


Chapter One schematic, expressed arbitrarily and cursorily . . . All you need to know is that, a mysterious disease attacking iron, our civilization collapses without anyone being able to find other metals to replace it. In such fables, absolute credibility is difficult to sustain: one constantly discerns the author’s tricks for controlling his fiction or directing it too conveniently M. Held has the advantage to paint knowledgeably the life of engineers and the intrigues of metallurgy. The catastrophe he imagines has the power to overcome and depass the wishes (“voeux”) of Georges Duhamel. It is to be noted (p. 86) that a Moroccan doesn’t [“want to bear”?] the title of bey.

The reviews by Asensio and Thérive, so contrary, suggest paths to travel in investigating the cultural/historical environment into which Held released his novel.

II. Place and Time Early 1930’s France, effected by worldwide depression, was filled with ideologically creative tension: capitalism and communism were both under attack in the political realm, in the shadow of unremediated World War I trauma, syndicalist unrest, and a problematic colonial empire. In the literary realm one finds a similar tension, which might be seen as between the physical and the metaphysical given that then the “realist” or “proletarian” novel shared ground in France with speculative fiction. One can find both in the novels of Georges Duhamel, who Thérive suggests would be gratified by Held’s vision of the future. Duhamel was finishing his sequence of novels featuring the protagonist Salavin (homophonic with Held’s engineer Sélévine), and was probably related to Held by Thérive because of his current book The American Menace: Scenes from the Life of the Future (1931). Many French intellectuals demonized both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. at the time, for different reasons. The U.S. was in France symbolized by the captain of industry Henry Ford, and capitalism was called “le péril Ford.”12 Duhamel’s book is based on a tour of the U.S. meant to evidence the claim that its technology was leading to a destructive and dystopian future. Duhamel anticipates Held’s iron mills in describing Chicago’s abbatoirs: It all smoked, panted, and spat. Everything was the color of coal, with huge signs, pipes, footbridges, towers, skeins of cables, lamps burning livid


John Hellman, The Communitarian Third Way: Alexandre Marc’s Ordre Nouveau, 1930-2000 (Montreal: McGill-Queens UP, 2002), 32.

The Secret Life of The Death of Iron


under the light of day, and an unimaginable odor of burning animal waste, of the washhouse and of warm intestines.13

In one mode, Duhamel pits the industrial against the moral and spiritual; although this opposition is not the same as Held’s opposition between the industrial and the natural. A very similar view of technology as antihumanistic, and embodied in the modern factory, can be found in Alphonse Séché’s La Morale de la Machine (The Morality of the Machine) [1929]. Here, the factory has “soiled the splendor of the day”: The factory with its blind walls, its glassed-in workrooms, its tar-paved hangars, its roof-peaks like saw teeth, its brick and cement chimneys— infernal steeples belching black incense—with its pyramids of waste and blast furnaces which spit fire—cathedrals of the modern world.14

The periodical press had of necessity a different take on the “Ford peril,” on the model of Julien Benda’s Trahison des Clercs (1927), since its audience was not the restless, overeducated, bourgeois youth, of Alexandre Marc’s “Ordre Nouveau,”15 but the literate masses. The industrial complex employed (and disemployed) the workers who ultimately would rather have jobs in Duhamel’s “realm of scientific death” than starve. You can see, for example, in the socialist newspaper L’Humanité, no attack on (e.g.) the iron and steel industry in itself, but on the way its “grands patrons” conducted it. For example, a serial novella by Tristan Rémy, “L’Usine” (“The Factory”) personifies the factory as an entity coeval with its managers: “the factory, like a gleaming, spoiled beast, holds beneath its heavy paw the [miner’s] house which it can erase with a single blow whenever it wants.”16 Reports from the main regions of French mining and metalworking industries (the “pays noir,” “black lands” of the Belgian border, and Lorraine) in l’Humanité emphasize the interdependent victimization of their workers: “Miners of iron and other metals are tightly bound. . .bound to their exploitation by the same masters.”17 Lorraine is described as a “military camp,” full of paramilitary organizations subsidized by the steel 13

Georges Duhamel, America the Menace: Scenes from the Life of the Future. Tr. Charles Miner Thompson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1931), 96. 14 Alphonse Séché, La Morale de la Machine (Paris: Malfére, 1929). 9. 15 The adherents of Marc’s “Ordre Nouveau,” characterized by Hellman as full of “spiritual yearnings, irresolution, self-questioning, interest in the absolute, and unfocused righteousness” (30). 16 Tristan Rémy, “L’Usine,” L’Humanité 6 (Dec. 1931), 6. 17 “Parmi les cités d’acier: rationalisation et chomage,” L’Humanité (25 Oct 1931), 5.


Chapter One

magnates.18 While Le Temps is concerned with the plunging market for steel products,19 L’Humanité visits the steel mills themselves: Heat, noxious dust, nauseating odors, this is the atmosphere. Somber workrooms filled with smoke: black earth, beaten soil, blackened pools of water. . .And black dust, always the dust, which chokes the throat, stains the workers’ eyes so only their whites show.20

The “popular press” thus manifested two seemingly antithetical but in Held’s words complementary tendencies of French literature 1930: an idealized vision of a new world order following apocalyptic events, and a gritty, painful, “realistic” view of the capitalistic labor system. But what if it is not the iron and steel barons but nature itself, taking an ecologically proletarian position, that creates the cracks and weak spots in the iron and steel, hoisting the capitalist system with its own pétard? Doesn’t this dualism, carried further, become a proletarian science fiction? The author embodying both the terms above most completely in his work is the novelist Pierre Hamp, described by one reviewer as “the poet of jobs,” whose fundamental concern is “the point of contact between the man and the thing, the way the man relates to the thing.”21 Hamp calls himself “Brother Hamp, Priest of Labor.”22 Hamp’s La Laine, published almost simultaneously with Held’s, in his series “The Pain of Men,” is set near Denain in Roubaix/Tourcoing on the Belgian border, and, like La Mort du Fer centers on factories, in this case woolen mills, and on their patron’s enlightened son, Réné Blanseau, who, like Raymond Leclair in La Mort du Fer, gained his formative work experience in colonial Morocco. Hamp portrays the factory owners with profound cynicism: “no stronger bond united the great industrialists’ families than the battle with their workers.”23 One of them says “if we had done our job right, there would be no socialism and everyone would go to mass.” Réné replies “Without the misery of our workers, many of us would be poor.”24 If Hamp is a proletarian realist, what is one to make of another factory novel published nearly at the time of Held’s, and by an Academician no 18

L’Humanité (11 Jan. 1932), 5. “Etudes Financières: Aciéries de Longwy,” Le Temps (5 Oct. 1930), 4. 20 “Dans les fonderies où la mortalité des ouvriers est accrue.” L’Humanité (3 Oct. 1931), 5. 21 Review of Pierre Hamp’s works, Nouvelle Revue Française 37, (July-Dec. 1931), 539. 22 Pierre Hamp, Mes Métiers (Paris: Gallimard, 1943), 15. 23 Pierre Hamp, La Laine (Paris: Flammarion, 1931), 39. 24 Hamp, Laine, 44-45. 19

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less, André Chamson’s Héritages? Chamson, whose proletarian sympathies might be considered a form of attachment to the local, rural culture of the Cevennes rather than urban and political, nonetheless creates a situation remarkably similar to Held’s. Georges Caverac, who has left the small town of St-André, where his family is generations old, to get a cosmopolitan education as an engineer, is sent back to his hometown by his company. His job is to “set up an entire factory”25 there, and the patrons feel he’ll be especially suited for this task because of his family connections. Unfortunately, his former comrades, grown, spurn him, and Georges’s factory plan is actually greeted by great hostility: “he wants to sell his homeland to businessmen.”26 He understands this when, looking down from the mountains, he sees a “natural harmony, this great human architecture intimately mingled with that of the earth.”27 He comes to understand that neither he nor the factory can become part of the nature or culture of St-André, and refuses to go forward. The Director says: “you must never mix numbers and human relationships;” Georges needs to be separated from his “sentimental, good-will preoccupations.”28 He will be reassigned, and the factory will be built whether the townsfolk want it or not: “Great abstract lines seemed to fall on the earth like shadows.”29 Just as technology was placed in bad odor by the literature of labor and realism, so it was often the culprit in the entre-deux-guerres, “the ‘golden era’ of French SF.”30 A governing motif of much sci-fi then was somewhat analogous to the socio-anarchistic narrative: machines destroy humanity in its current form, and it is reconstituted, or other beings take over, in a postapocalyptic time.31 As the Lofficiers say, after World War I science fiction in France was the locus of a battle between conservatism and progress.32 This is a paradoxical battle, since anti-machine futurism can be construed as profoundly conservative, like Chamson’s St-André residents who feel threatened by progress; yet true conservative Catholics, for example, abhorred both the genre of science fiction and the technological progress it so often criticized. Stableford argues that post-World War I 25

Chamson, André, Héritages (Paris: Grasset, 1932), 11. Ibid., 128. 27 Ibid., 137. 28 Ibid., 286. 29 Ibid., 296. 30 Arthur B Evans, “Science Fiction in France: A Brief History,” Science-Fiction Studies 16.3 (1989), 259. 31 E. M. Forster’s short story “The Machine Stops” (1909) is a brilliant employment of this motif, as is J.-H. Rosny’s La Mort de la Terre (1910). 32 Jean-Marc and Randy L’officier, French Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Pulp Fiction (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000), 361. 26


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disillusion destroyed the less-conflicted science-based “marvel fiction” represented by such significant writers as Maurice Renard and Gustave La Rouge.33 I don’t agree. Perhaps “marvel” fiction extolling Wellsian inventions positively was less prominent after the war, but sci-fi in that period actually throve on technological apocalypsism. The Lofficiers mention a number of pre-Held works which partake in this paradox. José Moselli’s La Fin d’Illa (1925) posited “a technologically advanced race who lost their will to fight and their feeling of humanity.”34 There were many doomed cities of the future, dominated by technology, and many fictions which involved the kind of matter-animation that besets Held’s world as the “Blue Sickness.” Raoul Bigot, among others, used this device in Le Fer Qui Meurt (1918). In Denain, the industrial city where the first two-thirds of La Mort du Fer is set, Held had a ready-made industrial dystopia, whose phenomenology could represent both the factory world of literary realism and the hallucinatory sense-distortion of a science fiction realm. Denain had an important role in French commercial history and in the issues of labor and capital between the world wars. In the early 19th century, it was a major inland port for the north of France, by virtue of its position on the navigable river Escaut. Its importance increased when mines were established there in mid-century, particularly those of the Enclos de la Compagnie d’Anzin and the Fosses Renard. Close upon the mining ventures came the associated iron and steel foundries, of which the most notorious was Usinor (founded 1848) and longest lived Cail (1844).35 Guy Cattiaux has vividly described the displacement of agrarian space by these operations: “little by little, work in the fields disappeared, and the plains gave way to immense factories.”36 After 1838, when the rail line was opened from Anzin to Denain, it was the center of a complex construction and transport system: rail transported coal and iron to foundries, and products thereof to wholesalers or to the canal traffic beside the Escaut. Adding to this overdevelopment was the location there of casernes for the French military (very handy when strikes got out of


Brian Stableford, “In Search of a New Genre: Jarry, Renard, and Attempts to Categorize and Promote ‘Scientific’ Fiction in France, 1902-1928,” New York Review of Science Fiction 22.1, (2009), 12. 34 L’officier, 363. 35 “France, le trésor des régions: Denain.” 10 Jan. 2011. 36 Guy Cattiaux, Denain: Des Hommes d’Acier, Un Région á Sauver,” (Denain: G. Cattiaux, 1980), 14.

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control), which permitted the ready presence of army units in Held’s novel. Denain developed a “new” and rough company town, “des corons” (generic for “industrial slum” ), next to the old city center, and with new rail lines in the 1880’s, “Denain became a black city, smoke-filled, built of bric-a-brac [a pun in the French] without any symmetry, and devoted to utilitarian and practical ends rather than aesthetic;” it was surrounded by coke furnaces, “whose reddish flames glowed sadly in the night.”37 Miners’ strikes began in the 1820’s and became violent and chronic in the 1880’s and 1890’s; several times the city was under martial law, especially in 1906, when 1,200 miners died in a cave-in, and workers fought the Denain became such a flashcavalry in the “Battle of Haveluy.”38 point that Jean Juarès visited it in 1914, days before his assassination. Cattiaux concludes “Denain was one of the cradles of mining syndicalism and socialism.”39 However, literarily, the most important source for the revenge of nature over technology in La Mort du Fer is Emile Zola’s Germinal, which, despite Zola’s lack of familiarity with mines and mining, is rich in the intimate details which only a true miner could experience. It is not by accident that you can find Restaurant le Germinal on Rue Emile Zola in Denain, because he visited the mines of Denain and Anzin in early 1884, traveling with the region’s socialist deputy Alfred Giard, disguised as Giard’s secretary.40 Zola’s visit was inspired by the Anzin strike of February, 1884, over firings and expanded workloads, which followed a strike for similar reasons at Montceau-les-Mines in 1882, resulting in Zola’s novelistic “Montsou,” which is, in effect, Anzin.41 But more to the point, and what Germinal gives to Held is the consciousness of nature and the earth being violated by humans, who themselves are being violated by the bosses who extort unremitting and unrewarded labor from them. Held, I feel, has taken Zola’s warfares-37

Cattiaux, 35. Cattiaux, 86, 106. For more coverage of workers’ conditions in Denain in the later 20th century, see Guienne, Raymond and André Pierrard. Denain: Un Crime Signé Usinor. Condé-sur-Escaut, France: G. Blondel, 1979. 39 Cattiaux, 389. The works of miner poet Jules Mousseron (1868-1943), who wrote in Rouchi, the dialect of the pays noir, has fascinating connections with Held and Emile Zola. See Mousseron, Jules. A L’Fosse: La Mine et les Mineurs. Ed. Jean Dauby. Valenciennes: Famars, 1975. 40 F. W. J. Hemmings, The Life and Times of Emile Zola (New York: Scribner, 1977) 120-122. 41 Richard H Zakarian, Zola’s Germinal:A Critical Study of its Primary Sources (Geneva: L. L. Droz, 1972) 18. 38


Chapter One

humans against nature, humans against humans—and placed them in an even more encompassing war: that of supposedly inanimate matter against collective humanity. To some extent, Zola gives nature the agency of revenge: when the mine, Le Voreux, sinks into an abyss, leaving only a “muddy lake, like those lakes beneath which lie evil cities destroyed by God.”42 Here one can feel that nature has healed a wound on its ferny surface. Yet we know, by way of dramatic irony, that the anarchist Souvarine who has committed sabotage, weakening the mine shaft so that the gathering waters beneath will collapse and engulf it and all its works (surely it is no coincidence that Souvarine plays the same role, in action and ideology, that the homonymic Sélévine does in La Mort du Fer). Hemmings points out that Souvarine became a fictional patron of early 20th century anarchists, and Germinal gained “an unexpected and sinister prestige.”43 However, although Held’s and Zola’s anarchists are powerful, if destructive, visionaries of a post-apocalyptic utopia (for Souvarine it is “the primitive and formless community, . . a new world”),44 it seems that it is more Zola’s sensitivity to the violation of nature that influenced Held. For example, in Germinal we find Le Tartaret, a piece of sterile, wild moorland, beneath which a coal fire forever burns. “The dark red calcined rocks had taken on an efflorescent coating of alum, like leprosy. On the edges of fissures sulphur grew like yellow flowers.”45 Le Tartaret is associated with a local mythology of damnation, but, perversely, in its midst, is the “Green Hill,” with “its grass for ever green, the leaves of its beech-trees forever new, and its fields where as many as three harvests ripened.”46 This is exactly the sort of perversion of nature’s natural course that Held so sensuously evokes.

III. Death Itself It must be understood that the interiorized technological spaces, where the first half of La Mort du Fer is mainly set, are repugnantly un-natural. They represent a violation both of nature and of human nature, as conveyed in the novel’s very first sentence: “Raymond Leclair, having established the unlikely result of the measures he had taken, didn’t attribute them to science, which was [to him] above suspicion, but to 42

Zola, Emile. Germinal, Tr. L W. Tancock (Baltimore: Penguin, 1968), 453. Hemmings, 200-203. 44 Zola, 236. 45 Ibid., 291. 46 Ibid., 202. 43

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fallible human nature.”47 Raymond Leclair, the primary protagonist of the novel’s first half, is a quality control engineer in a steel plant in the [real] industrial town of Denain, near the Belgian border in northern France. The adventure that will engage him, and, initially, the factory as a whole, demonstrates repeatedly the fallibility of human nature, and, in consequence, the fallibility of human applied “science,” which can neither understand nor control non-human nature. Raymond, who is thirty and has been previously an engineer on damconstruction projects in Morocco, has been hired away eight months earlier by the Denain factory’s director, Morain. He works closely with, and under orders of, the applied engineer Pierre Sélévine, who will become his ambiguous rival and eventual usurper in the story. Unlike Chamson’s Georges, Leclair and Sélévine are not native to the place (nor is, in truth, the factory that employs them), and thus both observe the industrial overlay on an agrarian landscape with bemused disgust. Through the windows of their office they can see “the magnified orb of a red sun enfold itself in a sky of clouds and smoke. Beneath this mournful vault an industrial town displayed its proud works. . . .you could see confusedly the workers’ quarters over which hung the river fog, and the factories of Denain, presenting in the drizzly fog their compact cubes and their skeletons of iron.”48

Raymond, who is not a sensitive soul, nonetheless detests this “corner of the earth rendered ugly by industry,” devoted to “the conquest of inanimate matter [and] construct[ion] of the arms which gave feeble mankind its power.”49 The real concern of both engineers however is Leclair’s “unlikely” findings from his study of “aciers sauvages” (literally “savage steels”), those which don’t act the way steel should, losing at a certain point their internal cohesion and crumbling for no apparent reason.50 He has discovered what would seem impossible: within certain (presumably molecular) crystalline structures “something unforeseen, something as variable as life [itself].”51 With these words Leclair has launched the novel’s main premise, that what humans consider inanimate, nonliving—and therefore subject to scientific analysis and control—is actually a form of life, with the mutable traits of an organism. This paradoxical life of the nonliving is repeatedly 47

Held, S. S. La Mort du Fer. Paris: Fayard, 1931: 4. Ibid., 8. 49 Ibid., 9. 50 Ibid., 11. 51 Ibid., 12. 48


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emphasized in factory scenes through Held’s astonishing sensory imagery, both precise and hallucinatory. In the foundries, for example, the radiant skin of metal elaborated itself. Fire reigned under these deep naves. . .It took the most diverse forms, appeared, in its different modalities, in purple tongues, in rubescent vapors, in gems, in the flowers of dreams.52

When the first machine breaks, the foundry foreman, ignorant of what Leclair and Sélévine know about the “aciers sauvages,” suspects that the accident “did not happen by chance but was provoked.”53 Thus begins a chain of misinterpretations, based on social conditions and the assumption of human agency: since the works of technology cannot be inherently fallible, their breakdowns must be due to sabotage. Leclair himself promotes a theory of industrial warfare based on patriarchal absolutism experienced in Morocco. Held, I believe, distances himself from this patriarchal attitude of his protagonist while initiating a close analogy between disorder in social systems and in molecular systems. Whatever the causes of either, disorder in the objects of labor is transferred to the laborers, particularly in the perspective of those whose livelihood depends on the labor. The evening of the above accident, Leclair traverses Denain on his way to a social gathering at Morain’s, and observes the habitat of the potentially fractious laborers: He passed through the hamlet of Tréchy, where the whole working class population was piled: narrow streets, slovenly houses, brick ghettos whose smoky walls were lighted by flames trembling in lamps . . a succession of buildings, sheltering behind glass and steel a frenetic and deafening life. Bridges vaulted the segments over the waters of a canal. Crossed by parallel cables and wires, electric moons spread their milky clarities.54

Leclair’s goal is the other side of Denain and the other side of the social divide: Morain’s estate, Ronceraies, which is surrounded by a park bordering the Escaut River. Leclair has the hots for Morain’s young wife Renée, whom he can see there along with a trinity of representative intellectuals: the doctor, Levysson; the painter, Bréval; and the dominant personality, the polymath scientist Fontaine, who doesn’t believe in science but loves it for “its subtle games suitable to distract an honest man 52

Ibid., 18-19. Ibid., 22. 54 Ibid., 26. 53

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on the road to the grave.”55 Fontaine professes himself a humanitarian, like Tolstoy, but also a materialist, and is very skeptical of Sélévine’s view, as described by Morain, that metals have a “slow life, a sort of obtuse consciousness and sensibility. . .phenomena in common with the basic body and the living cell,”56 but they all agree that iron is “the primordial element” and “in a way the structuring agent of modern civilization.”57 57 Fontaine, however, is what one might label a “human triumphalist:” no life form can equal the human intelligence, an “organic machine;” humanity’s superiority is based on its power to “invent and construct tools and automatic [devices].”58 The future, he declares, belongs to the material: “The absolute rule of metal is near.”59 Remarkably, the unnatural, fabricated future of Bréval’s admired “precisionist” painters and Fontaine’s materialist vision is present in ovo down the street in Denain. To some extent Fontaine recognizes, but does not oppose, the actual suffering that would be caused by his version of an industrial utopia: suffering is inevitable, “certain miseries are irreduceable.”60 Sélévine, who has joined the group, is skeptical of this stoicism in the face of “social iniquity.” “We must relieve immediate miseries without being preoccupied with far-off consequences unknown to us. This society you admire is based on a monstrous paradox. But beware, its stability is only apparent!”61 Knowing as much as Sélévine knows, the reader is aware of this whole conversation’s irony: it is based on unexamined assumptions about permanence in the human condition—assumptions which the engineers’ researches have brought into question. Following this evening, other mechanical malfunctions occur in the factory and are attributed by the foreman, as before, to sabotage, now given an identity: “communist.” One of the most powerful scenes in the novel occurs in a solo overnight confrontation between Sélévine and his machines. In one of them, he discerns an irregular heartbeat: “From this heart of copper and iron, energy like a mysterious blood flowed through the cables.”62 He looks for the source in the foundry where “monster gestating, larvae drawn from the depths of the earth slept in anticipation of 55

Ibid., 29. Ibid., 32. 57 Ibid., 33. 58 Ibid., 34. 59 Ibid., 35. 60 Ibid., 44. 61 Ibid., 45 62 Ibid., 53. 56


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the creative forces which would animate them.”63 Returning to the main factory, Sélévine raises his eyes and sees through its windows the stars like another fiery dustcloud punctuate the vault of night. His gaze lost itself in space, where the gods are dead and which alone fills the immense desolation of cold and silence. [He thinks] “no aid could come from there any more; an eternal desert bathed all parts of the globe where nature [had]become self-conscious only to hate itself. The adamantine constellations, which had seen man cross the primitive threshold and seen him die, ridiculed this obstinate insect working in his glass cage. He [would have] only the time of a heartbeat if he were to prevail. O foolish hope, laughable vanity! So much pain and so many delicate sorrows thrown into nothingness! Ah! Rather than this deception, to forget oneself, to live like a beast!”

Sélévine’s melodramatic nihilism here is in profound contrast to the smug intellectualism of Morain’s guests, but it cuts much closer, I believe, to the environmental claim Held’s novel makes. Sélévine predicts humanity caught in paradox: escaped from instinct only to be able to return to instinct embodied in automatism. With or without iron, humans and the nature they inhabit are bound for destruction, “the vain efforts of humanity seeking [freedom] from itself and destroying itself through the instruments constructed for its liberation.”64 Over the next months, the steadily increasing breakdown of machines and mortality caused thereby are routinely attributed to worker sabotage: milling machines and other hard tools soften, a leprosy eats at their “compact tissues,” workers refuse to repair them out of fear, and then have to fear factory shutdowns and unemployment. As similar phenomena spread to other factories and mines in the North, Leclair comes to believe that Sélévine was right: “A contagion was raging among the accumulations of steel, passing rapidly from one metal to another. All his reason was repelled by this incredible conclusion”65—that his “sickness” was spreading in the way germs are spread among living creatures. At this point the mal bleu, “Blue Sickness,” goes viral: the French government takes note but will not bail out the steel and mining companies; the media are all over it; the prefect of the North department preventively sends soldiers to Denain. The Blue Sickness attacks new technologies--shipping and electric generation--and spreads along rail lines to reach the electric stations, where their monstrous turbines, “the 63

Ibid., 54. Ibid., 60. 65 Ibid., 80. 64

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palpitating hearts from which energy poured through a million canals [,] ceased to beat.”66 Back at the factory, the steam engine generating its basic power explodes, killing Morain and wounding Leclair and many others. Morain’s death enables one of his former employees, Laval, to paint him as a representative of feudal capitalism, a vampire who has dispossessed the workers twice: by enslaving them and by depriving them of employment (presumably by dying).67 “The sickness of iron will destroy the bases of this iniquitous society,” preaches Laval. “We must attack capitalism and bring it down with a single blow.”68 Leclair, as usual, avoids the social and religious conflicts that the Blue Sickness has unleashed, and is interested only in how he can elope with the newly-widowed Renée Morain. Renaud, a scientist, has become intrigued with the Blue Sickness since so many “scientific minds are repelled at [the thought of] admitting the possibility of a mineral sickness and make an effort to explain everything through the classical formulations of molecular physics,”69 whereas an American scientist posits it is the result of “collective suggestion.” Renaud gets a media commission to investigate the iron mines of Fontoy, west of Thionville (a real location, as always with Held, in Lorraine just below the Luxembourg border). Renaud’s descent into this telluric hell appears akin to a descent into the opiate hallucinations described by Jean Cocteau in Opium, published in 1930: “disaster, riots, factories that leap, armies in flight, deluge . . .an entire apocalypse of the starry night [in] the human body.”70 The fusion of the organic and inorganic Renaud experiences seems as disorienting to the reader as it is to him and his guides. He reaches an underground pond covered with a sulfurous plaque. “’In the profundity of these motherwaters, patient mineral forces have given birth to delicate crystalline arborescences. Strange flora!’”71 The deeper they go, the greater the mineral luminescence. They encounter an immense gallery under a high dome encrusted with spangles.72 To Renaud, the space appears as though inhabited by spirits hostile to their intrusion, that they are “’violating the sanctuary where nature celebrated one of its mysteries.’”


Ibid., 100. Ibid., 113 68 Ibid., 114. 69 Ibid., 124. 70 Jean Cocteau, Opium, (Paris: Delamain and Boutelleau, 1930), 23. 71 Held, 127. 72 Ibid., 128. 67


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Then, like Marlow encountering the “harlequin” in Heart of Darkness, Renaud finds a bizarre Englishman already there--Austin, of the “Royal Institute.”73 Arguing with him, Renaud suggests a version of contemporary “chaos theory:” that the decay of iron doesn’t release matter as energy escaping into nothingness (as Austin theorizes), but like a living being, evolves toward new—and unpredictable—forms of [material] equilibrium.74 These visionary organic metamorphoses in the heart of the earth are similar to the conditions Sélévine finds when drawn to the aboveground “friable flesh of this monstrous cadaver” which is the Morain factory in ruin invaded by an “ulcerating flora.”75 Since the first time molten bronze flowed into stone receptacles man has forced metals to shape their rebellion into the forms his genius invented; in these forms they “interposed themselves between [humanity’s] tender flesh and the hardness of the universe.”76 Lacking them, civilization itself will melt like a body without a skeleton. From Sélévine’s dark musings Held’s narrative spreads out into a broad pseudo-historical survey of social disintegration: the unemployed starve, banks fail, consortia are formed, but fail, to save industry, lighting and transport become sporadic, soldiers are mobilized—especially from the colonies—to put down strikers. An international “committee of reconstruction” is assembled at Valenciennes, which is invaded by a heterogeneous and multiethnic horde of rabble drawn by the profit to be The national military and gained from looting abandoned factories.77 voluntary militias invest Denain and other northern cities. In the night, Leclair has a vision of the “irreparable disaster” whose instrument he may have been: He tried to imagine the catastrophe. In the complex [organism] of the factory, what organ failed first? Where did the initial shock come from? The turbines whose blades tear into the fluid depths or the steel-lined tubes winding in the sands. Under these thick carapaces beats the pulse of an indomitable life. It is the impetuosity of torrents, the slow running of rivers, the rapid impacts of raindrops, these are the wandering clouds, these are the innumerable and free forces of the earth which wait there, captives, in servitude, beneath a bar of iron in which an invisible crack lengthens. . .However the fibers stretched to excess still resist. Suddenly a nail is detached. Burst from the vibrant heart of metal, a unique sound slices the silence with its diamond point. Water 73

Ibid., 130. Ibid., 131. 75 Ibid., 136. 76 Ibid., 138-139 77 Ibid., 148. 74

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gushes, hits the rock and splinters it, the gaping artery ejaculates its formidable jet. This is the brutal outburst, a geyser foaming upward toward the sky, the great voice of savage forces finally unchained and rushing to the assault, the muffled roar of torrents, beneath the breathing vapors of pulverized water. Broken obstacles are scattered, the dikes are swept away, a hundred stream flow down the slopes where the guttered earth displays its bare bones. Through gaps in the mist you can see pieces of foundering walls, poles curved like swords, floating branches, a whole mass of lifeless things, or things that once had life, caught up in a whirlpool.78

This lucid dream makes Leclair shudder. It appears as his only moment of true insight into nature’s rebellion against technology. Unlike Sélévine, he cannot live in the presence of the reality he has created, and soon hereafter goes again seeking a market for metal assets he has in storage, to finance an imagined escape with Mme Morain to Morocco or Algeria. Leclair is akin to 21st century global warming deniers: it is all about him, his collusion in it is obvious, yet he steps aside. We have reached the terminus of our novel’s life in Denain: soldiers battle strikers on its streets, using poison gas, in an evocation of World War I (which devastated the town and its industry), and take it over. Renée, we find in her town car, fleeing south; her driver is Sélévine who, having taken part with the strikers, escaped to Ronceraies wounded. The previous evening, she had been brought to identify the body of Leclair, who was killed and mutilated in the day’s warfare. Now Leclair has truly been disposed of. As they travel south through the French countryside, we are allowed to witness a devastated natural landscape, barely launched on its regress or progress toward disinhabitation: .” . . they drove on waterlogged roads in a sodden prairie. The earth, engorged by rain, was soaking under rotten haystacks and felt feverish. A marsh, like rusting armor, reflected confusedly the vague rose tint of the sky and shapes of clouds. Carcasses rotted in ditches beneath an enamel of flies.”79 Once Renée is established in Paris with her aunt, Mme Lafont, and Sélévine thereby has a place to stay, he becomes involved in a bohemian milieu of antediluvian gaiety, akin to that in Cabaret or Neville Shute’s On the Beach. He has lost his conviction and is filled with “lassitude and a metaphysical misanthropy”80 as well as morphine and cocaine. His closest companion is the Russian painter Keller, praised at Morain’s long-ago dinner party. Sélévine visits his studio, filled with paintings of “apocalyptic 78

Ibid., 171. Ibid., 213. 80 Ibid., 239 79


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cities, rusted out and flattened by industry”81—much like the actual cities from which he has fled. Basically Keller’s vision is of “the end of the world,”82 but filled with great ambiguity. Some of his canvases portray “the triumph of machine-ism, the reign . . .of metal over perishable flesh,” whereas in others the vision is of a devastated earth, a desert of stone and cinders, and massive machines both complex and primitive, rotting in an “antediluvian mist.” As time passes, Keller appears to seek an escape from his own terminal vision by imagining and painting a Messiah, a Savior born in the slums, to which Sélévine responds “Your God will die at six months of tubercular meningitis.”83 Watching Renée dying of radiation poisoning, Sélévine develops a proto-existential sense of being: human verities rest on fragile bases; “our concepts, imposed by the necessities of living, don’t express reality but the reactions of his environment to [the actions of] the living creature.” As one with insight, he can “brush aside the veil spread over nothingness and see [human] artifices vanish.”84 Ultimately Sélévine himself ceases to exist for the reader at the point where Renée dies. Held’s novel concludes with a panoramic epilogue, which provides a deep future for the earth from a strongly environmentalist perspective. It takes only a few years for the Blue Sickness to demolish all of human progress. The “after-metal” era resembles the “pre-metal” one; “perfect inequality attained the grandeur of a state religion.”85 The Sickness crosses oceans on cables, no countries are immune; France breaks apart into isolated “bourgades;” instruments, machines [,] all the antennae which complete and prolong human sensibility found themselves irremediably broken or lost… Humans discovered the fragility of their bodies.86

And, the structure of civilization has been so complex that it is impossible to reconstitute. The Blue Sickness attacks not only matter but human consciousness, leading to universal savagery, dementia, suicide. All that flourishes is plant life: On the unmaintained routes, vegetation pierced the rocky crust, covered the denuded places with a verdant carpeting. Useful plants perished, fruit 81

Ibid., 241. Ibid., 242. 83 Ibid., 245. 84 Ibid., 287. 85 Ibid., 292. 86 Ibid., 296. 82

The Secret Life of The Death of Iron


trees returned to a wild state, bushes formed impenetrable thickets where birds made their nests. Insects foraged on stonework. Previously cut back by humans, vines rose up, encircled statues, took over forbidden grounds where already a million small animals ran, occupied with nourishment, killing, love, and shelter. But in the ruined cities, plant life still refused to grow. . .Only the crows gathered their cohorts on wall and dogs, strong and hardy as wolves, lit up at sunset their phosphorescent pupils.87

In a form of cultural regression, human tribes form, nomadic, develop a new spirituality sometimes through worship of a fetish, a “Metal-Entity.”88 Some sects become kabalistic, others “preach return to the vegetative life, negation of structure, renunciation of perception and of consciousness itself.”89 In imagining humans of this era sometimes dreaming of a liberated future for mankind, having finally broken its iron chains, Held’s narrator also gives voice to an italicized passage which could be arguably considered the author’s own creed: Positive science explains the [unknown] in returning it to the credible, discovers the relationships between phenomena, but never [explains]their raison d’être: science is an instrument, imposed by the necessity of material action, but subordinate to the imperfection of the senses. Through [science’s] mediation, we understand only a feeble part of the world, but the spirit, interior depth where an unsuspected work is carried out, where the infinite ends and gathers itself, contains more things than the intellect can ever express. The spirit harbors all the experiences, progress, and conquests of life: internalized treasures, of which intuition perceives the magic reflection under streams of shadows Yes! One could free oneself from matter to go in search of inner knowledge; bring back to light the lost riches which the species vaguely remembers. May humanity return to itself and seek to control its own inner [resources] and not a domain exterior [to itself]. 90


Ibid., 303-4. Ibid., 306. 89 Ibid., 308. 90 Ibid., 310. 88


We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect —Aldo Leopold

J.R.R. Tolkien once stated that “Middle-earth is not an imaginary world…The theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we now live, but the historical period is imaginary.”1 Tolkien is commenting on the idea that fantasy literature—literature that takes place in fictive lands and farremoved times—can serve as an important art form and critique of social and cultural norms. It can serve as a warning; it can also serve as a solution. The statement made by Tolkien also reflects not only the allegorical nature of fantasy literature, but more importantly, its prophetic nature. Fantasy literature tends to reside within the realm of allegory, typically as a reflection of contemporary society. Tales are told in distant settings, but the themes and conflicts are familiar. Most readers of Tolkien’s The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings trilogy see the bucolic setting as one of the past or as that of a distant land. This view can lead a reader to feel a sense of detachment from the story. Tolkien though, is quite successful at bridging this detachment, while giving the reader the opportunity to make important connections to their own environment. The power of these tales as allegory and the importance of these tales as prophecy should not be overlooked. 1

J.R.R. Tolkien, Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter (Boston: Houghtin Mifflin, 1981), 239.


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Middle-earth acts as the canvas onto which Tolkien paints the ongoing issues and problems that the world continues to face. His Middle-earth tales are not only timeless in the literary sense, but also because they present familiar human elements. And, if we take this into account—that Middle-earth is a stand-in for our world at any given time in history—then it is clear that Tolkien meant for us to identify with some the problems of environmental destruction, rampant industrial invasion, and the corrupting and damaging effects that these have on mankind. Tolkien grapples with themes that are very close to home—war, dictators, industrialization, environmental destruction—and the “distant” setting and the elements of fantasy—wizards, magic, elves—should not undermine the grim reality presented. In “Recovering the ‘Utterly Alien Land’: Tolkien and Transcendentalism”, Martin Simonson states that Tolkien was writing in a time where the “natural environment had been long since desacrilized, turned into a commodity or contemplated as mere space on a map that must be conquered by technology and modern warfare”2. Tolkien’s landscapes clearly depict the pastoral, and in The Silmarillion the creation of Arda depicts a land similar to a pastoral, pre-industrial land. And Douglas Burger states that “the Shire shares with the traditional pastoral an emphasis on the simplicity of life and freedom from the ambiguities and complications of advanced civilization”3. This idea of being removed from the complications of advanced civilization presents the reader with a simple, yet important, nature/industry binary. The pastoral Shire represents the paradigm of symbiosis between man and nature, a working system with reciprocated respect and care. The “advanced civilization” that Burger mentions, is represented by the industrial wasteland of Isengard, and, in a more extreme sense, Mordor, with its industrial dragons breathing fire and scorching the environment that surrounds Mount Doom. Michael Brisbois cites the influence of medieval theology on Tolkien: “Tolkien embraced the medieval notion that nature ‘was an expression of God’s laws and … inherently moral.’ Therefore, any act against the natural


Tom Shippey, “‘Recovering the ‘Utterly Alien Land’: Tolkien and Transcendentalism,” Myth and Magic: Art according to the Inklings, eds. Eduardo Segura and Thomas M. Honegger, (Zollikofen: Walking Tree, 2007), 9-10. 3 Douglas Burger, “The Shire: A Tolkien version of the Pastoral,” in Aspects of Fantasy: Selected Essays from the Second International Conference on the Fantastic in Literature and Film, ed. William Coyle (London: Greenwood, 1986), 150.

Gollum as Industrial Casualty


world was ‘amoral or immoral.’”4 The similarities between our world and Middle-Earth have never been questioned, and Tolkien himself once stated that “If you really want to know what Middle-earth is based on, it’s my wonder and delight in the Earth as it is, particularly the natural earth”5. The Lord of the Rings trilogy contains many references to the conflict between nature and industry. Immediately, one thinks of the battle between the Ents (and Merry and Pippin) and Saruman at Isengard or the contrast between The Shire and Mordor. Gollum/Sméagol represents the tortured soul torn between the worlds of nature and industry. He is the tormented being struggling internally between his natural self and the corruption of industry, symbolized by the One Ring, an entity that breeds an obsession with material goods and an abandonment of nature. A goal of this paper is to highlight the present struggle of the individual as he is confronted by the external battle of the natural and the industrial, posing the question: Where and how do we see ourselves in Gollum? The effects of industrialization on the natural world in Tolkien’s tales are clear: Saruman’s destruction of Isengard, including the damming of the River Isen and his subsequent battles with the Ents; the environmental decay of Mirkwood (known before as Greenwood the Great) and Mordor by Melkor, whom Sauron served under during the First Age. But no emblem better represents the predatory forces of industrialization than the One Ring. There are many different ways that we can look at the emblematic qualities of the Ring. Ishay Landa sees the Ring as the “historical dilemma of capitalism”6 and suggests that Tolkien is able to compress into the Ring all the contradictions of the capitalist system: the enormous productivity with the annihilating destructiveness, the unlimited power of the few with the utter impotence of the many, the extravagant luxury and the epidemic poverty, the sanguine promise with the horrible betrayal7

The Ring represents not only an industrial domination over the natural world, but also over the being that is connected to the natural world. In a strange twist, this is a form of anthropocentric domination that exceeds 4

Michael Brisbois, “Tolkien’s Imaginary Nature: An Analysis of the Structure of Middle-earth,” Tolkien Studies 2 (2005). 203. 5 Karen Wynn Fonstad. The Atlas of Middle-earth. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991). ix. 6 Ishay Landa, “Slaves of the Ring: Tolkien's Political Unconscious,” Historical Materialism 10.4, (2003), 122. 7 Ibid., 122.


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domination over nature, and enters the realm of domination over man as well. John Clark looks at this issue of anthropocentric domination as a “major obstacle to social and natural evolution to be the long history of human attempts to dominate others and to conquer even nature itself”8. Clark is referencing the philosophical school of social ecology, which looks at the dangers that the capitalism mode of production and industrialization can have on the environment. Social ecologists focus on the underling political, economic, and social institutions that lead to environmental degradation. It is these structures that form the foundations for the commodification of the natural world and its resources. This is the same commodification that Tolkien witnessed after he returned home from the Great War. The root cause of environmental destruction according to social ecologists includes, but moves beyond, the philosophical or psychological; instead they focus on capitalism and the class warfare and social hierarchies that it creates. Gollum is the embodiment of these effects that rampant industrialization can have on a living being, especially one who is so connected to the natural world. Born out of Tolkien’s appreciation of the natural world is his most well-known creation: the Hobbit. Everything about the Hobbit, from their appearance to their love of revelry to their relative isolation, suggests a pastoral retreat from the emerging industrial takeover that Tolkien lamented. Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee have little experience outside of the “peaceful environment”9 of the Shire; their crossing into a new territory signals a journey “outside their normal psychological parameters”10. Once they leave the comforts of the Shire, the world opens up before them; but this is a cruel world, and one in which they will experience dangers and evils that they thought only existed in old tales. Shortly after they leave the borders of the Shire, they encounter the Barrow-wight, and later the Ringwraiths atop Amon Sul. This violence— and fear—is a shock to the hobbits. And on their path to Rivendell, and then Mordor, they face creatures and extreme violence, both of which neither would have ever experienced in their lives in the Shire. This journey into darkness and violence depicts a journey away from the 8 John Clark, “Social Ecology: Introduction,” in Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology, eds. Michael Zimmerman, J. Baird Callicott, and George Sessions (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1993), 346. 9 Ginna Wilkerson. “So Far from the Shire: Psychological Distance and Isolation in The Lord of the Rings,” Mythlore: A Journal of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Mythopoeic Literature, 27:1-2, (2008), 86. 10 Ibid., 86.

Gollum as Industrial Casualty


pastoral and into the industrial. Despite a sojourn in idyllic Rivendell and later Lothlorien, the road to Mordor is a descent into an industrial wasteland, both literal and figurative, with the end result being a destruction of their “natural selves”; this destruction of the self is embodied by Gollum. The journey from the Shire to Mordor shows a stark contrast between the natural and tended to world of the Shire and the industrial wastelands of Isengard and Mordor. Tolkien uses Saruman, and his stronghold Isengard, as the perfect depiction of opulent beauty devastated by industrial development. Saruman, the most powerful of the Istari (elvish for wizards), deceived and abandoned the White Council and his duty to protect men, elves, and the other races of Middle-earth against the wrath of Sauron. He betrays Gandalf, and builds an army of Uruk-hai in his attempt to locate the One Ring. Saruman’s betrayal of his duty and his fellow Istari, and his allegiance to Sauron, are indicative of man’s inability to resist the power and wealth that industrial progress promises to bring. Often overlooked with respect to this power and wealth, is any consideration of the destructive nature of this pursuit. A clear line can be drawn to oil-crazed nations, who, despite overwhelming evidence, continue to push measures that promote unhindered drilling on land and at sea. Wealth accumulation triumphs over conservation. Saruman’s corruption by Sauron—the figure of industry—is articulated by the very representation of environmental stewardship, Treebeard. Treebeard is an Ent: a shepherd of the forest and a figure of conservation. His antithetical positioning next to Saruman is clear, and he offers a scathing indictment of the man who betrayed his duty to the natural world: There was a time when he was always walking about my woods…[then] his face, as I remember it…became like windows in a stone wall: windows with shutters inside. He is plotting to become a Power. He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except as far that they serve him for the moment. Now it is clear he is a black traitor…He and his folk are making havoc now…felling trees—good trees. Some of the trees they just cut down and leave to rot—orc-mischief that; but most are hewn up and carried off to feed the fires of Orthanc. There is always smoke rising from Isengard these days.11

Douglas Burger states that the evil landscapes of Middle-earth are “marked by an appalling sameness.”12 Mirkwood, Isengard, and Mordor 11

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 1954, (Ballantine: New York, 1965), 96. 12 Burger, “The Shire”, 153.


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all contain the same dark, industrial desolation that serves as a stark contrast to the “sanctuaries” of the Shire, Lothlorien, and Rivendell. The lands of Saruman and Sauron are marked by “Ash, smoke, machines, noise, befouled water, felled trees”—all are features that are antithetical to the descriptions that Tolkien provides for Rivendell and Lothlorien The light of the clear autumn morning was now glowing in the valley. The noise of bubbling waters came up from the foaming river bed. Birds were singing and a wholesome peace lay on the land.13 In winter here no heart could mourn for summer or for spring. No blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen in anything that grew upon the earth. On the land of Lórien there was no stain.14

Burger sees this sameness as having a central cause: “The destruction of the multiplicity of the natural and of the special character of the landscape.”15 Nature has been commodified; bought and sold and corrupted for industrial “progress” and anthropocentric domination. This stark contrast is not lost on the reader. The journey form the Shire to Mordor also plays a significant role in the deterioration of the individual— notably the individual connected to the natural world—in the world of environmental destruction and industrial domination. And, this deterioration is most evident in the possessor of the One Ring. After his “disappearance” at the Prancing Pony in Bree, Frodo comes to realize that the Ring has powers beyond that which Gandalf could have explained to him. As he treks toward Mordor, Frodo soon realizes that these powers grow far beyond simple invisibility; the Ring is no longer an accessory with unique capabilities, but an extension of the power and control of Sauron. And, as Ginna Wilkerson states, it has “an agency of its own; it is the evil power of the Ring that saps Frodo’s will and controls his life”16. We need look no further than what is written on the Ring itself to see its true intentions: One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them


J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 1954, (Ballantine: New York, 1965), 314. 14 Ibid., 454-5. 15 Burger, “The Shire”, 154. 16 Wilkerson, “So Far from the Shire”, 84.

Gollum as Industrial Casualty


In her essay “So Far from the Shire: Psychological Distance and Isolation in The Lord of the Rings”, Ginna Wilkerson states that, “Frodo’s increasing isolation as he journeys to Mt. Doom is imposed on him from the outside, from a most powerful and unrelenting source—the Ring itself”17 (83). As Frodo leaves the Shire, he takes on a new identity, one that few18 before him have held: Ringbearer. Frodo, of course, is still a hobbit; however, his departure from the Shire is more than just the beginning of his journey to Rivendell. Instead, it marks the moment where Frodo begins a path toward a transformation into a Gollum-type being. We can, through our knowledge of Sméagol/Gollum, view this as an inevitable transformation. With the Ring acting as the catalyst for this transformation, we see that The Ring has a power of its own, a power that controls and distorts its wearer—the Ringbearer—ultimately eliminating all agency from the Ringbearer. So, according to Landa, the Ring serves as a “vehement intrusion of necessity into the serene, satisfied existence of the hobbits [Sméagol included]”19. As is evident, the existence of the hobbits is grounded in a symbiotic relationship with the natural world. The Ring, as it is an emblem of industry, power, of that which is “non-natural,” disrupts this way of life, and, in turn, it disrupts the existence of the hobbits. So, what Tolkien does is show not only how industry intrudes in to the natural order of the environment, but also how it can intrude into the lives of those so closely connected to the natural world. The extent to which industry has this power is played out in the disintegration of Sméagol into Gollum; it is also seen, to a lesser extent, in the effects it has on Bilbo and Frodo. One particular aspect of hobbit-life in the Shire that needs mentioning is the apparent lack of violence, or more specifically, hobbit on hobbit violence. Bearing witness to the “scouring of the Shire”, Frodo Baggins laments at the hobbit-on-hobbit violence that has plagued his once peaceful home: “No hobbit has ever killed another on purpose in the Shire”20; and other than the Saruman-led scouring of the Shire, nowhere in the trilogy or in The Hobbit is a serious act of violence mentioned. Despite their appetite for “intoxicating” revelry, violence seems to simply be missing from hobbit DNA. Frodo’s lament illustrates the pleasant nature of hobbits, a peaceful, nature-loving folk. Being a hobbit—though not of the Shire—one might question why Sméagol would resort to murder to 17

Ibid., 83. Isildur, Sméagol, and Bilbo. 19 Landa, “Salves to the Ring”, 116. 20 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 1954, (Ballantine: New York, 1965), 367. 18


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acquire the Ring, or why Saruman would turn his back on the White Council. If we look at the Ring as emblem of industry, then we are bale to see the parallel that Tolkien creates between the word of Middle-earth and the world of the reader: man can be easily swayed by the lure of progress and material wealth. Tolkien, through the character of Sméagol/Gollum, shows the devastating effects that industrialization—industrialization with no regard for the environment—can have on the individual, especially an individual that is connected to the natural world. Sauron is an entity who can “torture and destroy the very hills”21. His role as figure of industry cannot be more apparent in Tolkien’s tales. His destruction of the natural world reaches from Mirkwood (known as Greenwood before Sauron’s presence) to Isengard (though Saruman) to Mordor, and his strongholds create an impenetrable world of shadow that leads the environment to fall into darkness and decay. Sauron has the power to do the same to individuals. The Ring is an extension of Sauron— or as Gergely Nagy states, “the physical container of the essence of Sauron,”22—and in it we see the far-reaching power of Sauron, the industrial entity. The ring then, as emblem, is the material object through which the power of industry and the promise of wealth take hold of its wearer. Gergely Nagy states that the Ring can be a sing for Sauron himself. In this sense, Sauron’s will is channeled through the Ring, and its effects on its bearer are simply the wishes of its master, the Lord of the Rings. The Ring, and therefore Sauron, has the ability to corrupt and penetrate an individual, ultimately enclosing him within the same shadow that Sauron himself enclosed Greenwood the Great within. This enveloping shadow immobilizes the Ringbearer; it deconstructs that individual’s system of meaning: the transformation of Sméagol into Gollum. Sauron/the Ring essentially erases an individual’s identity, and creates a new subject who is confined within Sauron’s system: the system of industry. Gollum, and Frodo and Bilbo to an extent, are dangerously close to becoming Ringwraiths, due to the confinement in Sauron’s degenerative system of power. The men that the Ringwraiths once were ultimately succumbed to the influence of Sauron and the lure of power: this was done with Sauron’s control of the nine rings. In essence, these men wore Sauron on their fingers. The desires and eventually the actions of Sauron’s subjects, whether they be men or hobbits, are, according to Nagy, “merely 21

Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 348. Gergely Nagy, “The ‘Lost’ Subject of Middle-earth: The Constitution of the Subject in the Figure of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings,” Tolkien Studies 3, (2006), 61. 22

Gollum as Industrial Casualty


the ‘Others,’ the empty complements, of that totality of Sauron”23. Again, the Ring is illustrated to represent an extension of Sauron and the medium through which he implements his system of power, which Ringbearers find themselves confined within. Ishay Landa refers to this confinement as an “inner colonialization”24: “The Ring’s greater evil though, lies precisely in its diabolic capacity to dissolve the barriers separating the soul from the external world and implant itself within the mind, thus enslaving the spirit. It is against this peril of inner colonialization.”25 This inner colonialization is a pathway to becoming a Ringwraith. Unbeknownst to the wearers, the Ring is not a gift to be cherished, but an emblem of control that, as Gandalf states, “looks after itself”26; in other words it looks after the interests of Sauron. The Ring has its own desires, and these desires are those of Sauron. Possibly the most interesting character in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the conflict in Gollum is clear: Sméagol was a Stoorish Hobbit who once lived among nature in a land similar to the Shire, but in Gollum, we see repulsion of nature, earlier signified by his retreat into the underground labyrinth of the Misty Mountains. Tolkien, through the character of Sméagol/Gollum, shows the devastating effects that industrialization— industrialization with no regard for the environment—can have on the individual, especially an individual that is connected to the natural world. Before he came to possess the Ring, Gollum was a Hobbit of the Stoorish lineage named Sméagol. According to Gandalf, Sméagol belonged to a wealthy family that dwelt in a village along the banks of the Great River on the edge of Wilderland27. Gandalf describes Sméagol the same way that Tolkien describes the hobbits of the Shire: a lover of the natural world— “he dived into deep pools; he burrowed under trees and growing plants; he tunneled into green mounds”—and “inquisitive and curious-minded”28. Sméagol first saw the Ring after his friend Déagol chanced upon it as he was pulled through the water by a fish too large for his Hobbit frame to reel in. Sméagol watched as Déagol, now back on shore, gloated over his find. And, before either hobbit had the chance to consider the importance of their find, the Ring took over. Sméagol became obsessed and demanded the Ring; the quarrel resulted in Déagol’s murder—Frodo’s lamentation


Ibid., 68. Landa, “Slaves to the Ring”, 13. 25 Ibid., 14. 26 Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 87. 27 Ibid., 84. 28 Ibid., 84. 24


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realized in an uncommon act—and Sméagol’s first steps to becoming Gollum. We can look at the character of Gollum as everything that the Hobbit is not. And though I am hesitant to compare Gollum and Frodo, or Bilbo for that matter, as antithetical, it is clear that Gollum represents what Frodo or Bilbo could have become if not for steadfast resolve, or if not for being forced to part with the Ring. When looking at the character of Gollum as a hobbit corrupted and deteriorated we see the effects of industrialization on a being who had a deep, meaningful connection to the natural world. Sméagol is the natural being and Gollum is the contaminated being, corrupted by the Ring into a state that is a mutation. In short, this is a combination of Kristeva’s abject and the cyborg of science fiction. In other words, a detached part of the self relinquishes control to an outside force—a force at times parasitic—thereby mutating into a being that is controlled by an outside power. This part of the self then fails to reconnect with its living being and instead becomes mechanistic or robotic. Ginna Wilkerson goes on to state that Frodo’s ownership of the Ring leaves him vulnerable to its possessive qualities: “As Frodo gets further from the safety of the Shire and from all that makes him secure and confident in his ability to fulfill his quest, the Ring begins to take possession of Frodo’ will”29. Frodo’s descent is eerily beside him for most of the journey to Mordor. Gollum serves as an alter-ego to Frodo, representing what the hobbit will become if he succumbs to the power of the Ring. If Frodo is unable to garner the constitution necessary to fight off the power of the Ring, then he will follow the same path that Sméagol did: a descent under the mountains and into darkness, ultimately taking shape as an industrial casualty. Sméagol speaks in poetry and prose (similar to Hobbits, Elves, and the other worldly inhabitants of Middle-Earth) – which, according to Kristeva’s theories of the semiotic, is an emotional, instinct driven manner of speech which relates to the romantic “nature” of language opposed to the strict symbolic order of language – while Gollum speaks in a crude manner, illustrated by his given name derived from the horrible sounds that came from his throat. Within this system, a new language is created. The Ring, serving as a channel through which Sauron can control and manipulate the Ring’s wearer, confines the wearer within the system, thereby destroying their connection to their “natural” language. And, once confined within this system, the only communication that is channeled to the Ringbearer comes from Sauron’s own discourse, a discourse grounded in industry. Nowhere is this more evident than in Sméagol’s involuntary name change. Sméagol 29

Wilkerson, “So Far from the Shire”, 84.

Gollum as Industrial Casualty


no longer has access to his “natural” linguistic patterns; instead, he is forced within the linguistic system of Sauron/industry, where hobbitspeak—language grounded in poetics and song—gives way to a more corporeal language. His name is an obvious example of this: “They kicked him, and he bit their feet. He took to muttering to himself and gurgling in his throat. So they called him Gollum, and cursed him, and told him to go far away.”30 According to Nagy, Sméagol’s “normal desires of the subject’s functioning are turned inside out, as it were, by the Ring”31. At this point, Sméagol ceases to exist. On the Ring’s power and mode of operation, Elrond states: “the very desire of it corrupts the heart”32. Nagy declares it the “mechanism through which Sauron achieves his dominating (de)constitution effect”33. And once this mechanism connects to a subject, the beginning of the morphing process—into a wraith, a subject of Sauron/Industry—begins. The first step on the path to become a wraith, and the first effect of the Ring’s control, is an inescapable (and imposed) lust for power. Déagol’s death at the hands of Sméagol illustrates this degeneration into an entity possessed by and obsessed with the Ring. In the same way that an individual might fill a void by purchasing items of extravagance, the Ringbearer also fills a void: the Ring is in itself an item of extravagance that most hobbits have never seen. There is another void that the Ring fills that is more dangerous though. It fills a void in the wearer with a sense of power; unfortunately, that power is an illusion. As Gollum continues to abuse the power of the Ring, his degeneration occurs in steps. First, his behavior changes radically. When he returns home, without Déagol, Sméagol enjoys the powers that the Ring bestows upon him. He uses the power of stealth to find out secrets in order to manipulate others; he turns into an introvert, takes to thieving and solitude, and eventually gets sent into exile by his grandmother. His “inquisitive and curious” nature is stripped by the Ring, and he is chastised by his family for his sneaky, solitary ways. Since Sméagol is no longer acting like Sméagol, he begins his disintegration into Gollum. He then removes himself from the natural environment that he has enjoyed and explored his whole life. He journeys away from his home, away from the Gladden Fields, away from the banks of the Great River, and wanders to the Misty Mountains. Then, for the last time, after its rays beat down upon him, burning the back of his head, he shakes his fists at the sun and begins his exile underground where he states, “It would be 30

Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 85. Nagy, "The ‘Lost’ Subject”, 66. 32 Tolkien, Fellowship, 350. 33 Nagy, "The ‘Lost’ Subject”, 66. 31


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cool and shady under those mountains. The sun could not watch me there”34. An interesting connection can be made between his sojourn under the mountain: for fans of fantasy literature and culture, it is easy to see that Gollum’s sojourn takes him away from a hobbit dwelling and into a dwarf dwelling. And dwarves, evident in their capacity to keep to themselves and their preoccupation with metalworks, are a race concerned with the riches they can produce. And although the Rings they were given did not turn them into wraiths as it did the nine men, it only intensified their propensity for greed. The implications of this journey underground suggest that Gollum is being driven underground, into a more “unnatural” existence. In this sense, then, the setting seems quite appropriate. “Walled-in” and no longer able to embrace the green fields and the free-flowing rivers, Gollum resorts to a life built on necessity rather than creativity and adventure. He labors tirelessly for the Ring, and this type of labor is more psychological than physical. He toils away while the Ring possesses and destroys Sméagol. He is the factory worker relegated to ten hour shifts inside, deprived of decent working conditions and subjected to an unhealthy atmosphere. Under the mountain, Gollum no longer enjoys the warmth of the sun or the cool of the river that were central to Sméagol’s existence. And, in his lair, he begins to deteriorate physically, following the damage that the Ring has done to his mind. Far removed from the environment that nurtured Sméagol’s curiosity and enriched his being, the Ring begins to transform the physical appearance of Gollum. Sméagol resembles the image I have of an older and more unkempt Frodo; unfortunately, once he comes to posses the Ring, the power of Sauron begins to deteriorate his hobbit features. He becomes “thin and tough”35 and after an abnormally long life and a tortuous aging process, looks “old, terribly old”36. Tolkien’s description of this physical deterioration illustrates the waning appearances of hobbit feature: “an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing”37. Strangely though, as his appearance and psyche continue to deteriorate, he still has delusions of grandeur, perpetuated by the false sense of security and power provided by the Ring: “Perhaps we grow strong, very strong, stronger than Wraiths. Lord Sméagol? Gollum the Great? The Gollum? Eat fish every day, three times


Tolkien, Fellowship, 85 Ibid., 86. 36 Ibid., 90. 37 Tolkien, Two Towers, 411. 35

Gollum as Industrial Casualty


a day, fresh from the sea. Most Precious Gollum!”38. He has taken on the identity that has been prescribed to him by Sauron. The Ring makes him feel powerful, but in truth, he is becoming powerless. In the “The Taming of Sméagol”, Frodo, likely unknowingly, is able to find a weak spot in the Ring’s hold over Gollum. In referring to Gollum by his hobbit-name, Sméagol, Frodo has brought Sméagol/Gollum back into the discursive realm of hobbits, elves, and men; he is “reintegrated back into the “normal,” multi-discourse, significant symbolic system39. Once he is drawn back to the discursive realm of his youth—the realm of “common speech”—he begins to embrace many aspects of this long lost symbolic structure. He uses the pronoun “I”; he becomes part of the discourse, instead of being an object of it. Sméagol/Gollum also begins to embrace his fellow hobbits; his dislike of Sam is clear, but at times, not malicious. This is an important revelation in Tolkien’s works no matter the hold an oppressive symbolic or discursive system may have on an individual, there is a possibility for him to reclaim his natural self. When Frodo refers to Gollum as Sméagol, he pulls him back into a familiar system, one far different than Sauron’s ideological prison. Meaning is present once again, and more importantly, it reflects a return to the natural order and a chance at redemption for Sméagol. Unfortunately, for Sméagol, Frodo wasn’t able to rescue Gollum. Ultimately, the power of the Ring and the hold of Sauron was too strong to overcome. Even Frodo seems unable to shake off the lingering hold of the Ring: There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same. I am wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?40

And although we can interpret Frodo’s struggle with Gollum high above the lava of Mount Doom a struggle with himself, Gollum’s death did not represent the death of the corrupted part of Frodo. The lure of wealth and treasure that industrial progress puts forth is in itself difficult to push away; what is more difficult is to fight against the temptation once one has been corrupted and beaten down by the power of Sauron, the industrial Lord. This is evident in Frodo’s lament: “It is gone forever… and now all is dark and empty,” and “I am wounded… wounded; it will never really 38

Ibid., 304. Jane Chance, Lord of the Rings: The Mythology of Power, (Lexington: Kentucky UP, 2001), 88. 40 Tolkien, Return of the King, 331. 39


Chapter Two

heal”41. The Ring is gone, but the wounds of corruption and attempted subjectification will never heal. Douglas Burger posits that the landscapes of Tolkien’s Middle-earth “appeal deeply to universal human longings and fulfill archetypal desires”42. We want to see ourselves more in the hobbits of the Shire than in the dwarves of Moria; we want to see ourselves in Frodo or Aragorn, as opposed to Sméagol/Gollum or Saruman. We enjoy the descriptions of the Shire, but we reside in Isengard. So, what we see is not always what is. It is a possibility that all of us have a little bit of Sméagol in us, maybe a little bit of Gollum too. And, if we would like to avoid the fate of Gollum, it is time to reintegrate ourselves into the “normal” symbolic and discursive systems that we enjoyed in our youth. We need a return to the Shire.

41 42

Ibid., 376. Burger, “The Shire”, 149.



While community experimentalists planned for future generations on land, scientists and utopists planned for future generations in space. In science fiction and science fact, the vast sea of space amid the stars offered an opportunity for communal possibilities. Space stations present a unique opportunity to create an orbiting commune possibly housed within a sea of dark matter. My paper explores the interface of Nineteenth Century communal thoughts, environmental determinations and gender issues juxtaposed with Twenty-First Century concerns for community survival. When space stations became a popular facet of the sci-fi futuristic scene in Kubrick's Space Odyssey 2001, the concept of an isolated community developed into a reality. For example, in 2001, a space guest like industrialist Dennis Tito1 was able to buy into the elitist community of astronauts. For an architect of utopian environmental landscape, I chose William Morris as a representative Nineteenth Century utopian writer. Because of the derivation of Morris’s utopian novel as a reaction to Bellamy’s utopian treatise, Looking Backward 2000-1887, it is necessary to include some details regarding Morris’s motivation for writing News from Nowhere.2 It should also be noted that the Bellamy/ Morris connection provides 1

On April 28, 2001, Dennis Tito became the first space tourist. See Mark R. Whittington, “10 Years Ago, Dennis Tito Became First Space Tourist,” Yahoo!news, last modified April 28, 2011. 2 Willliam Morris, News from Nowhere, or an Epoch of Rest: Being Some chapters from a Utopian Romance (London: Reeves & Turner, 1891).


Chapter Three

evidence of transatlantic opinions relating to communal life. Next, I selected Robert Owen as an identifiable communal guru. For the feminine approach to communal existence, I focused on Marge Piercy as a representative Twentieth and now Twenty-First Century utopian writer. Finally, for the space station representation, I chose the media popularized Gene Roddenberry spin-off, Deep Space 9. I initiated my investigation with a brief overview of one of the experimental communes that developed during the time when people were seeking a better, more fulfilling life in a utopian setting. The inventive thinker and implementer of this experimental life that was one of the many experimental communes was Robert Owen. I chose Owen because rather than beginning with a basis in religion, the Owenites were an early quasisecular group who followed the teaching and inspiration of charismatic man, Robert Owen, a Scotch industrialist and philanthropist. This reflects similar scenarios chosen by Morris, Piercy and Roddenberry in which their utopias have a main, charismatic leader. Owenites were not secular in the sense of disavowing religious practices in their utopian community. However, the justification of the community and the solutions to human problems were defined in secular rather than religious terms.3 Since the philosophy of Owen's utopian village was communistic, the rights of the masses were more important than those of the individual. If one were to assess Morris’s approach to utopian communal life, Owen's philosophy seems to be fairly close in comparison. For Morris, the guilds were, in a way, an equalizing force that created a society embodying a unifying task force. Each person worked so that their combined products would benefit the entire utopian community. No one person benefited from his/her product on an individual basis other than the satisfaction of having been a part of the whole. So too for Piercy, in He, She, It, the kibbutz-like alternative earth commune she created involved specialists whose individual skills benefited the entire community. I observed a similar scenario in the Roddenberry, Deep Space 9 where each leader, whether male or female, personally benefited from decisions made ostensibly for the greater good of the space station. Robert Owen's plan was a response to the conditions that the factory system had created in Britain. Owen and Morris thought that trade guilds were an appropriate solution to the dehumanization of the factories. The groups of guilds were responsible for functions ranging from growing flowers to cooking food. The appearances of the two utopian settings, however, were quite dissimilar. Owen set up his utopia in a highly 3

Ian Donnachie, Robert Owen: Owen of New Lanark and New Harmony (East Lothian, Scotland, 2000), 197.

Seeking Spaces


systemized fashion. It was so organized and didactic that Owen's Utopia seemed to have a somewhat militaristic basis that appeared to me more akin to Bellamy’s Industrial Army than to Morris’s guild crafters.4 In spite of the inflexible structure in New Harmony that may have offered order and stability to some, Owen's unorthodox approach to marriage made his utopian community environment very distasteful to some people. The woman, instead of gaining equality and dignity as an individual, was regarded in Owen's community as a commodity. Regarding relationships, Morris was able to eliminate male dominance in his utopia by allowing women to make decisions about their sexual mates. Owen felt choosing sexual mates was exclusively a man's prerogative. Marge Piercy not only enabled women to make sexual choices, she included females who had the ability to create their own male lovers. It is true that these male lovers were cyborgs created by female engineers, but they were so life-like that the message was clear: As we move into Twenty-First Century utopian forecasting, utopian women will gain control of their sexuality. The space station, Deep Space 9, enacted scenes focusing on family relationships as an environment for inter-racial and inter-alien issues. Rather than consistently depicting dominant men, as did Owen, or dominant females as did Piercy, the focus seemed to be more equality centered, as William Morris predicted. Since some aliens such as Jadzia Dax are capable of changing sexes, gender issues become less problematic in one respect and more complex in another on Deep Space 9. Another detail pertinent to Owen, Morris, Piercy and Roddenberry is related to communal property. Just as women were jointly shared amongst the men in New Harmony, so too was property. Since people lived in cooperative housing, apartments and houses were jointly owned. No one had anything separate or special of his/her own. Communism was proposed to achieve the goals of community property, absolute equality, and supreme happiness. It was thought that communism would eliminate ruinous competition between individuals.5 The women were the community members who suffered the most from elimination of competition. Women had little say in their role as sexual objects in New Harmony. The real purpose of the Owenites' views on private property according to critic Everett, was to get rid of one thing they really detested, marriage.6 4

Kenneth M. Roemer, “Paradise Transformed,” in The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, ed. Gregory Claeys (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2010), 84. 5 Mark Bould and China Miéville, eds., Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2009). 6 Donnachie, Robert Owen, 207.


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Owen's utopian commune offered different opportunities to women and men. Even though his utopia was male oriented, he needed the females to populate his communities. Because the options for a woman were so limited in the early 1800s, some women felt that becoming a sexual object was far more desirable than remaining a drudge on a farm with no hope for any improvement in their lives.7 The nineteenth century utopist, William Morris seemed to think that establishing communes was a way of maintaining the inhabitants within a structured guild system. Morris’s approach was far less rigid than Owen's but it achieved similar results. Of course, Morris was dealing with fictional people while Owen was trying to impose his utopian philosophy on real people. It is obvious that choice is a key factor in many behavioral tendencies. Since Owen's utopia provided a choice for those seeking an escape from the smoke-filled cities, people accepted the rigidity which was an integral part of Owen's New Harmony.8 Morris, on the other hand, was able to present a less rigid society with parallel concepts in community sharing. Also, since people did not actually have to physically relocate their lives in order to appreciate Morris’s utopia, it seemed that Morris’s ideas were more openly accepted.9 Bellamy and Owen also viewed industrialization through disparate perspectives. While Bellamy considered it an opportunity for growth and creativity, Owen, who owned a textile mill in Scotland, saw only the negative aspects of factories and manufacturing. In 1825, Owen purchased New Harmony, Indiana, from the Rappites who were moving back to Pennsylvania. Owen's goal was to achieve his utopia in three years. At the time of its inception in 1825, New Harmony was to serve as a halfway house that began in misery and would evolve into a utopian community after his projected date of 1828.10 On the other hand, Morris’s philosophy opposes modernization and the environment he envisions returns his utopia to a version of medievalism. To Morris, medievalism was a socialistic society with communal guilds. He did not look at the historically negative aspects of oppression during actual medieval times, but selectively focused on those ideas that most closely matched his notion of ideal. Morris foresaw property as a joint venture, collectively created and shared by society. 7

Ibid., 162. Ibid., 221. 9 Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), 179-181. 10 Donnachie, Robert Owen, 214-19. 8

Seeking Spaces


Unlike the cleansing qualities of the waterways in the environment through which Morris’s protagonist traveled, Marge Piercy uses foot travel as a means of transporting her protagonist and other characters to their destinations. This mode of travel emphasized the dystopian environment caused by the desolation of war. Happiness and pleasure were important issues in Marge Piercy’s utopian world. In order to achieve the height of happiness and pleasure, her protagonist, a female artist and scientist, Malkah, created her own ideal lover. Since a woman designed the cyborg to be her lover, it provides an interesting response to the continuingly puzzling question for which men seem to continuously seek an answer: What do women want? From the protagonist of a feminist utopia, and the persona of He, She, It, women do not want to be objects as Robert Owen seemed to believe, nor do they want to be beautiful guild workers as depicted in Morris utopian environment. Women want to be loved as individuals within their surroundings and to have a perfect lover, perhaps if necessary, an object, literally, of her own making. I find that the best environment in which to observe the patterning of behavior that was identified as utopian for the Owenites is in Gene Roddenberry's series of made-for-TV science fiction programs. The original Star Trek program took place on a space craft designed to proceed at warp speed in order to reach and help them learn about other beings who lived on space ships or in isolated outposts in space. The Enterprise itself was created as a type of commune. Even though those who populated the ship did not look alike, they had commonalty in clothing. Even though it is noted that Roddenberry wanted the women to dress like the men [in jump suits, not go-go boots and miniskirts], the producers thought that more adolescent males would watch the program if the women were dressed in more revealing outfits. As it turned out, the success of the program convinced the producers that they had made the right decision. The women were viewed as commodities by the audience, and not quite treated as equals by the crew on the Enterprise. It wasn't until several years after Star Trek was on the air that a female security officer was included in the tight-knit community of the Enterprise.11 In the Roddenberry Deep Space 9, the mode of travel is through space or through disassembly and re-assembly of individuals. Space in Roddenberry, like water in Morris, has an all-encompassing representation. Also, the Roddenberry Deep Space 9 interpersonal relationships seem to approach a compromise as if it were fashioned as a choice between the 11

Karen Anijar, Teaching Toward the 24th Century: Star Trek as Social Curriculum, (New York: Falmer Press, 2000), 62.


Chapter Three

male-dominant Owenite community and the female dominated Piercy community. That being said, the respect shown to the females and the males is consistent with their accomplishments rather than with their gender, the same as Morris forecasted in News from Nowhere. The issue of women within the utopian settings of Bellamy's and Morris’s novels was not exclusively confined to education and tasks. Each tried to re-envision the roles of women in society and each writer regarded women differently. While they had some notions of a woman's place in society, each writer thought he was liberating the female within her environment, but each of their approaches and theories contained inadequacies. For Bellamy, a woman served the social order best as a helpmate and companion to her smarter, stronger, male counterpart. All of her abilities were directed to enhance the role of the male. As a direct contrast to Bellamy, Morris attempted to free women from the bounds of total commitment to a male. “Within a well-defined, deep but narrow sensibility, [News from Nowhere]’s sensibility, its dialectics of consciousness and unconsciousness establishes an Earthly Paradise more real and more human than the reader’s tawdry actuality.”12 The role and function of women seemed to be a strong concern for the fictional environments of Bellamy and Morris; therefore, the actual role of Victorian women that they attempted to perfect is important to understand. Even though Nineteenth Century women were skilled writers and thinkers, their forums for appearing in print were rather limited. Oscar Wilde provided one such forum in his magazine Woman's World from 18881890. Wilde’s magazine had the most concentrated collection of influential British Victorian women, and therefore, it was an appropriate choice to present the women's viewpoints. Women envisioned themselves in new roles but their ideas were not necessarily reflected in the male's notions of the evolving female role in a changing society. By juxtaposing the male utopian writers with the real female writers, one can see that there was a dichotomy between these two groups. It is even further evidenced through Owen’s notion of utopian living in New Harmony where women’s rights seem to be no better than indentured sex slaves. For Piercy, however, a woman’s potential was infinite. As a cyborg engineer and designer, Malkah, the narrator, was able to choose to have a child, but not raise her since her communal environment offered group education. If such a lucrative job as Malkah’s existed in the Nineteenth Century, it was one usually reserved for men in the Era of Owen, Bellamy and Morris. Piercy’s protagonist had freedom to choose her vocation as 12

Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, 192.

Seeking Spaces


well as her avocation. Malkah’s garden was very important and she used it as a form of environmentally green relaxation. In the Deep Space 9 space station community, relationships between male and female characters related to home issues including food choices, child care and sexual intimacy. I see this as an evolutionary process that shifted from the male/female childbearing equality Morris foresees to an interdependent relationship featured in the Deep Space 9 space station community. Of course, there are outside forces in the space community that require strategic munitions expertise. As with their home issues, so too are all issues both domestic and pugilistic, decided equally between males and females. Another viewpoint of communal environment written in the Nineteenth Century reflects another point that is evident in space science fiction where individuals are of a like-mind, on a mutually compatible mission, and are confined in the enclosed space of their choosing, i.e. a space ship instead of something akin to Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City of Tomorrow. “The Garden City movement is at once a protest against the existing state of things and a sound attempt to substitute a more excellent method.”13 In every detail of Howard’s experiment in town planning, his writing indicates his reaction to the situation he encountered in lateVictorian cities and described the deprivations of “the workhouse, the slum, or the overcrowded tenement.”14 Unlike Howard’s [1902/1998] efforts which were “conceived as a space for the betterment and healing of society,”15 during the late Twentieth Century, a hands-off approach was portrayed as the common mind set of Roddenberry's crew in order to seek new life forms, but not to change those life forms, just to observe them and learn from them. The fervor with which the crew members approach this task is intense since they continually risk their lives for the sake of their communal goals. While religion is not their commonality, they do have contact with godlike beings from whom they learn about their wrath and whom they teach to be less punishing. In another uniquely designed environment of the highly successful communal society, the Shakers began before the Nineteenth Century, but were so successful that they must be considered as part of the Nineteenth Century communes. In 1787, the first village of the Shakers, perhaps the most successful American-born commune, was formed at Mt. Lebanon, 13

Ebenezer Howard, Garden Cities of To-Morrow (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1902/1998), 37. 14 Ibid., 171. 15 Ibid., 176.


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New York, by Ann Lee (or Mother Ann), cofounder of the Shakers along with Joseph Meacham, who succeeded her and was mostly responsible for the sect's growth. At their height, around 1850, the Shakers grew to perhaps 6,000 members, organized into families of 80 to 100, on 18 reservations consisting of one or more families.16 Friedrich Engels, the cofounder with Karl Marx of state communism, referred to the Shakers as “proof that communism would work; however, he argued that ‘free of such insanities’ (i.e., religious beliefs), communism would achieve much greater success.”17 Even as late as 1980, two Shaker villages still remained active, one at Canterbury, New Hampshire, and the other at Sabbath-Day Lake, Maine.18 I have seen other Shaker villages, such as the one once established in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, which are maintained as museums. Because of their willingness to hire others to work their fields and turn their villages into profitable tourist attractions, the Shakers experienced amazing longevity. Their eventual demise was due in part to the tendency of celibate communes to die out.19 If futurists view the Shaker community as a possible concept of hope, they would have to do so selectively. The guilds were strong amongst the Shakers and the commodities they produced were of value to others, so they flourished financially. The Shakers, like the Star Trek crew, and unlike other communal communities, did not isolate themselves for fear of being contaminated by outside thinking or behavior. In fact, the Shakers were clever entrepreneurs who sold their goods to “outsiders” and in turn became a very wealthy community. The individual artisans in the Shaker community did not keep the money they earned for the sale of their furniture and other goods.20 All was collected and put into the community coffers. As Engels indicated, this was communism that put his theory into practice. Establishing various environments, whether in science fiction or in utopian thought, requires much planning. One issue which was conceived as a boon for some and a stumbling block for others was religion. Even 16

Louis J. Kern, An Ordered Love: Sex Roles and Sexuality in Victorian Utopians: the Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1981), 22-25. 17 Friedrich Engles, The Condition of the Working Class in England, W. O. Henderson and W. H. Chaloner, trans. and ed. (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1968), 93. 18 Louis J. Kern, An Ordered Love, 44. 19 Edward Deming Andrews, Work and Worship: the Economic Order of the Shakers (Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1974), 68. 20 Michael Streich, “Shakers in Early American History,” American History by Suite 101, last modified February 4, 2009, accessed May 22, 2011.

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though Engels saw no purpose for religion in a communistic society, according to the economic theory of clubs,21 if there are public goods (those that the consumption of which cannot be excluded to members of a community, even a religious one), these public goods can be efficiently produced and consumed by self-forming groups of individuals. A potential problem for clubs is free riding, that is, the joining or continued participation of members who do not contribute their fair share and yet who consume the public goods produced by the clubs. The egalitarian distribution of wealth and income, which characterizes communes, poses a severe problem of free riding.22 Lawrence R. Iannaccone and Carrie A. Miles argue, in an article about social change as observed in the Mormon community, that an environment requiring commitment through constraints on dress, grooming, sexual conduct, and so on, retards the free-riding problem by screening nonbelievers and helps to bond members together. These seemingly arbitrary impositions on personal conduct may, therefore, serve a useful purpose.23 Beginning in the late Seventeenth Century, many religious sects have come to the United States to establish communes. Perhaps the most successful of the early ones was Ephrata, Pennsylvania, founded in 1732.24 The community was organized by a German Seventh-Day Baptist sect under the leadership of Johann Conrad Beissel. As Seventh-Day members, they believed that Saturday was the Sabbath and were harassed by local authorities who attempted to enforce the community's Sunday closing laws (or blue laws). They relocated to an isolated place, where Beissel started a commune of ascetic and celibate brothers and sisters, around which other members of his sect established their farms and businesses.25 21

Trustram Hunt, Marx’s General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engles (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2009), 148. 22 Ibid., 167. 23 Laurence R. Iannoccone and Carrie A. Miles, “Dealing with Social Change: The Mormon Church’s Response to Change in Women’s Roles.” Social Science Perspectives: Contemporary Mormonism Marie Cornwall, Tim B. Heaton and Lawrence A. Young, eds. (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 2001), 270-74. 24 Brother Lamech, Chronicon Ephratense; A History of the Community of Seventh Day Baptists at Ephrata, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania by “Lamech and Agrippa” trans. by J. Max Hark (Lancaster, Pa.: S. H. Zahm, 1889), 14. 25 As a constant reminder of the King James’ Bible quote that “narrow is the way that leadeth to life,” the hallways of their buildings were only 20 inches wide. The brothers and sisters of the order lived lives of hard work, physical austerity, and prayer. Dressed in rough woolen habits, they went barefoot whenever possible, and instead of using animals, they pulled their own carts. The sect was known for its wonderful choir, school, and German-language publishing house. (ibid., 12-23).


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It is the teaching that I found to be the most important in Beissel's commune, because through the teaching of the members and members' children, the community would flourish. In the DS9 series, the children were taught in a commune-like schoolroom, where all the children were given the same science, math and language arts; but more importantly, they were all taught, as were the Advantists, that respect for what exists [or has been created] is essential in order to keep on the “straight and narrow path” [an expression used by one of the teachers in the DS9 classroom]. Therefore, other life-forms that they were studying were treated with great care and education was taken very seriously.26 Tight-knit communities with a singular purpose, whether it is religiously formulated or ideologically perceived, create environmental bonding qualities that hold the individuals together. It is this type of cohesiveness which holds the crew members together on another of Roddenberry's creations, Deep Space Nine [DS9]. Instead of the mobile “acreage” of the Enterprise that moved to various encounters with other life forms, DS9 was created as a stationary outpost much like those encountered by the Owenites when they traveled west to seek a place for their utopian community in the United States. On DS9, one of the focal points for the philosophy of the series deals with children and issues concerning families with children.27 It is interesting that DS9 begins with the death of Sisko's wife which means that Sisko, the overseer of the outpost begins as a widower and a single parent to his teen age son. Other issues related to children deal with surrogate parents. In one episode, an alien is impregnated with a fertilized egg of a human who is unable to conceive.28 No problems of “ownership” ensue from this act of selflessness. The message is clear: Without propagation of a future generation, human-kind will be extinguished and the future environment will be devoid of human [or alien] population. Looking back again at other Nineteenth Century communal environments, in 1822, Charles Fourier of France presented his idea of small-scale, self-sufficient communities, which he called phalanxes, that were to replace the capitalist system. Within the phalanxes, the wage system was to be replaced by a guaranteed living allowance and a division of profits based on work and capital investment. There would be special 26

Ibid., 15. Harvey Cormier, “Race through the Alpha Quadrant: Species and Destiny on Star Trek.” SciFi in the Mind’s Eye: Reading Science through Science Fiction. Margret Grebowicz, ed. (Chicago: Open Court, 2007), 57. 28 Karen Anijar, Teaching Toward the 24th Century: Star Trek as Social Curriculum (New York: Falmer Press, 2000), 78. 27

Seeking Spaces


incentives for work that nobody wanted to do, although Fourier believed that if work were arranged well, there would be a natural supply equal to every demand. For example, children could be used for cleaning sewers because they “love to wallow in the muck and play with dirty things.”29 Fourier's wild criticisms of the capitalist system proved irresistible to those inclined to radical ideas. In France and America, he gained tremendous followings, and dozens of phalanxes were organized during the 1840s. Even though Fourier was convinced that his grandiose ideas were feasible, almost all of the attempts to establish lasting phalanxes failed in one to three years.30 The most successful Fourierist colony in America was the North American Phalanx, founded in Monmouth County, New Jersey, in 1843. It made major concessions to individualism. The work standard was ten hours a day, with extra pay for additional hours and less attractive work, and with equal pay for men and women.31 I envision the phalanstery, a self-sustaining socialist community analogous to Roddenberry’s Borg cube in which each member of the collective lived interdependently in a common environmental space. Roddenberry was able to learn from many historical events and even used literary allusions for the details to create environments such as the in one of the episodes about a mining community which used children to clean some of the pipes in the manufacturing area beneath the ground level. Like the child chimneysweepers about whom Blake dedicated his poem,32 children in the mining community on a remote planet were used for jobs which adults could not or did not want to do. While I have woven a perhaps a seemingly tenuous thread, it is not difficult to conclude that early communal experimentation by idealists such as Robert Owen may be reflected within the philosophy of futurists such as Roddenberry. Since Twentieth and Twenty-First Century writers were influenced by the early utopian visionaries, writers such as Marge Piercy and Gene Roddenberry continued on a line of natural progression to depict female gender roles in stronger control of their life choices, rather than in the subservient or laborious roles depicted for them by male utopians. In the Popular Culture genre, if one were to examine the 29

Nicholas Valentine Riasanovsky, The Teaching of Charles Fourier (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 119. 30 Ibid., 24-36. 31 Ernest Sutherland Bates, American Faith: Its Religious, Political, and Economic Foundations (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1940), 52. 32 David W. Lindsay, Blake: Songs of Innocence and Experience (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989).


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communal life on the Deep Space 9, the hierarchy, as well as the inhabitants’ interactions, strongly reflect a remarkable resemblance to Owen’s orderly New Harmony. In addition, I see a strong link to William Morris’s perception of male/ female equality through working tasks within the communal life style. Roddenberry’s Deep Space 9 utilized highly qualified males and females equally, just as in Morris’s News from Nowhere. In fact, each of Roddenberry’s females is as beautiful as those depicted in Morris’s utopian novel. The communal concept seems to evoke issues of control. Whether the commune is conceptualized as a male-dominated enterprise, as in New Harmony, or a male/ female equalizing entity, as in News from Nowhere, or as a superior female enclave, as in He, She, It, utopia is achieved only for those who control the reins. The space station differs from its predecessors that serve to reinforce the personal beliefs of the communal leader rather than serving the greater good of each individual within the confines of the community. Since leadership alternates between females and males, the focus of the space station’s communal strength resides in each individual’s unique capabilities and how they contribute to the greater good of the communal environment as a whole.33 Whatever specific details are utilized to structure a workable utopian community, whether forming the legions of the various Nineteenth Century communes or establishing a space station near the mouth of a wormhole, communal life seems to be a positive approach for some to cope with the environmental issues. While communities such as the Shakers focused on guidelines that eventually led to their extinction, even the fictitious run-down, seedy space station DS9 that once belonged to an alien race was able to evolve positively. The oppressive environment and questionable characters who pass through Deep Space Nine, as with characters of those within the pages of Piercy and others, were created as story-telling devices to provide dramatic conflict which often seems to reflect theoretical utopias and established utopian communes. Utopists as well as science fiction writers created various communal living domains so that issues of family, religion, private property, finance and corporate structure could be observed and assessed through conjecture, eventually offering possibilities for choice of one’s situational environment.


Cormier, “Race through the Alpha Quadrant”, 18.


Both Nicola Griffith’s Lore in Slow River and Octavia Butler’s Lauren in Parable of the Sower face hostile environments. The challenges in these works, which are both set in the not-too-distant future, come from both people and the natural world. These young women’s negotiations of their respective dystopias take shape in ways that at first appear to separate them, but at closer inspection actually converge at significant points. Their need to build social groups or communities, their relationships to the natural world and their self-formations all provide points of correspondence. In their struggles for survival and growth they affect people while the natural environment influences them and the societies they help create. Melzer’s comment about Butler’s fiction applies to Slow River as well. She explains “The agent of utopia is the individual, but always in the context of a community.”1 Each woman recreates society and learns from those in her group, non-human animals and the broader natural environment as she tries to shape a more positive world. Water most especially plays a pivotal role for both women. Slow River’s Lore goes from life with her family, which includes mysterious nocturnal abuse by an adult, to being kidnapped on her eighteenth birthday and later escaping from her captors, then living with Spanner, a woman whose life is full of personal risk and illegal activity, to finally living on her own and working in a water treatment plant. She grows up with a keen awareness of the importance of and the 1

Patricia Melzer. “‘All that you touch you change’: Utopian Desire and the Concept of Change in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents.” Femspec 3, no.2 (June 2002).


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chemistry/biology surrounding the creation and maintenance of potable water. Her family’s mega-business of water purification is the basis for their fabulous wealth, but water is far more than just a wealth generator in the novel. Water helps to shape and define Lore and her experiences. From her youthful encounters with water to her later work in a water treatment facility, water is more than a metaphor or set of symbols in the book. It is a force in her evolution. When the reader first encounters Lore she narrates and focuses on the river “at the heart of the city.”2 Her thoughts range from personal commentary tied to her individual experience to contemplation of the role water played in the development of human civilizations, birth and death. Her place in this broad picture is not stable, for as she says, “Next time I dipped my hand in the river it would be as someone legitimate, reborn three years after arriving naked and nameless in the city.”3 We learn that this “legitimacy” is a creation of forged documentation and an identity chip taken from a dead woman. Lore’s creations of her self are ongoing as the narrative perspective shifts from first to third person and back again, and from her childhood to more recent experiences. She takes on various identities and roles: Kim Yeau, Sal Bird, thief, worker, etc. As varied as her experiences are in the novel, water becomes her constant context and thought-shaper. For example, when she thinks about her kidnappers she thinks in terms of water creatures: There are two men; one, the taller, wears clothes that always seem to smell of something frying, like fish; the other, shorter than Lore, moves fast and slightly sideways, like a crab.4

Though the aquatic animal association here has negative connotations, it helps Lore categorize her kidnappers and thus acts as a small element of control. In contrast to the frightening experience of being kidnapped, Lore knows her greatest successes and some of her happiest moments around water. Her liaison with a woman named Sarah takes place in an aqueous milieu made of perfluorocarbon just a few weeks before the kidnapping.5 As part of her family’s water empire she takes on a project in Kirghizia near the Aral Sea at which she does more than succeed. She not only manages to build the water remediation project, she also “squeezes the 2

Nicola Griffith, Slow River, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1995), 3. Ibid., 5. 4 Ibid., 275. 5 Ibid., 234. 3

Nature, Community and the Self in Parable of the Sower and Slow River


budget and builds tower after tower—artificial waterfalls. Water falls hundreds of feet, brilliant with the reflected light of bank after bank of alien-looking heliostats that focus on the cascades the power of sixty suns” and “Lore dreams of them at night, and wakes in the morning filled with their imagery, satisfied in a way she has never found before.”6 Because Lore understands the remediation process and the possibilities of repairing even severely damaged areas, she also thinks long term about the project and thinks that in about forty years “people will fish again in the Aral Sea.”7 In the case of the area near the Aral Sea, government planners decided to divert water to irrigate a cotton crop, but the diverted water never reached the fields. They created a disaster without reaping any benefit. The terrible consequences of people’s mismanagement of the environment anger Lore and that anger in turn inspires her best efforts. As she helps to reshape the environment the work on the project helps to shape her as a creative manager and scientist, thus the influence runs in both directions. The later crisis at the Hedon Road Water Treatment plant brings together Lore’s efforts at self-creation, her need for connection to others and her link to water. After the plant is sabotaged she manages to help avert disaster because of her deep knowledge of the working of the system. This knowledge clearly derives from her experience as part of the van de Oest water treatment empire. Her assuming the worker identity of Sal Bird is part of her denial of a family that she believes deserted her when no one paid the ransom her kidnappers demanded. After she finally gets a place of her own (years after her escape) she gets the job at Hedon Road as Sal Bird (the last in a series of false identities she takes on) and begins with the most undesirable task in the plant, “I could run this place in my sleep, I shouldn’t be waist-deep in other people’s shit.”8 Because she does not want to be Frances Lorien van de Oest she takes the work and does not admit that she could easily run the entire operation. In “The Unsettled Undercurrents of Hedon Road,” Pia Møller sees Lore as someone who derives pleasure from managing risk. It is true that if Lore had simply allowed the plant to shut down after most of the workers were evacuated, outside help would have come in and handled the situation; however, Lore understands that she can manage the situation in


Ibid., 207. Ibid., 207. 8 Ibid., 64. 7


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order to avoid a complete shutdown of the operation.9 Whether Lore enjoys risk or not, the fact that water provides the setting and an array of metaphors for her reassessment and recreation of herself is clear. Her self and her moral evolution ebb and flow as water does. Her work at the purification plant accompanies the awakening of her self-respect and moral compass. She understands both the business implications and the environmental/human consequences of the emergency. The complexity of the situation requires that Lore make a number of adjustments to the system, just as she made and continues to make shifts in her behaviors and identities. As a result of her knowledge about the plant that the crisis reveals, Lore’s supervisor, Cherry Magyar, figures out that Lore is not Sal Bird. Magyar’s discovery leads to Lore admitting her past and analyzing past and present events anew with Magyar’s help. She not only figures out that it was her mother who abused her, not her father, but also that her older sister Greta is the core of nefarious activities from kidnapping to sabotage, hidden from the company’s books in a separate operation, but ultimately linked to the company through Greta. All this crime acts to protect the van de Oest monopolies on the organisms that break down waste and help purify water, as well as the food for those organisms. The family corruption that affects Lore personally also exists on a broader scale. People suffer the consequences of Greta’s secret operations group, when a plant in Caracas “malfunctions” due to Greta’s planned sabotage of the plant to make it look as though the generic bug food the plant used was inferior. Birth defects, like the ones Paolo (a co-worker of Lore’s at Hedon Road) suffers, occur in many victims of the Venezuelan plot. Paolo was born limbless and uses prostheses. Thus, when Lore figures out that the emergency at Hedon Road is sabotage, rather than an accident, she pieces together the chain of events and actors with Magyar’s help. Prior to tackling the situation at Hedon Road, Lore works to renew a friendship with a couple she had betrayed when she and Spanner were working on a pornographic film to make money. They included Ruth and Ellen and other aphrodisiac-drugged partygoers in the film without their clear consent. Lore speaks of the power of corruption and her role in accepting it in her life as she talks with Ruth and Ellen. Importantly, she sees that she has made choices, and that she can always choose to participate in corruption or not. She says, “We all have wounds. We all get hurt. But self-pity, lack of courage, leads to a sort of . . . mortification of 9

Pia Møller, “The Unsettled Undercurrents of Hedon Road: Power, Knowledge, and Environmental Risk Management in Nicola Griffith’s Slow River,” ISLE 9, no.2 (Summer 2002), 237-241.

Nature, Community and the Self in Parable of the Sower and Slow River


the soul. Corruption. And then it takes more courage, costs more pain, to clean it up afterward.”10 Her words, “corruption” and “clean up,”11 clearly also apply to governments and corporations as well as individuals who operate outside those entities. “Clean up” is also a synonym for the water remediation business of the Van de Oests. The ongoing flow of water in the novel, like the various shifts in Lore’s identity and views of herself, acts as both a catalyst for plot events and a metaphor for fluidity, change and a need for stability and purity. Lore, in a sense, rewrites her own narrative as she gathers more pieces of the puzzle. After the plant crisis and a reunion with her father, she learns that her family did pay the ransom, but also figures out, though her father is ignorant of the facts after entrusting the ransom money to Greta, that Greta diverted the cash to her secret operations. Kidnapping provides the off-the-books income to pay saboteurs and set up competitors to fail. Once the narrative becomes clear for her she can reposition herself in relationship to her family and the past and then, as the conclusion of the novel implies, take over the family business. She comes a long way from the wreck Spanner, her roommate and cocorruptor post-kidnapping, found in a doorway naked and bleeding. Even her introduction to Spanner’s world includes a low moment that involves water: “She would have to drink this water that wheezed out from old lead pipes, would have to accept what she was given from now on, and she would have to like it.”12 Her redo of her looks, which includes dying her hair and shaving all the light hair off her body, culminates in a shower: In the shower, her hair and the cream washed away in gelatinous clumps, leaving her as smooth and bare as a baby. Naked in a new way . . . I am hairless and newly born.13

Clearly, water literally and figuratively enables Lore to transform herself. Just as Lore’s link to water is paramount, so is Lauren Olamina’s. Unlike Lore, Lauren works out who she is early on in Parable of the Sower. She understands that she will evolve and learn, but she has a sense of her family with all its issues. She differentiates herself from her father’s Baptist belief system and also has the maturity to analyze the conflict between her father and stepmother about her rebellious brother, Keith. Lauren’s belief system, which she calls Earthseed, rests on the concept of 10

Griffith, Slow River, 212. Ibid., 99-100. 12 Ibid., 11. 13 Ibid., 43-44. 11


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change and the interplay of influences.14 When she and two others from her community, Harry and Zahra, survive the destruction of their hometown, Robledo, and are forced to flee, seek out a different life and create a new community, water becomes a key element. Water as an essential to survival and as a link between people becomes one of the forces that cause change in the novel. Access to potable water is an ongoing issue for the travelers as they make their way north away from the chaotic destruction of their homes. Water is also at the center of some episodes when their group adds members. Lauren sees people as resources, not in a dehumanizing or simply utilitarian way, but in a manner that recognizes that community strengthens individuals as they build community. Water helps make survival and community possible. By contrast, fire, as water’s opposite, presents a threat. The reader sees the negative power of fire in the burning of Robledo by a drugged gang, in their use of the drug called “pyro” that makes them want to start fires and even be consumed by the flames, and in a later episode in the novel when Lauren and her group must walk between fires to continue toward the land Bankole owns in the north. Though Lauren understands that she and her group do not ultimately control nature’s elements, she sees that they must be ready to manipulate them as opportunity and need dictate. She writes as part of her Earthseed thoughts: As wind,/As water,/As fire,/As life,/God/Is both creative and destructive,/ Demanding and yielding,/Sculptor and clay./God is Infinite Potential:/God is Change.15

Lauren understands that awareness of her surroundings and alertness to possibilities are necessary skills. At a commercial water station that she knows is dangerous—she recalls that her father had always counseled her and her brothers to avoid the places since “People going in having money. People going out have water, which is as good as money”16 Lauren (who is disguised as a man so that it will appear that her group has two men and a woman, a stronger group) helps a couple with a baby who have been set upon by “a pair of two-legged coyotes.” This family ends up joining Lauren, Harry and Zahra after another incident that occurs at the ocean. Some marauding dogs try to make off with the baby so Lauren shoots and


Octavia Butler. Parable of the Sower. (New York: Warner Books, 1993), 70.


Ibid., 242 Ibid., 181.


Nature, Community and the Self in Parable of the Sower and Slow River


kills one of the attackers.17 In each instance the settings involve water and its importance. Water can cause an uneasy truce amongst all the desperate people who are on the road, as with the crowds at the beach, or it can be the occasion for criminal behavior, as at the water station. There is no possibility of a neutral response to either the availability or scarcity of this essential commodity. In the two scenarios I just alluded to, furthermore, Lauren speaks of violent humans as like coyotes, or desperate wild dogs not long before actual feral dogs try to snatch the baby, Dominic, from his parents at the beach. Water is part of the landscape that helps sort people from the nonverbal, non-civil animals in the world. Bankole, who is an older man, later tells Lauren that he remembers a time when dogs could actually be allies to people and even pets. Society’s breakdown and the scarcity of resources mean that people compete with other animals for survival rather than being able to forge bonds with these creatures. Lauren’s goal of creating a new community based on the tenets of her Earthseed belief system is clearly an attempt to establish a new civil society in a world that has unraveled. This task is truly difficult because leaving Robledo does not mean leaving dystopia behind. As Lauren and her growing group travel north they see the terrible devolution of people: cannibal teenagers at a campfire eating a human leg, an abandoned toddler whom they take in, people swarming toward a town to pick it clean after an earthquake, and roving individuals and gangs that prey on anyone they can in order to rob them or hurt them. One of the major forces in dismantling society is drought that occurs as a result of climate change. Lauren’s stepmother, Cory, reminisces about a time when there was regular rainfall, but as Lauren grows into her teens in Robledo, she tells the reader that rain is a rare event. She describes how everything else stops when the rain does come: “Some people missed part of the sermon, though, because they went home to put out all the barrels, buckets, tubs, and pots they could find to catch the free water.”18 Even the water for Lauren’s adult baptism has to be purchased and she makes clear that this is an expensive undertaking.19 The trip to the sanctuary for the ceremony is as dangerous as any other trip they take outside the walls of their neighborhood. Other than a special occasion or absolutely necessary work, no one goes outside. The idea of the self-sufficient community, however, turns out to be an illusion. There are no walls that can stop the dissolution of society and the violence of the 17

Ibid., 188. Ibid., 42. 19 Ibid., 12. 18


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drug-crazed and desperate. As Miller says “The walls protect Lauren’s neighborhood, but simultaneously make it a target for those who covet what little they have.”20 He also quotes Butler: “People are walled in but they are clearly going nowhere, in spite of the fact that they are surviving as long as they do.”21 In Lauren’s case seeing the suffering of those outside the wall causes her to have a reaction that can physically disable her, since she has hyper-empathy syndrome. Because she has this condition she feels both the pain and (far less often) the pleasure of those she sees. Lauren has the wisdom to prepare for cataclysm with what she calls a grab-and-run pack that contains some essentials (including water, food, tools and storage bags). Her father tries to prepare the younger people of Robledo to defend themselves by teaching them to fire guns. Their practice sessions happen outside the walls and act as training in danger as well as target practice. It is during target practice that the reader learns that Lauren’s hyper-empathy syndrome extends to animals, thus showing us a link between her and non-human creatures. When she has to kill a dog that someone had wounded Lauren feels the blow and is momentarily stopped by the pain.22 Her experience teaches her that she can handle having to kill if it is necessary. In this dystopian world her link to a dog is not like the relationship one would have with a potential pet or even with a wild creature one appreciates. It is necessarily an adversarial situation since dogs are predators, but this episode is also informative. Griffith’s Lore does not have Lauren’s hyper-empathy syndrome problem, but she does have the ability to appreciate nature and creatures around her in a different way. Lore also sees a stray animal—in her case it is a cat that she tries to help by leaving out food. She wants to help this animal and the text clearly presents it as a metaphor for Lore and even for Spanner: They stared at each other. The cat was not pretty. Its ribs were showing, and one eye was closed, probably missing altogether. She could smell its breath, a thick, hot stink as though it had been chewing on dead things.23

The cat’s bad physical condition is reminiscent of Lore’s injured state when Spanner finds her and also links to Spanner’s mistreatment of her own body. Like the cat, she lives on the edge, but unlike the cat Spanner 20

Jim Miller, “Post-Apocalyptic Hoping: Octavia Butler’s Dystopian/Utopian Vision,” Science Fiction Studies 25, no.2 (July 1998), 349. 21 Ibid., 350. 22 Butler, Parable of the Sower, 39. 23 Griffith, Slow River, 87.

Nature, Community and the Self in Parable of the Sower and Slow River


chooses to risk herself by taking drugs, blackmailing people, perpetrating various types of fraud and by getting involved with violent people who beat and torture her. Even Spanner, a utilitarian and urbanite, admires a fruit salad plant that she shows to Lore when they visit a conservatory full of lush greenery.24 Lore seeks to create a garden as well because she feels that she needs to participate in growth and greenery even if she lives in a city and the back yard has more often been used as a trash dump than anything else. She even has respect for weeds: “They had fought to be there; she wasn’t going to be the one to pull them out. Besides, they were green and growing, and most of them would flower in spring and summer.”25 Lore’s forays into the garden and her trips to leave food for the cat are also obviously a part of her therapy. As the narrative tells us just before the scene with the cat: “There was nothing specific of which she was afraid, just . . . everything, as though the world were a gelatinous beast that would fall upon her and suffocate her” and On good days she managed to get out into the garden. The hard part was getting past the front door. She would put her hand to the wood and suddenly think, Have I got my gloves? And so she would check her coat pockets. Yes. She had her gloves. She would open the door a crack and think, Are my roots showing? And have to close it again, go to the bathroom and check her hair.26

Without her struggles to make a garden of the dilapidated back yard, Lore would clearly suffer from agoraphobia for a longer time. Her mistrust of the world and of people and her worry that someone will recognize her though she has changed her looks, are debilitating. Even a short trip to the grocery store to get some lettuce and carrots shakes her badly. The surroundings are unfamiliar and as a child of a rich family she has never had to deal with regular shopping or seen heads of lettuce that are dirty and are not hyponically grown.27 By contrast, Butler’s Lauren makes it her business to learn how to survive even before disaster strikes her home. She has a book about edible plants and she pays attention when Cory uses acorns to make flour and then bread. She sees the natural world as a potential aid in her journey.28


Ibid., 93. Ibid., 87. 26 Ibid., 86. 27 Ibid., 90. 28 Butler, Parable of the Sower, 51. 25


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As Hampton puts it, Lauren listens to the landscape.29 Lauren stands ready to learn from all that she sees and experiences. Her flexibility constitutes openness about her self. As Escoda Agustì points out “Olamina does not regard the body as an immutable biological given” and she has an “eagerness to play with gender categories as well as her body.”30 Lauren reformulates herself as necessary, as Lore does, with the help of others and nature. Lore finally sorts out her past experiences with Magyar’s help, which entails figuring out the scheme to protect the family’s monopoly. Lauren and her group finally have a memorial service for all of their lost loved ones when they reach Bankole’s land. The ceremony includes planting trees.31 Nature and narrative come together in both Slow River and Parable of the Sower. Lauren and Lore discover that their links to the natural world and to other people are both essential for life and key to emotional wellbeing, self-formulation and a healthy society. As Lore says of the way the world works and how individuals fit into it “Everything works in layers: jungles, cities, people. Each layer has its predator and prey, its network of ally and foe, safe place and trap. Its own ecosystem. You have to get to know the land.”32 Understanding leads to hope for the future and enables people to take an active role in shaping that future. Lauren Olamina’s notion that Earthseed will take root in the stars comes from thinking hard about survival: “It’s a destiny we’d better pursue if we hope to be anything other than smooth-skinned dinosaurs—here today, gone tomorrow, our bones mixed with the bones and ashes of our cities, and so what?”33 Hope for the self and for society takes work, but both women show the reader that perseverance can lay the foundations for a society that respects and harvests natural resources and helps people to flourish.


Gregory J. Hampton, “Migration and Capital of the Body: Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower,” CLA Journal 49, no.1 (2005), 62. 30 Clara Escoda Agustì. “The Relationship Between Community and Subjectivity in Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower,” Extrapolation 46, no. 3 (2005): 355. 31 Butler, Parable of the Sower, 293-294. 32 Griffith, Slow River, 213. 33 Butler, Parable of the Sower, 199.


This article is for Lena and Evie, who like The Prisoner of Azkaban best of all.

“‘Funny place,’” announces Tonks on a visit to the Dursley household on business for the Order of the Phoenix, “‘it’s a bit too clean, d’you know what I mean? Bit unnatural.’”1 In relief to the wizarding world, where magic continually intersects with nature, the Dursley suburbia is like those most unnatural of substances Harry’s Aunt Petunia prefers for dessert garnishes, or “sugared violets.”2 Like a sugared violet herself, Petunia resists the potential messiness of the natural world and seeks to reorder nature, dressing her family in “bow ties and dinner jackets”3 for company and insisting on an extreme domestic order, albeit one that involves the excessive use of cleaning products, unhealthy sweets, VCRs, and video games, all for the supposed good of Harry’s obese and unfriendly cousin, Dudley. As an explicitly unnatural space, with its “oddly unreal glitter”4 and its hierarchical boundaries, the Dursley home becomes the unattractive alternative to Rowling’s creation of a magical, but ultimately more natural world that Harry explores over the course of seven novels.5 Alongside 1

J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix (New York: Scholastic, 2003), 51. Hereafter, the novel will be cited as OP. 2 J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (New York: Scholastic, 1999), 10. Hereafter, the novel will be cited parenthetically as CS. 3 Rowling, CS, 11. 4 Rowling, OP, 25 5 See Zimena Gallardo C. and C. Jason Smith, “Happily Ever After: Harry Potter and the Quest for the Domestic,” in Reading Harry Potter Again: New Critical Essays, ed. Giselle Liza Anatol (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2009). The opening chapters of each of the early books establish “The Dursley household


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their other narratives of growth and responsibility, these fictions catalogue the various species of living and otherwise animated objects that constitute the expanded ecological landscape of the wizarding world. The Durlseys’ resistance to dirt highlights their suspicions of deviant contamination and uncleanliness, or suspicions that are obsessively pursued by the suburbanite Muggles. Suspecting Harry (whose room is perpetually messy) of a deeper cultural and more objectionable soiling, they seek to neutralize and contain the boy wizard, just as they seek to subdue any other natural substance that they have banned from their dwelling, although their house is filled with chemicals, power tools (which Uncle Vernon’s business produces), and electronic toys of all kinds. In a moment of supreme caricature, the Dursleys are lured away from their home at the opening of volume five with a letter “telling them they’d been short-listed for the All-England Best-Kept Suburban Lawn Competition.”6 Associated with a mania for a controlled and sanitized environment, the Dursleys surround themselves with pruned roses, “gleaming walls,”7 and a “surgically clean kitchen” with its “wide-screen television,” all of which produce a myopic, suburban vision.8 Contrasting spaces such as the Weasley’s Burrow, Hagrid’s rustic cabin, the ramshackle Lovegood home, and modest Shell Cottage are characterized by a departure from modern technologies and by a grubby authenticity. The series’ privileging of authentic spaces intensifies in The Deathly Hallows, with the tent dwelling of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, where there are no distracting gadgets, unlike the world of Dudley Dursley, that “caricatured child of late-

on Privet Drive as the ‘bad home’ that Harry must escape,” in part because the Dursleys “are a caricature of respectable suburban normalcy that Harry learns to despise” (102-3). 6 Rowling, OP, 48. 7 J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (New York: Scholastic, 2000), 27. 8 Rowling, OP, 37.

Deep Ecology in the Harry Potter Series


capitalist permissiveness,”9 to whom Dumbledore refers as having incurred “appalling damage” through his upbringing.10 As Rowling’s novels relentlessly interrogate those positions like the Dursleys’ that obscure or deny a nuanced ecological understanding of the world, they engage with deep ecology’s arguments, particularly in acknowledging the work of “appreciating life quality,” or “dwelling in situations of inherent value . . . rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living.” 11 This understanding, as Harry discovers, takes one out of mainstream suburbia altogether. Harry’s experiences across two worlds prove that, although prominently situated, “the technology being produced doesn’t fulfill basic human needs, such as meaningful work in a meaningful environment.”12 As Noel Chevalier has argued of Rowling’s work, the novels not only rid the landscape of technology, but they also remove Jean Baudrillard’s sense of “the glare of technology” so as to reveal “that without the veneer of technology, the world wrestles with the same political and social questions in the 1990s that it did in the 1790s.”13 With its privileging of a high standard of living, Privet Drive is the center of false progress, whereas greater authenticity–alongside the obvious social and racial problems of the magical world–emerges in Harry’s magical life, where the world is reoriented to the experience of living. As the series repeatedly demonstrates, orienting one’s gaze to the experience of living means elevating those qualities Harry has missed in the Dursley home, or not only friendship, interested guidance, and an ability to pursue imaginative adventures, but also the ability to acknowledge dirt, strife, and the signs of social prejudices. By privileging 9

Shama Rangwala, “A Marxist Inquiry into J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series,” in Reading Harry Potter Again: New Critical Essays, ed. Giselle Liza Anatol (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2009), 136. Also see Ximena Callardo C. and C. Jason Smith, “Happily Ever After: Harry Potter and the Quest for the Domestic,” Reading Harry Potter Again: New Critical Essays, ed. Giselle Liza Anatol (Santa Barbara: ABC CLIO, 2009): 91-108, who treat this space as a potential home, describing it as “the most pitiable representation of a ‘home’ within the Harry Potter series,” which rather misses the point that homes are made of something other than the dwelling itself (103). 10 J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (New York: Scholastic, 2005), 55. 11 George Sessions, “Ecocentrism and the Anthropocentric Detour,” Deep Ecology for the 21st Century: Readings on the Philosophy and the Practice of the New Environmentalism, ed. George Sessions (Boston: Shambhala, 1995), 68. 12 Sessions, 32. 13 Noel Chevalier, “The Liberty Tree and the Whomping Willow: Political Justice, Magical Science, and Harry Potter.” The Lion and the Unicorn 29.3 (2005), 402.


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these experiences over sparkling kitchens and the latest technological gadgets, Rowling’s novels enact a basic tenant of deep ecology’s push for reigning in excessive demands upon the natural world, for it is a world that can never be taken for granted or treated as mere background. This is a series in which unsuspected and conscious beings are everywhere (gnomes, ghosts, and house-elves, to name a few), not only watching, but also actively participating in everyday life; such figures reveal the ways in which the texts’ philosophy overlaps with ecological paradigms that encourage “impartial identification with all entities.”14 Such “transpersonal forms of identification” allow for “the freedom of all entities to unfold in their own ways; in other words, actions that tend to promote symbiosis.”15 Or as Aldo Leopold succinctly described this idea, “[A] thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”16 Enacting a pervasive and practical appreciation for deep ecology’s principles, particularly in the novels’ emphasis on useful spaces, productive living, and a devaluing of normative social position, the Harry Potter books extend into ecological interests such as biospherical egalitarianism and interspecial cooperation. Somewhat ironically, the wizarding world is not one where magic acts as a solution to significant problems. Rather, it is cooperation with the entire eco-system and a respect for the autonomy of other life forms that is often more effective than magic ever could be.

Biospherical egalitarianism As the series’ assorted dark wizards demonstrate their devotion to hierarchal approaches to the naturally unsorted ecological world, they display a virulent anthropocentrism, or, in this case, wizardcentrism. This belief would mean that not only humans, but specifically wizards have the right to control the resources of their world rather than share their world equally with other life forms. While anthropocentrism can be traced back to the scientific revolution, which “overturned the age-old organic view of the world as a living organism and replaced it with a mechanistic clockwork imagine of the world as a machine,” deep ecology attempts to blur the line between the living and non-living, the animate and the 14

Warwick Fox, “Transpersonal Ecology and the Varieties of Identification,” The Deep Ecology Movement: An Introductory Anthology, ed. Alan Drengson and Yuichi Inoue (Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1995), 150. 15 Fox, 150. 16 Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1949), 224-5.

Deep Ecology in the Harry Potter Series


inanimate.17 Such a view should produce a “delight in diversity” rather than a human-centered vision of life values, particularly because for deep ecologists, there is a “core democracy in the biosphere.”18 Adopting such a sense of biocentric egalitarianism, Rowling’s novels demonstrate the consequences when humans claim dominion over other natural forms. In part, Harry’s newness to the wizarding world allows Rowling to highlight its stunning diversity, for it is populated by the likes of Cornish pixies, merpeople, ghosts, centaurs, hippogriffs, or animals of every description that can articulate their desires and operate with deliberate consciousness. As they appear prominently at the opening of each novel, the conscious animals in the texts establish the diversity and curiosities of the magical world, suggesting the variety that is imperiled by the repressive regime of Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Book I, Sorcerer’s Stone, stresses this concept early in its pages, depicting a tired zoo snake (which speaks to Harry) and a sentient cat (which is later revealed as Professor McGonagall in animagus form). Other volumes begin with the introduction of a new species or two: house-elves appear in Chamber of Secrets, alongside garden gnomes, dementors, and a basilisk; in volume three (Prisoner of Azkaban), werewolves and a hippogriff are central to the plot and to the development of an extended argument for tolerance. As we also see, animals presumed to be “pets,” or Scabbers and Crookshanks (and later “Padfoot,” aka Sirius Black) unsettle all forms of anthropocentrism, given the intelligence and integrity that these creatures display. In addition, Fawkes the phoenix does what he pleases, cohabitating with Dumbledore and asserting an allegiance to him, but without receiving directives; at the end of volume two, the phoenix’s actions (bringing the sorting hat, attacking the basilisk, shedding tears on Harry’s wound) surprise Dumbledore when he learns of them. Of greatest political import, however, are representatives of species that are dominated by wizards (and which are resentful of that fact), or the 17

Sessions, 161. Also see Arne Naess, “The Deep Ecological movement: Some Philosophical Aspects.” Deep Ecology for the 21st Century: Readings on the Philosophy and the Practice of the New Environmentalism, ed. George Sessions (Boston: Shambhala, 1995). Naess’s first principle of deep ecology includes the following belief: “The well-being and flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent worth). These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes” (68). 18 Stephen Bodian, “Simple in Means, Rich in Ends: An Interview with Arne Naess.” Deep Ecology for the 21st Century: Readings on the Philosophy and the Practice of the New Environmentalism, ed. George Sessions (Boston: Shambhala, 1995), 29.


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centaurs, merpeople, and house-elves, who are never entirely placed on terms equal with wizards, even as the series ends.19 In part, the lack of resolution in the equality plot line, though troubling to Rowling’s readers, signals the contemporary sense that “even while deep ecologists profess a ‘biospherical egalitarianism’ in principle, most of them find ways of producing a hierarchy of value so as to cope with clashes of interest between species.”20 Flawed though the realization of egalitarianism may be, the most exemplary characters in the series aspire to such a relation. By dwelling on the unique dignity embodied by each species (a narrative strand particularly connected to Hagrid), the novels detail the ways in which wizards’ assertion of dominion over other species mirrors the domination of others seen in Voldemort and the Death Eaters. In addition, the Ministry of Magic is often at fault, given its rigid hierarchies and ingrained discrimination against various magical species. In the atrium of the Ministry’s building, a fountain ostensibly representing the “Magical Brethren” suggests that the official vision of interspecial relations is far from egalitarian, for the fountain symbolizes the depth of the Ministry’s anthropocentrism. As Joanna Lipinski notes, “wizards are a very closed and xenophobic society, denying rights to other creatures that possess the powers of magic, and they conceal themselves from muggles.”21 The fountain, which is viewed on multiple occasions (and which is remade into an anti-muggle statement in Deathly Hallows), represents not brotherhood, but the Minstry’s virulently hierarchical attitudes.22 In it, a centaur, goblin, and elf look “adoringly” upon the magical humans, the fountain emphasizing the idiosyncrasies of each species in its positioning of the water jets. Harry notices the fountain without inner commentary, but after his surprisingly formal and intimidating trial before the Wizengamot 19

For an overview of attitudes toward race and racism in the series see Jackie C. Horne, “Harry and the Other: Answering the Race Question in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter,” The Lion and the Unicorn 34.1 (2010), 76-104. 20 Dobson, 47. 21 Lipinski, 117. 22 See Giselle Liza Anatol, “The Replication of Victorian Racial Ideology in Harry Potter,” Reading Harry Potter Again, ed. Giselle Liza Anatol (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2009). As Anatol argues, the statue is a work of art devoted to “false symbolism,” for “its name suggests equality between magical beings: a community where the bonds between the species parallel those of an intimate family,” and yet the central positioning of the wizard in this grouping is difficult to interpret as an egalitarian gesture, reading the subsequent moment when the statue is animated as reinforcing a notion of hierarchy because the “goblin and elf” figures “display only cowardice, and a certain smallness of heart as well as of physical size and stature” (112-3).

Deep Ecology in the Harry Potter Series


concludes, Harry sees its representational politics in light of his skepticism of the Ministry. To Harry, the central wizard “looked rather weak and foolish. The witch was wearing a vapid smile like a beauty contestant, and from what Harry knew of goblins and centaurs, they were most unlikely to be caught staring this soppily at humans of any description” (OP, 156). The fountain reappears late in Order of the Phoenix, when it becomes the stage for Dumbledore’s observation that the fountain “told a lie,” for although humans deny the fact, he notes, “We wizards have mistreated and abused our fellows for too long, and we are now reaping our reward” (OP, 834). Part of the series’ point lies in the fact that casual mistreatments (of the house-elves and goblins, among others), if unchecked, allow for the possibility of even greater future abuses; in addition, overlooked and marginalized species just may hold the key to victory over evil. The numbers of times Harry is rescued or given useful knowledge by the least recognized species and individuals (Wormtail, Dobby, Moaning Myrtle, the centaurs, and Buckbeak), proves this theory. By contrast, those who represent evil (Voldemort, Marvelo Gaunt, Lucius Malfoy, Delores Umbridge, and Grindelwald) attempt to marginalize and dominate “lesser” species.23 In relief to the mainstream wizarding prejudices, figures such as Dumbledore, Hagrid, with his love of “monstrous creatures, the more lethal, the better”24 and his half-blooded status, Hermione Granger (who champions house-elf equality), Luna Lovegood (who believes in species that no one else recognizes), and Remus Lupin, who represents the unfair marginalization of species, challenge a wizardcentric view through example as well as their engagements with others. Hermione’s campaign to promote the rights of house-elves falls under this category, though it is clearly an extension of rights to which most of the wizarding world objects; as a Muggle-born witch, Hermione becomes accustomed to prejudice that is more frequently voiced as Voldemort’s followers become emboldened. Through such characters, Rowling suggests that it takes an outsider to question common exclusionary hierarchies. And yet, particularly at climactic points in Order of the Phoenix, where Kreacher 23

See Jennifer Sterling-Folker and Brian Folker, “Conflict and the Nation-State: Magical Mirrors of Muggles and Refracted Images,” in Harry Potter and International Relations, ed. Daniel H. Nexon and Iver B. Neumann (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006). According to the authors, “The reasons for conflict in the magical world are also all too human, involving the specific goal of racial purity and oppression that have their counterparts in the Westphalian system and world politics in general” (109). 24 Rowling, GF, 198.


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undermines the Order and allows for the killing of Sirius Black and in Deathly Hallows, and where Dobby apparates and disapparates to save those in the Malfoy dungeon, the series demonstrates the folly of overlooking non-human creatures, whose actions dramatically sway the balance of power. When, in volume four, Hagrid, a figure who is perpetually on “the boundary, a messenger, a mediator between species” as well as “between culture and nature,” and hence, one of the great heroes in the series, is revealed as having giant heritage, the series’ resistance to notions of pureblooded privilege becomes clear.25 At this disclosure, Hagrid, like Madame Maxime, becomes a subject of pointed suspicion in the eyes of the Ministry. At a key moment when Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic, suggests that Maxime might be implicated in Barty Crouch’s sudden disappearance, he queries, “Dumbledore, do you know what that woman is?,” a comment linked to his question, “Don’t you think you might be prejudiced in her favor because of Hagrid? They don’t all turn out harmless–if indeed, you can call Hagrid harmless, with that monster fixation he’s got.”26 With the weight of the Ministry of Magic behind him, Fudge articulates a set of prejudices against any non-human magical creature; as readers discover, Fudge is subject to caricature, based on his beliefs, as in The Quibbler’s portrayal of him as “Cornelius ‘GoblinCrusher’ Fudge,” or “’that’s what his friends call him, if you could hear him when he thinks no one is listening, oh, he’s always talking about the goblins he’s had done in; he’s had them drowned, he’s had them dropped off buildings, he’s had them poisoned, he’s had them cooked in pies.’”27 Such prejudices, which are not uncommon in the magical world, allow Voldemort and his followers to expand their campaign to uphold xenophobic and racist forms of exclusionism as the source of their political power.28 Hermione, like Dumbledore, refutes such beliefs, as in her claim about Hagrid’s parentage, 25

Iver B. Neumann, “Naturalizing Geography: Harry Potter and the Realms of Muggles, Magic Folks, and Giants,” in Harry Potter and International Relations, ed. Daniel H. Nexon and Iver B. Neumann (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), 165. 26 Rowling, GF, 580. 27 Rowling, OP, 192-3. 28 Such exclusionist attitudes have been traced to slavery and to “The European writing of colonial expansions and the ensuing ethnographic impulses from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries,” and, in more virulent forms, to Nazism, as the series’ interpreters have noted, linking notions of blood and enactments of privilege throughout the series (Anatol, 111). Also see Susan Howard, “’Slaves No More’: The Harry Potter series as Postcolonial Slave

Deep Ecology in the Harry Potter Series


Well, I thought he must be [part giant] . . . But honestly, all this hysteria about giants. They can’t all be horrible . . . It’s the same sort of prejudice that people have toward werewolves . . . It’s just bigotry, isn’t it?”29,30

While readers are led to understand that some members of the magical world have long been tempted to assert dominion over others (house-elves, goblins, ghosts, merpeople, centaurs, half-bloods, and muggle-borns), such beliefs are critiqued, at least in important moments such as Kingsley Shacklebolt’s speech on the radio program, Potterwatch, where he defends the value of Muggle lives and warns of the “short step from ‘Wizards first’ to ‘Purebloods first,’ and then to ‘Death Eaters’ . . . We’re all human, aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving” (DH, 440). While his remarks are limited to “human” life, they are also a step toward a more expansive sense of equality. It is clear, too, that as Dumbledore suggested, wizards have incurred the distrust and, at times, the outright hostility of other groups of creatures, disrupting hopes for biological equality. When Harry first encounters Dobby the house-elf in Chamber of Secrets, he learns of the casual disregard and, at times outright abuse suffered by the entire elf population. While the enslaved house-elves have not conceived of either economic or social independence, as made clear by Winky’s dissolution once she is dismissed from Barty Crouch’s employment, as Hermione suggests, the species cannot desire a state it has not been encouraged to imagine. As such examples suggest, there are many more obstacles to egalitarianism than incentives, especially as the enmity between humans and other magical species has been allowed to fester: the goblins resent their separation from wand-holders, asserting most vehemently that they

Narrative,” Harry Potter’s World Wide Influence, ed. Diana Patterson (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009), 35-47, which compares the HouseElf plot to slave narratives, Joanna Lipinska, “The Xenophobic World of Wizards; Why are They Afraid of the ‘Other’”? Harry Potter’s World Wide Influence, ed. Diana Patterson (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009): 117124, Aida Patient and Kori Street, “Holocaust History Amongst the Hallows— Understanding Evil in Harry Potter,” Harry Potter’s World Wide Influence, ed. Diana Patterson (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009): 201228, and Suman Gupta, Re-Reading Harry Potter (New York: Palgrave, 2003). 29 Rowling, GF, 433-4. 30 While Sirius Black rebels against his family’s prejudices, he remains less open to the qualities of other species than Hermione. Yet it is Sirius who claims, “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals” (GF, 525).


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“recognize no Wizarding master”31 giant spiders view humans as sources of food (as with Aragog and his family in Chamber of Secrets), giants nurse a grudge against wizards, who have attempted to eradicate the whole species, and centaurs guard their territorial sovereignty in the Forbidden Forest. Equality across species remains a challenge, if not an utter impossibility in these instances. While species other than humans exhibit prejudices of their own, perhaps for defensive reasons, it is clear that a wizardcentric view of the world predominates and is recognized as such. The centaur population debates the ethics of allowing a human to ride on their backs in Sorcerer’s Stone, as when Bane “thunder[s]” at Firenze, “‘What are you doing? You have a human on your back! Have you no shame? Are you a common mule?’”, resisting the idea of animal domestication and fiercely holding to the independence of centaurs.32 Later, when Firenze becomes a Hogwarts teacher in Order, the others in his herd claim that he has “entered into servitude to humans”33 and that they are rightfully a “race apart and proud to be so.”34 When insulted by Delores Umbridge, the centaurs reply, “We are an ancient people who will not stand wizard invasions and insults! We do not recognize your laws, we do not acknowledge your superiority.”3536 Regardless of species, this is a refrain notable in its constancy. Rowling’s larger interest in varieties of magical species–and in their rightful sovereignty–is so deeply woven into the series that the contest ending every book involves a confrontation not merely within, but across species, complete with the knowledge of species-specific habits and customs, which Harry and his compatriots must acknowledge if they are to succeed. Throughout, acknowledgment of the natural world’s diversity is woven into the series’ greater sense of what counts as natural behavior. Above all, it appears profoundly unnatural that one species should have dominion over any other. 31

Rowling, DH, 296. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (New York: Scholastic, 1997), 257. 33 Rowling, OP, 698. 34 Ibid., 756. 35 Ibid., 757. 36 Whereas other creatures strike the series’ heroes as exemplary, the goblins and dementors are two counter examples. Hostility toward the goblins is common within the wizarding world, though because the goblins control Gringotts and have a source of power, they are feared, if not quite respected. We see the manifestations of this hostility throughout Book VII with Griphook, whom even Harry (in an exertion of wizardcentric thinking), attempts to trick by not giving back Griffindor’s sword once it is retrieved with Griphook’s assistance. 32

Deep Ecology in the Harry Potter Series


There is a strange paradox in a series of books devoted to the strange and wonderful capacities of magic: that there is nothing more right, nothing more correct than the laws inherent in nature. While both muggles and wizards attempt to circumvent nature with distracting technologies, the best of the witches and wizards are aware that magic cannot and, often, should not overcome nature. The conclusion of every novel thus brings about the restoration of natural order after magical meddling: Nicholas Flamel dies, Ginny Weasley is restored to herself, an innocent man, Sirius Black, is set free, an imposter (Barty Crouch, Jr. as Mad-Eye Moody) is revealed as such, and Voldemort’s grasp for ultimate power is revealed as insufficient. Because all-encompassing power is shown as inherently unnatural, cooperative alliances emerge as the tools through which the world will be saved from domination/destruction, if the various imperiled species can but work toward shared goals, particularly the ideal of biological egalitarianism.37 The series’ ecological platforms, in their ties to political repression, are thus inherently politicized as only one dimension of a totalitarian platform that is both biological and political. Harry’s various successes throughout the series are thus linked to a need to foster cooperation so as to work against Voldemort and his followers. Like other platforms in which deep ecology holds sway, the series presents lurking and pervasive dangers as “everyone’s problem . . . and therefore ought to be everybody’s concern,” especially as Voldemort’s political platform, which exacerbates the existing tensions infiltrating issues such as blood heritage, grows in strength.38 The only viable alternatives, Rowling suggests, lie in the strength and diversity of a larger magical environment and the free actions of its various species. Accordingly, at the end of every novel, Harry’s ability to foster greater cooperation across species becomes a plot mechanism for creating closure. The essential and appropriate test of a hero, the novels suggest, is his ability to adapt to a range of species’ demands. The hero is thus subject to a range of natural laws, even if these are laws that wizards seldom recognize. Goblet of Fire, the series’ primary articulation of a cooperative ethic across species, takes as its central theme the cooperation between different magical schools and their nations. Yet the successful union of wizarding societies becomes secondary to Harry’s dependency upon various non-human species, which are often invisible to others in the magical world. Harry’s dependence upon merpeople (who argue for his 37

Intimidation through torture, death, and imprisonment as well as mind control become the Ministry’s key modes of operation throughout much of the series. 38 Andrew Dobson, Green Political Thought, fourth edition (New York: Routledge, 2007), 17.


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Triwizard points), a ghost (Myrtle, who accompanies him to the lake and helps him navigate), Dobby, the house-elf (who gives Harry the gillyweed that allows him to swim underwater) stress the importance of his immersion into interspecial cooperation. In the final task, a trio of daunting creatures greets Harry: blast-ended skwerts, a sphinx, and a gigantic spider. On one level, the challenges united in the ending point to the necessity of viewing all species respectfully. But perhaps more significant is the suggestion that what at first glance appears as a teleological arrangement of obstacles (in which Voldemort could be interpreted as the most significant), emerges instead as a call for constant attention to natural rules, to which each species is bound because of its abilities, conditions, or native environment. These natural rules are contrasted with the prejudicial qualities of Lord Voldemort, who cannot comprehend a mother’s love for her child, who ruthlessly uses his followers (particularly Quirrell in Sorcerer’s Stone, and at least part of Wormtail in Goblet of Fire), and who repeatedly attempts to defy death, while seeking objects to grant him ultimate power. Only a hero trained to honor the natural world and navigate its rules through cooperative work can recognize the flaws in Voldemort’s pursuit of concentrated power.

A Landscape of Conscious Objects Like the ways in which a sanitized Muggle world appears deeply unnatural, and the ways in which hierarchical approaches to the biological landscape are appropriable by evil, the series’ conscious objects also assert a basis tenant of deep ecology, or the de-centering of human beings in their environment. According to Arne Naess and George Sessions, the first basic principle of deep ecology is the “flourishing of human and nonhuman Life on Earth,” wherein all life forms have inherent value “independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes.”39 What Rowling presents is not only a world of varied and articulate species, but also a population of objects that squeak, challenge, and badger humans as part of a landscape filled with conscious and, often, opinionated things. Challenging the centrality of human control by continually subjecting an individual consciousness to the will of surrounding objects, only a few of which will submit to a wizard or 39

Arne Naess and George Sessions, “Platform Principles of the Deep Ecology Movement,” The Deep Ecology Movement: An Introductory Anthology, ed. Alan Drengson and Yuichi Inoue (Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1995), 49.

Deep Ecology in the Harry Potter Series


witch’s directions, the objects in the magical landscape take the principle of nonhuman integrity to the extreme. Rowling’s novels are populated by objects that are just as important as characters, among them the precocious Sorting Hat and the Whomping Willow, which appears with its branch in a sling.40 Of the seven novels in the series, four are named for objects: The Sorcerer’s Stone, The Chamber of Secrets, The Goblet of Fire, and The Deathly Hallows. In the final novel, there are three “hallows,” which Harry collects alongside seven horcruxes, and both sets of objects promise to imbue a wizard with immortality, for these are objects that disrupt the certainty of dividing the animate from the inanimate worlds. Across the series and with growing intensity, objects such as resentful portraits and photographs with independently moving subjects illustrate a central principle of deep ecology, wherein “nature and its creatures [have] as many rights as humans do,” a principle stretched considerably here.41 Challenging anthropocentric beliefs (or views that uphold humans’ rightful dominion over other creatures), the biocentric view at the core of deep ecology would mean that “we must begin by accepting the fact that the life community [is] the community of all living species,” and that diversity “is the greater reality and the greater value, and that the primary concern of the human must be the preservation and enhancement of this larger community.”42 Such beliefs suggest that not only do humans have no natural dominion over the rest of the earth, but also that “present human interference with the non-human world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening,” or views often cited in relation to a range of environmental health issues.43 While the urgency behind environmental activism stems from concerns encircling pollution, global climate change, the rise of resistant bacteria, deforestation, and chemical poisonings of the land, sea, air, and food supplies, Rowling’s novels supply a rather different sense of urgency in Voldemort’s return to power and its physical as well as psychological effects. The novels, moreover, create a building sense of crisis around the 40

Rowling, CS, 89. Emilio F. Moran, People and Nature: An Introduction to Human Ecological Relations (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006), 5. 42 Thomas Berry, “The Viable Human,” Deep Ecology for the 21st Century: Readings on the Philosophy and the Practice of the New Environmentalism, ed. George Sessions (Boston: Shambhala, 1995), 10. 43 Arne Naess, “The Deep Ecological Movement: Some Philosophical Aspects,” Deep Ecology for the 21st Century: Readings on the Philosophy and the Practice of the New Environmentalism, ed. George Sessions (Boston: Shambhala, 1995), 68. 41


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concepts of environmental respect and egalitarianism, for the final battle will ultimately be won by the side that can accrue the most willing and participatory objects. Lest we overlook what it means to assert this type of authority, the world around Harry and his friends erupts with assertions, opinions, and preferences from objects of all sorts, which participate in their worlds in light of their own desires, or desires that only occasionally intersect with human interests. Harry’s discovery that wands choose their wizards, as first asserted in Mr. Ollivander’s shop, reveals the object-based world as dramatically important early in the series, for this revelation converts a conventional shopping trip, the kind of event associated with human privilege and agency, into an acknowledgement that some choices lie outside of human control. At such moments, traditional notions of ownership (always a vexed issue in environmentally-focused studies) are called into question, for conscious objects resist human ownership. As Deathly Hallows makes clear, ownership and creation are also at odds, for Harry discovers that goblins believe that objects are rightfully owned by those who make them (or by members of the species that creates them), not purchasers; moreover, when the original purchaser dies, they believe the object reverts to goblin ownership. By asserting this challenge to consumerist notions of ownership, the text unsettles the belief that an individual naturally exerts dominion over the material landscape. Portraits and photos that are aware of their viewers make a similar point in that they refuse to allow humans to envision their world in the ways most congenial to themselves. The most aggressive works of art are those at the Black household, where Sirius Black’s mother’s portrait erupts into angry howls, cursing her son, “Yoooou! . . . Blood traitor, abomination, shame of my flesh!” and asserting beliefs not shared by anyone in the Order of the Phoenix, which inhabits the house.44 It is a space populated by other unwilling objects as well, or constant reminders of the Black family beliefs, which offend many in the narrative’s present. An “unpleasant-looking silver instrument, something like a many-legged pair of tweezers,” will “scuttl[e] up Harry’s arm like a spider” and “attempt[s] to puncture his skin.” Likewise a music box that emits a “sinister, tinkling tune” makes its listeners “curiously weak and sleepy,”45 and a set of dress robes attempt to strangle Ron. A silver snuffbox bites Sirius so viciously that “his bitten hand had developed an unpleasant crusty covering like a tough brown glove.”46 Like the wizard chess pieces that play against Ron at the end of The Sorcerer’s 44

Rowling, OP, 78 Ibid., 116. 46 Ibid., 116. 45

Deep Ecology in the Harry Potter Series


Stone (in a finale also populated by Devil’s Snare, the Mirror of Erised, and the Resurrection Stone, or powerful objects governed by specific codes of conduct), conscious objects resist human direction and demand a measure of respect from witches and wizards. These are not simply bewitched materials, like Fred and George’s experimental candies, jinxed brooms, and cursed necklaces; nor are they comparable to humans in disguise (anamagi). Rather, these are conscious inhabitants of the world that erase any presumption that there exists a line between humans and convenient material surroundings. The game of Quidditch, for example, involves bludgers and a snitch, which are independent of human direction, thereby making the sport not only one in which teams battles one another, but in which humans labor against objects. The sorting hat, too, makes its judgments independently, composing a new song each year, announcing its trepidation at the opening of Harry’s fifth year at Hogwarts with a song warning of the new political climate in which the Death Eaters are active and Voldemort has regained power. It reminds listeners that in the past “Hogwarts worked in harmony for several happy years / But then discord crept among us / Feeding on our faults and fears” and that “history” shows that Hogwarts is in danger once again, “And we must unite inside her / Or we’ll crumble from within.”47 In response to this nearly unprecedented warning, Ron queries ‘How can it know if the school’s in danger if it’s a hat?’ to which Nearly Headless Nick (the ghost) replies, ‘I have no idea. . . Of course, it lives in Dumbledore’s office, so I daresay it picks things up there.’48

Neatly circumventing Ron’s query about how a hat registers thought, Nick, a cognitive being in his own right, reorients the question to the circumstances under which the object gains its particular knowledge, thereby disqualifying the question of object consciousness. The agency of objects is not a question, but the object’s political and social orientation is. In the magical world, all things participate socially and politically. Objects are rarely appropriated without consequences (as Voldemort will discover), and many can be persuaded to join the right side of the fight (as with Hogwarts’ statues), the series suggests, if their boundaries and beliefs are acknowledged and, in a measure, honored. This is why help often comes to Harry from the most unexpected of sources: hats, wands, portraits, and swords, all with minds or at the very least, intents of their own. Any domineering wizard who overlooks the consciousness of objects 47 48

Ibid., 205. Ibid., 209.


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is doomed to forfeit their assistance. The prominence of objects appears with concerted emphasis at the opening of Chamber of Secrets, where Harry and Ron are unable to reach the platform for the Hogwarts’ Express, an event that allows them to explore the surprises awaiting them in the supposedly inanimate world. Borrowing an enchanted Ford Anglia of Mr. Weasley’s, Ron and Harry fly to Hogwarts (and straight into the ungovernable Whomping Willow); late in the same novel, when Ron and Harry are lost in the forest, they see the car in a “circle of thick of trees under a roof of dense branches, its headlights ablaze,” which approaches Ron “exactly like a large, turquoise dog greeting its owner.”49 It will rescue the boys from Aragog’s gigantic offspring, navigating the forest without help, winding its way “cleverly through the widest gaps [in the forest], following a path it obviously knew.”50 Although the car’s consciousness is never quite explained, Ron ponders its intent, noting, “The forest’s turned it wild.”51 The car’s encounter with the “Whomping Willow,” a baleful tree that attacks anything within its perimeter, dramatizes the consequences of disregarding a supposedly inanimate object. Planted to provide Remus Lupin with protection when he transformed into his werewolf state, the tree is a rare but vicious aggressor. Together, the playful car and menacing tree predict the growing importance of other conscious objects in the series. The Pensieve, an object that at first seems merely to be “a shallow stone basin . . . with odd carvings around the edge” with a “silvery light . . . coming from the basin’s contents,” and which appears as neither liquid nor gas, blurs the line between human lives and objects, for the Pensieve houses human memories independently of their owners.52 Just as the state of the Pensieve’s matter cannot be determined, the Pensieve is itself indeterminate, for it becomes a repository of visions (memories seemingly also still possessed by the mind of the subject), but placed in a basin for safekeeping. As Dumbledore explains this object to Harry, he deposits the details of his memories there so that he may revisit them with clarity. As memories extracted and externalized, they are substances in which human meaning and materiality are interwoven. Most complex of all are horcruxes, which entirely erase the line between the animate and inanimate, for they are objects enchanted so as to encase, or as Horace Slughorn describes them, in which to “conceal part


Rowling, CS, 274. Ibid., 280. 51 Ibid., 274. 52 Rowling, OP, 583. 50

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of” a soul53, though a soul modified by its breaking, which is accomplished with the taking of another’s life, an act that creates the human dimension of the object and the simultaneous dehumanization of the person. The first horcrux Harry encounters, Tom Riddle’s diary, exhibits a mind of its own and operates independently of Voldemort, though it continues to work in his interests, but in the image of Riddle as a teen. Unlike other conscious objects, it does not think for itself per se, but represents Voldemort’s mind through projections of his sixteen-year-old self, who writes to Ginny Weasley and, later, to Harry. As Horcrux Riddle explains himself to Harry, he is a “memory” connected to the book and able to manipulate individuals who fall under its spell, but he is also a memory that feeds off the energies of those in the present, drawing life from Ginny Weasley. Thus the diary is not only imbued with consciousness, but also with energy that is the very stuff of life, though it is not an independent life form. As Mr. Weasley will exclaim to his daughter, after learning that she was enchanted by the object, Ginny! . . . Haven’t I taught you anything! What have I always told you? Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain?54

This distinction, which divides a conscious object from a controlled and potentially malevolent one, suggests that one can never quite know which objects are conscious and which are enchanted so as to follow a determined course of action. While technically, the diary’s brain is Voldemort’s, it nonetheless thinks and operates independently of him, for its owner, teenaged Tom Riddle, remains a separate entity and can be killed off at the end of Chamber of Secrets, while Voldemort continues to live. As Harry later discovers, Voldemort had no knowledge of the “killing” of the diary, so disconnected is he from this part of his former soul.55 The diary thus stands as an object that is difficult interpret in terms of agency and control, life or death, humanity or non-humanity. How to sort out what motivates objects and how independent they are is a continual question and, arguably, one goal of a magical education. The dynamics of a densely populated universe are always complex, with objects never quite as clearly categorized as they may seem to be. As a general rule, however, when an object’s agency has been co-opted, it is a 53

Rowling, HBP, 497. Ibid., 329. 55 See Virginia Zimmerman, “Harry Potter and the Gift of Time,” Children’s Literature 37 (2009): 194-215, where Zimmerman makes this point (198). 54


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sign of evil influence, for the inherent consciousness/identity of the object has been compromised by those who have little respect for that object’s particular agency. The Elder Wand, also known by other names over the ages, emerges as the most important object in the final novel, for it is the agent that defeats Voldemort, based on his inability to understand the rules by which it operates. At several key points in The Deathly Hallows, Harry considers the wand, alongside Ravenclaw’s diadem, Slytherin’s locket, and Hufflepuff’s cup, for all of these objects are presented as unusually powerful, complete with a storied history; of them, the Elder Wand is the most desired object. Yet the wand is also a responsive and conscious object, at least according to the wandmakers who appear throughout the seventh volume. As Mr. Ollivander tells Harry after his rescue from the Malfoy dungeon, “The best results” for a wizard “must always come where there is the strongest affinity between wizard and wand. These connections are complex. An initial attraction, and then a mutual quest for experience, the wand learning from the wizard; the wizard from the wand.”56 As befitting a wandmaker, Ollivander rhetorically privileges the wand over the wizard in this description of how wands learn from wizards, about how a given “quest” may be “mutual.” Similarly, Ollivander asserts that “the wand chooses the wizard”57 and that a “conquered” wand (not a “conquered wizard”) “will usually bend its will to its new master.”58 His assertion that a wand willfully selects its human startles Harry, even after his six years of acquaintance with magical objects. Stressing what he sees as the extreme nature of Ollivander’s views, Harry observes, “’You talk about wands like they’ve got feelings . . . like they can think for themselves.’”59 Such a conversation sets up the most dramatic example of object-based agency in the series as Harry continues to interrogate Ollivander about how wands recognize their allegiance to wizards, his primary questions concerns how completely one wizard needs to best another, for he wonders whether allegiance is won by murder or by disarmament; Ollivander’s reply–that the theory of winning via murder may simply be the construction of the “aroused passions” of wizards, or a wizardcentric view of how wands operate–enables Harry to view the Elder Wand’s capacity quite differently than Voldemort does.60


Rowling, DH, 494. Ibid., 494. 58 Ibid., 494. 59 Ibid., 498. 60 Ibid., 497. 57

Deep Ecology in the Harry Potter Series


Voldemort believes that only murder influences a wand, and while he recognizes enough of the object world to understand that wands’ allegiances may change (and that wizards bring about these changes), he lacks Harry’s more detailed understanding of the object world. At the beginning of Deathly Hallows, Voldemort takes Lucius Malfoy’s wand, hoping it will help him achieve better results than his holly and phoenix feather wand, which has the twin core to Harry’s and which, he believes, compromises his victories. Enacting a consumerist approach to wands, the still-unsatisfied Voldemort, who shattered Malfoy’s wand and who has robbed Dumbledore’s grave for the Elder Wand, kills Severus Snape because he believes the wand rightfully belongs to the man who killed Dumbledore, and that he can possess it only by in turn murdering Snape. Thus the wand, as he describes it, “refuses to be what it ought to be, refuses to perform as legend says it must perform for its rightful owner.”61 Believing that “The Elder Wand cannot serve me properly . . . because I am not its true master. The Elder Wand belongs to the wizard who killed its last owner,” Voldemort has Nagini kill Snape. It is a strange decision and, moreover, an indirect murder, which undercuts any suggestion that Voldemort truly comprehends wand lore, for this act seemingly would render the wand loyal to a snake. The decision also stresses the degree to which Voldemort treats wands as transferable acquisitions; he simply wants the best and attempts to trouble-shoot in the world of objects to ensure his possession. Harry’s (and the novel’s) approach to wand agency is more nuanced, for as Harry informs Voldemort in the Battle of Hogwarts, “Possessing the wand isn’t enough! Holding it, using it, doesn’t make it really yours.”62 Moreover, according to Harry, “Snape never beat Dumbledore! Dumbledore’s death was planned between them! Dumbledore intended to die undefeated, the wand’s last true master!” and so, there was no violence, no “mastering” of the wizard, at the moment of Dumbledore’s death. However, Harry continues, “The Elder Wand recognized a new master before Dumbledore died, someone who never even laid a hand on it. The new master removed the wand from Dumbledore against his will, never realizing exactly what he had done, or that the world’s most dangerous wand had given him its allegiance”63 (emphasis mine). That Draco Malfoy disarmed Dumbledore, Harry continues, means that the Elder Wand was won by Draco; but based on Harry’s subsequent disarming of Draco (never mind that it was a different wand, a hawthorn, 61

Ibid., 655-6. Ibid., 742. 63 Ibid., 742. 62


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which he won), the Elder Wand became loyal to him. What Harry’s theory revolves around is a belief in the wand’s universal consciousness, for he posits that it knows what happened to its rightful master even in its separation from him. Rowling allows the final moment in the series to rest not on skill, or a human talent, which Voldemort claims for himself, but on the consciousness of an object. Or as Harry puts it, “’It all comes down to’” the question, “’Does the wand in your hand know its last master was Disarmed? Because if it does . . . I am the true master of the Elder Wand.’”64 And true to Harry’s object-based approach to battle, his final spell is an object-based, disarming spell, “’Expelliarmus!’” rather than a wizard-based spell (“’Avada Kedavra!’”). Part of the point here is that notions of skill are interwoven with ego and with tendencies toward anthropocentric domination, whereas an object-based approach to the world yields a deeper and less egoistic consciousness, a greater emphasis on things and their inclinations. In the end, Harry Potter is able to defeat Voldemort because he understands the nature of things, including their desires, as well as the uses to which wizards like Voldemort subject them. At the end of a story about magical objects, namely horcruxes and hallows, Harry is able to best a human and ambition-centered consciousness with an object-based understanding of the world. Trained to avoid bludgers and catch snitches–conscious objects on the Quidditch field –Harry is attuned to the demands of an inherently diversified (though not entirely egalitarian) universe in ways that Voldemort cannot imagine. And while, as interpreters have noted of Rowling’s novels, no one in them is entirely even-handed with other creatures or objects, the novel’s ending affirms the sense that a conscious universe demands careful thought and that those most trained in this mode of thinking will be rewarded. In this respect, Harry’s reward is interesting in its own right, for it is not wealth or power that he gains, but an ordinary life with wife Ginny Weasley, three children and, from what the final chapter reveals, an extended relationship with Hermione, Ron, and the rest of the Weasley family. Most of all, he is a caring father to his children, completing a family circuit that was broken with Voldemort’s murder of the original Lily and James Potter. Yet contrary to some readers’ anticipation, Harry does not become Minister of Magic, nor Headmaster of Hogwarts, nor 64 Ibid., 743. According to Dumbledore, Harry is also the true master of Death because he does not fear it or hide from it. And as the master of Death, he is the wizard who can unite the three Deathly Hallows, Harry’s resistance to Voldemort thus being explained through objects (DH, 720).

Deep Ecology in the Harry Potter Series


even Professor of Defense against the Dark Arts. He is simply Harry Potter, the man who lived. If one considers the degree to which Harry’s understanding of the universe could lead to empathy-based fatigue, given the pressures on him to understand and feel for objects and species and magical beings of all sorts, then a quiet family life appears as labor enough.



[A]n earth-born object made by man was launched into the universe, where for some weeks it circled the earth . . . . To be sure, the man-made satellite was no moon or star, no heavenly body which could follow its circling path for a time span that to us mortals, bound by earthly time, lasts from eternity to eternity. Yet, for a time it managed to stay in the skies; it dwelt and moved in the proximity of the heavenly bodies as though it had been admitted tentatively to their sublime company —Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition An obscure Japanese immigrant known to have a strange personal satellite the size of a golf ball whizzing inches from his forehead, probably some sort of bogus invention intended to complete the eccentricity of this man who, since making his great fortune on the Brazilian lotteries, now calls Brazil his home—Karen Tei Yamashita, Through the Arc of the Rainforest

In an atemporally situated Brazil, Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rainforest imagines the ways in which the misappropriation and misunderstanding of the capitalist valuation system results in nearapocalyptic events. The novel’s weaving plot and eccentric array of characters precludes the possibility of straightforward summary, but, described as “comedy” by its publishers, this text melds the realms of science fiction, fantasy, and reality. It tells the interwoven stories of Kazumasa Ishimaru, a Japanese man (and Brazilian émigré) with an inexplicable ball swirling in orbit around his head, J.B. Tweep, an


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American businessman with three arms, Mané Pena, a Brazilian local who “invents” a healing technology through bird feathers, and the Matacão, a rainforest space made of plastic waste material that becomes the site for both human and ecological destruction. Yamashita uses elements of magical realism to ensure that the events in her text are read as actual, an allegoristic warning; if our capitalist and consumerist practices are not continued (or curtailed) in a thoughtful, conscious manner, the life of both humanity and the earth are at stake. This warning is emphasized through a concurrent reading of Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism and The Human Condition, which emphasize the dangerous natures of “superfluousness” and the related conflation of exchange-market and intrinsic values. Both were written in the immediate postwar period as political-philosophical responses to the aftermath of Nazi totalitarianism and its continuation in the Soviet Union. Although these texts arose out of a deep, practical concern with the ways in which political systems can destroy personhood, Arendt’s writings remain relevant to contemporary ethical, economic, and ecological criticism. A flawed valuation system underpins Yamashita’s text. With this in mind, I will start with a brief foundational analysis of the role that magical realism plays in allowing the novel to function as allegory, relying on Wendy Faris’s recent scholarship on magical realism and narrative function. Next, I will move into a discussion of superfluity related to characters in the text, including Kazumasa, Tweep, and Mané Pena. I will tie this to Arendt’s concern with “superfluousness” and the ways in which markers of superfluity can identify a person (or an entity) for destruction. Then I will move into a discussion of specific objects and locations in Yamashita’s text and their relations to an entire system of mis-valuation, including Mané Pena’s “magical” feathers and the wondrous plastic site of the Matacão. Here, I will show how the condition of superfluity—of being superfluous—has disastrous results both for humanity and for the earth. Although Yamashita’s novel appears to defy linearity, it moves clearly from a seemingly harmless—and often comic—system of mis-valuation strewn with characters embodying superfluity at its most amusing and bizarre to eventual catastrophe. The text follows the trajectory of a community immersed in flawed valuation practices to its likely ruinous end.

The Literary and Literal Dangers of a Flawed Valuation System


Magical Realism and its “Irreducible Element” The most salient element of magical realism in Yamashita’s novel connects to what Faris, in her critical text Ordinary Enchantments: Magical Realism and the Remystification of Narrative, describes as the “irreducible element” of the genre. She describes “something we cannot explain according to the laws of the universe as they have been formulated in Western empirically based discourse, that is, according to ‘logic, familiar knowledge, or received belief.’”1 This element allows the reader, normally “educated according to our conventional norms of reason and logic . . . [and] therefore recogniz[ing] the supernatural as contrary to the laws of nature,” to accept the magically real world as real. Faris explains that “the reader, who recognizes the two conflicting logical codes . . . [of] the antimony between the natural and the supernatural on the level of textual representation, and on the semantic level . . . suspends his judgment of what is rational and what is irrational.”2 Most importantly, Faris draws a connection between magical realism and the construction of “what-if” warnings: “The narrator’s presentation of the irreducible element on the same narrative plane as other, commonplace, happenings means that in the terms of the text, magical things ‘really’ do happen”.3 Relying on this “irreducible element” as a framing device, this essay treats the “magical” elements within Yamashita’s novel as foundational to the warning of potential human and ecological destruction in a capitalist future. A focus on the supernatural elements related to technological advances, particularly those that attempt to replicate—or in some cases eradicate— “the human condition,” connects the practices of magical realism and politics. Writing The Human Condition in 1962, Arendt’s concern for humanity in an age of technology and space travel—outgrowths of the capitalist system—were apparent, and it completes the context for discussing Yamashita’s novel as a warning against flawed capitalist practices. Starting with the existence of human superfluity (a discussion that serves as a precursor to her evaluation of the misunderstanding of intrinsic and exchange-market values), the capitalist system can lead to a “society of jobholders”—a thoughtless, humanity-less system whose


Wendy B. Faris, Ordinary Enchantments: Magical Realism and the Remystification of Narrative, (Nashville: Vanderbilt UP, 2004), 7. 2 Ibid. at 8. 3 Ibid.


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outgrowth eventually will be disastrous for both the natural earth and the human world.4

Superfluity and Superfluousness: An Introduction Through the Arc of the Rainforest is ripe with examples of “superfluousness,” a condition Arendt first articulates in The Origins of Totalitarianism. In Yamashita’s text, the existence of superfluity, both inanimate and human, illuminates a flawed capitalist valuation system at work. Deeply concerned with the indirect actions governments can take to render people superfluous, Arendt outlines a historical trajectory of this phenomenon, specifically noting imperialist nations’ expellation of “laborers”5. Superfluousness, she proposes, often leads to forced emigrations related to historical moments of tyranny and totalitarianism.6 Ultimately, it is this vocabulary of superfluity within a system that lays the foundation for the practice of mis-valuation, which can lead to the destruction of polity and of the world: Loneliness, the common ground for terror, the essence of totalitarian government, and for ideology or logicality, the preparation of its executioners and victims, is closely connected with uprootedness and superfluousness which have been the curse of modern masses since the beginning of the industrial revolution and have become acute with the rise of imperialism at the end of the last century and the break-down of political institutions and social traditions in our own time.7

The very idea that people can be superfluous remains at the center of Yamashita’s capitalist critique. Superfluity functions in varying layers throughout the text, implicating objects, people within the economy, people within a state, and people within the world. The seemingly trivial superfluities—such as Kazumasa’s ball or Tweep’s third arm—visibly mark these individuals’ connections 4

Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition 1958, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 322. 5 In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt describes the Boers in South Africa as “human beings who, living without the future of a purpose and the past of an accomplishment, were as incomprehensible as the inmates of a madhouse,” and explains their subsequent “rootlessness” as “based primarily upon the hatred of a world that had no place for ‘superfluous’ men.” Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism 1951, (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1994). 190, 196-97. 6 Ibid. at 4, 188-91. 7 Ibid. at 475.

The Literary and Literal Dangers of a Flawed Valuation System


with larger issues of excess. In much the same way that Arendt’s writings express concern over a fast-moving trajectory from a label of superfluity to one of statelessness (and thus danger of extermination) in The Origins of Totalitarianism, characters’ appendages beg the question: if a body part is expendable, how much further must this label be taken logically to assume that the individual also is eradicable? Consideration of Arendt’s conception of superfluousness permits a subsequent interrogation of the mis-valuation of the human processes of labor, work, and action—detailed in The Human Condition—within Yamashita’s text. These processes, Arendt proposes, have the potential to be world-destroying; an inability to accurately value labor, work, and action leads to a lack of thought, or thinking, which eradicates wholly the human condition and the earth on which the human condition is supported. She writes that, “[i]f it should turn out to be true that knowledge (in the modern sense of know-how) and thought have parted company for good, then we would indeed become the helpless slaves, not so much of our machines as our know-how, thoughtless creatures at the mercy of every gadget which is technically possible, no matter how murderous it is.”8 Yamashita’s specific brand of capitalist critique—one uniquely reliant upon the supernatural—can begin with a discussion of characters, marked from their very introductions, as carriers of superfluity. After all, “excess is a hallmark of the mode” of magical realism.9

Superfluous People: Individual Instability within the Human World Kazumasa, a Japanese-immigrant character with a “ball, a tiny impudent planet,” circling (seemingly) permanently around his head, serves as our textual introduction to both magical realism and superfluousness.10 Kazumasa’s potential superfluity begins in his “home” country of Japan, in which he and the ball are “indispensable” in their ability to discern railroad-track dangers and “save [ ] possibly hundreds of lives.”11 However, after a period of time, “the national rail system was dismantled,” 8

Arendt, The Human Condition, 3. Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris. “Introduction: Daiquiri Birds and Flaubertian Parrot(ie)s,” In Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community, edited by Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris, ( Durham: Duke University Press, 1995) 1. 10 Karen Tei Yamashita. Through the Arc of the Rainforest (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1990) 5. 11 Ibid. at 7. 9


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and “someone invented an odd-looking device, a sort of electronic box with a ball attached to it by a rod,” which was “considerably cheaper than hiring the services of Kazumasa Ishimaru.”12 As a result of this technological innovation, “[t]he Tokyo City Circular Railway Service . . . took Kazumasa on at a considerable cut in pay.” 13 Having been rendered nationally useless, he is forced to emigrate from his home country. 14 These events are made logical because they are woven into otherwise ordinary text, modeling the “irreducible element,” which is “well assimilated into the realistic textual environment, rarely causing any comment by narrators or characters, who model such an acceptance for their readers.”15 This technique begins with Kazumasa and his ball, but continues to function throughout the text in our understandings of characters and events not yet introduced. Kazumasa’s superfluity is advanced in a financial—and Arendtian— sense when he, through “magic,” wins the Brazilian lottery and becomes “instant[ly]” wealthy.16 This wealth further marks him as expendable. In discussing the historical origins of superfluousness, Arendt explains that, at the root of a hatred of superfluity generally is the hatred of superfluous wealth, “because nobody can understand why it should be tolerated.”17 Kazumasa’s wealth is connected with both the superfluity of the ball, which leads to his lottery win, and that of capitalist wealth generally. We discover that “[m]ost people were sure that [the ball] undoubtedly had something mystical, magical or electronic to do with Kazumasa’s enormous fortune.”18 We then learn that the Brazilian people connect Kazumasa’s superfluity as a person with his superfluous wealth: “Everyone seems to have an idea of what he or she would do with sudden wealth, but Kazumasa was a true exception. What does a man with a ball 12

Ibid. at 8. Ibid. at 8-9. 14 Ibid. at 9. 15 Faris 8. 16 Yamashita, 58. 17 Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism ,4. Arendt explains this phenomenon in the historic context of the French Revolution, writing: [T]he French people hated aristocrats about to lose their power more than it had ever hated them before, precisely because their rapid loss of real power was not accompanied by any considerable decline in their fortunes. As long as the aristocracy held vast powers of jurisdiction, they were not only tolerated but respected. When noblemen lost their privileges . . . the people felt them to be parasites, without any real function in the rule of the country. In other words, neither oppression nor exploitation as such is ever the main cause for resentment.” 18 Yamashita, 59. 13

The Literary and Literal Dangers of a Flawed Valuation System


need with money?”19 Kazumasa thus is in danger of extermination once his superfluity is a reality. While Kazumasa is presented as a superfluous émigré of sorts, Tweep represents superfluity within a capitalist business model and its related dangers. Yamashita marks Tweep’s potential expendability with the magically real description of his third arm. Like Kazumasa and his ball, this appendage is woven seamlessly into an otherwise realistic plot, allowing us to accept the “magic” that might otherwise be read as fictive: Those who did not know J.B. personally made the assumption that his unassuming manner and obscurity were the protective wall behind which he hid what they believed to be a defect or a freak of nature: J.B.’s third arm.20

J.B.’s ready insertion into the dangerous world of capital excess is implied with his appreciation and acceptance of his own bodily superfluity: “J.B. was far from ashamed of his extra appendage.”21 Tweep’s pride over his third arm is then connected directly with the danger of technological invention for the sake of commodification: “As far as J.B. was concerned, he had entered a new genetic plane in the species. He even speculated that he was the result of Nobel prize-winning sperm. He was a better model, the wave of the future.”22 This production of humanness links Tweep to the quintessential form of pejorative consumption: that in which the human is no longer valuable because he simply can be mass produced. The link between Tweep and capitalist superfluity is implied further with Tweep’s constant fear of being financially superfluous. “[Tweep] had resumes that presented him with the qualifications for every sort of job imaginable, but he read the SCWP-coded resume again to make sure it did no include any extraneous skills like ‘supervisor’ or ‘manager.’”23 Further, he “worked incessantly to retain anonymity and to keep everything and everyone flowing past him into the limelight.”24 By the end of the text, Tweep’s terror surrounding his own superfluousness leads to his death. As the dangerous qualities of Matacão plastic become more salient, Tweep becomes “in constant fear of finding himself deposed from the top, lopped


Ibid., 60. Yamashita, 30. 21 Ibid. 22 Ibid. 23 Ibid., 29, emphasis added. 24 Ibid., 126. 20


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off the twenty-third floor of GGG.”25 Left alone with the terror of his truly superfluous, defunct arm, Tweep commits suicide: They left J.B. alone with his three arms . . . . J.B. mumbled quietly, with tired confusion, to the prosthetic arm . . . . [H]e laughed hysterically, walked to the gaping edge of that twenty-three-floor plexiglass corporate structure and threw himself over.26

By the time of his demise, Tweep’s superfluity cannot be tolerated in the world. Just as the capitalist world that created Matacão plastic later begins to expel that substance from the earth, this world, too, expels Tweep. This might be read as representative of Arendt’s concern surrounding the looming threat of a “society of jobholders,” a destructive result of modernity and mis-valuation: The last stage of the laboring society, the society of jobholders, demands of its members a sheer automatic functioning, as though individual life had actually been submerged in the over-all life process of the species and the only active decision still required of the individual were to let go, so to speak, to abandon his individuality . . . and acquiesce in a dazed, “tranquilized,” functional type of behavior.27

As the human condition is slowly eroded, the once-tenuous connection between humanity and the earth’s vitality is marked as necessary for the continued existence of a natural world.

Superfluous Entities: Shifting Markers from Individual Danger to World Peril While individual superfluousness places human existence at risk, the superfluity of objects and spaces positions the greater natural world in danger and signifies a lack of understanding about the capitalist value system. The text moves within a trajectory from human to spatial superfluity, and then to the condition of mis-valuation generally. Once characters and their “magical” appendages are identified as superfluous, the utter danger of mis-valuation for the world as a whole becomes apparent. 25

Ibid., 161. Ibid., 208. 27 Arendt, The Human Condition, 322. Here, Arendt goes on to describe the “society of jobholders” as an outgrowth of modernity generally: “[T]he modern age—which began with such an unprecedented and promising outburst of human activity—may end in the deadliest, most sterile passivity history has ever known.” 26

The Literary and Literal Dangers of a Flawed Valuation System


The introduction of environmental superfluity makes salient the issue of value, its vexing through mis-valuation, and the ways in which markers of excess make clear the dialectic between exchange-market and intrinsic values in the novel.

Values of Superfluous Appendages The discussion of Kazumasa and Tweep as individually superfluous leads to a discussion of the mis-valuation of their appendages, identified as both useful and useless depending on the circumstance, and the ways in which these labels set up the complicated dynamic of valuation within the text. A further look at the mis-assessment of these appendages as objects (rather than their strict connections with individual characters) provides insight into the ways in which appropriate valuations are thwarted. Early on, both Kazumasa’s and Tweep’s appendages are labeled as inherently useful. Kazumasa’s ball “saved possibly hundreds of lives” and “carefully erased . . . margin[s] of error.”28 Similarly, Tweep’s third arm enables him with ultimate productivity: “In a factory production line, J.B. was so fast, he threw his fellow workers down the line, who were unable to keep up with such a pace.”29 Tweep’s GGG interviewer is shocked at the efficiency rate of his typing: “It says here that you can type 120 words a minute on a typewriter and process 240 words a minute on a word processor. Now, is that possible?”30 Later, these appendages are branded entirely superfluous, perhaps even more dangerous than other markers of superfluity discussed previously. Tweep’s third arm becomes nonfunctional, rendering him objectively expendable at GGG and, perhaps more tellingly, Kazumasa’s ball becomes useless, yet impossible to eradicate: “Kazumasa could, if necessary, divest himself of his monetary fortune, but he could not rid himself of [the ball].”31 While extricating oneself from superfluous wealth could mitigate the possible danger one faces as a result of his connection to it, Kazumasa does not have this option; his superfluous appendage is seemingly immutable, marking the ball, as Arendt referred to man-made satellites, as a “funeral obelisk.”32 In highlighting the utility of these objects before rendering them superfluous, Yamashita emphasizes a pervasive trend of mis-valuation in 28

Yamashita, 7. Ibid., 31. 30 Ibid. 31 Ibid., 145. 32 Arendt, The Human Condition, 1. 29


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the novel. This confusion between inherent and exchange-market values threatens the vitality of the earth and the world—man-made objects gain exchange-market values that surpass their intrinsic value, while the remnants of the natural earth (e.g., the rainforest) lack exchange-market value, rendering their innate value invisible. These implications for the natural world become salient as Yamashita’s novel progresses and the human condition disintegrates.

Arendt’s Stakes Surrounding Superfluous Objects and the Value System In The Human Condition, Arendt discusses the danger of conflating different realms of valuation: [I]t is only in the exchange market, where everything can be exchanged for something else, that all things, whether they are products of labor or work, consumer goods or use objects, necessary for the life of the body or the convenience of living or the life of the mind, become “values.” This value consists solely in the esteem of the public realm where the things appear as commodities, and it is neither labor, nor work, nor capital, nor profit, nor material, which bestows such value upon an object, but only and exclusively the public realm where it appears to be esteemed, demanded, or neglected . . . . This “marketable value” . . . has nothing to do with the intrinsic natural worth of anything.33

While exchange-market values fluctuate with the so-called “needs” of the public, intrinsic values remain constant, and any attempt to re-label an object’s inherent worth ultimately is destructive: “This intrinsic worth of a thing can be changed only through the change of the thing itself—thus one ruins the worth of a table by depriving it of its legs—whereas the ‘marketable value’ of a commodity is altered by ‘the alteration of some proportion which that commodity bears to something else.’”34 These “[v]alues . . . in distinction from things or deeds or ideas,” Arendt explains are never the products of a specific human activity, but come into being whenever any such products are drawn into the ever-changing relativity of exchange between the members of society.35


Ibid., at 163-64. Ibid., at 164. 35 Ibid. 34

The Literary and Literal Dangers of a Flawed Valuation System


Arendt’s discussion confirms that social values frequently will not correspond with intrinsic values, whether of people, objects, or spaces. In an essay on culture, she referred to “man in mass society” and “his extraordinary capacity for consumption (if not gluttony), along with his utter inability to judge qualities or even to discern them.”36 This misvaluation creates a space for objects lacking any innate worth to gain a high exchange-market value, which in turn allows for objects with high intrinsic values to be labeled worthless. The repercussions of this practice are played out in allegorical form through the advent of feather technology and Matacão plastic. The marking of feathers as desirable and marketable reinforces the treatment of mis-valuation in the novel. These labels later allow for the absurd overuse of Matacão plastic. The infection of this waste material, inherently disposable, yields the creation of more feathers—socially useless items—and the potential reproduction of all aspects of human existence, rendering humanity itself superfluous. This utter mis-valuation results first in the destruction of the objects themselves, then a nearannihilation of both the earth and the world of people inhabiting it.

The Flawed Process of Valuation: Feather Technology and Matacão Plastic Mané Pena’s “discovery” of the feather signals the mis-valuation of objects outside the realm of bodily appendages. From its very introduction, the feather is described as a commodity: “It . . . was completely natural. It was like those copper bracelets everyone used for rheumatoid arthritis: if it didn’t help, it sure didn’t hurt.”37 The text even indicates that the feather is a magical commodity, continuing the trend of capitalist warning through magical-realist allegory.38 The feather soon becomes a market sensation, invoking the language of capitalism: “Feather distributors would see the future heaped in gold feathers, speculating that it could be the biggest rush on Brazilian resources since gold was discovered in Serra Pelada back in the eighties.”39 That the feather’s value is likened to gold further highlights its truly superfluous nature.

36 Hannah Arendt, “Culture and Politics,” In Reflections on Literature and Culture, edited by Susannah Gottlieb (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), 180. 37 Yamashita, 18. 38 Ibid. 39 Ibid., 78.


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Arendt explains that gold is the ultimate superfluous entity—it is greatly sought after in the market, yet has no intrinsic value.40 The exchange-market value of the feather only grows with its continued impractical use, intimating an impending danger with this increased valuation. We learn of a “commotion in the business world,” which “eventually reach[ed] Wall Street, sending GGG stocks shooting upward. Not only people who had an inside track on the market, but also those without an iota of business acumen were throwing their money ‘on the feather.’”41 Reliance on the exchange-market value of the feather also vexes the nature of “magic” in the text. If the feather is not actually “magical,” but rather mis-valued as such, it lacks intrinsic worth completely. This is implied through Kazumasa’s relationship to the feather: “He thought the feather was beautiful, but he did not understand what it was for.”42 At this point, Mané Pena becomes mis-appraised as an “expert” with so-called “valuable” knowledge about the feather, further highlighting the ill effects of this system: Mr. Tweep spoke to Mané Pena through an interpreter, asking a lot of questions about feathers. He wanted to know everything: names of birds, feather size and color, methods of use, positioning of the feather on the ear, how long a particular feather was effective, historic use of the feather, how to use the feather in conjunction with other remedies and apparatus, feather power in Indian and local folklore.43


Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 188-91. Achille Mbembe also analyzes the modern applicability of superfluity to human existence to emphasize the paradox of a nation attempting to solve its “problem” of human superfluity with the search for gold. He notes that most of the “superfluous men” enlisted for such a task were “migrant black workers without rights and with little choice but to sell their labor cheaply.” Achille Mbembe. Aesthetics of Superfluity, 16 PUBLIC CULTURE 373 (2004). Citing The Origins of Totalitarianism, he writes: “For Arendt, it is a remarkable paradox that, in South Africa, the purported solution to ‘superfluity’ was initially a rush for the most superfluous raw material on earth: gold. Gold, Arendt wrote, hardly had ‘a place in human production’ and was ‘of no importance compared with iron, coal, oil, and rubber’; instead, it was ‘the most ancient symbol of mere wealth.’ In its uselessness in industrial production, she concluded, ‘it bears an ironical resemblance to the superfluous money that financed the digging of gold and to the superfluous men who did the digging.’” Ibid. 41 Yamashita, 135-36. 42 Ibid., at 107. 43 Ibid., at 73.

The Literary and Literal Dangers of a Flawed Valuation System


As the exchange-market value of the feather rises, so does Matacão plastic. The latter proves more dangerous, threatening the very human condition that Arendt fears is at stake in flawed valuations and the imitation of human life. In addition to its hazardously high exchange-market value, Matacão plastic has the added ability to eradicate the need for human labor, work, and action: “The wonderful thing about Matacão plastic was its capability to assume a wide range of forms. When the means of molding and shaping this marvelous material was finally discovered, the possibilities were found to be infinite.”44 The danger of the Matacão plastic is first expressed through its likening to gold. The plastic is “useful” for buying such useless items as “gold bullion,” suggesting an inherent lack of any intrinsic value.45 If an object’s worth is measured solely by its use in purchasing a markedly superfluous item, then logically that object, too, contains only exchange-market worth. The fame surrounding the plastic also highlights its equation to gold: “GGG, it would be claimed, had accomplished what no one before had been able to achieve: it had turned plastic into gold!”46 In fact, “[t]he north of Brazil,” the location of the Matacão, “was a gold mine in plastic.”47 In this way, the Matacão is doubly superfluous, created through waste material and likened to gold. In addition to its notable lack of innate worth, the so-called “remarkable thing about Matacão plastic was its incredible ability to imitate anything.”48 Yamashita writes, “Matacão plastic was so true to reality that, even upon touch and a lot of palpating examination, one could not tell the difference.”49 Its ability to imitate life perfectly imbues in the Matacão the capacity to imitate the ephemeral qualities found before only in life itself: At the plastics convention, two tiger lilies, one natural and the other made from Matacão plastic, were exhibited for public examination. Few, if any, of the examiners could tell the difference between the real and the fake. Only toward the end of the convention, when the natural tiger lily began to wilt with age, bruised from mishandling, were people able to discern reality from fabrication. The plastic lily remained the very perfection of


Ibid., 142. Ibid., 141. 46 Ibid., 141-42. 47 Ibid., 144, emphasis added. 48 Ibid., 142. 49 Ibid. 45


Chapter Six nature itself. Matacão plastic managed to recreate the natural glow, moisture, freshness—the very sensation of life.50

The plastic threatens Arendt’s conception of the human condition, the promise of a continued existence of life in the world: “The man-made world of things . . . becomes a home for mortal men, whose stability will endure and outlast the ever-changing movement of their lives and actions, only insomuch as it transcends both the sheer functionalism of things produced for consumption and the sheer utility of objects produced for use.”51 The Matacão plastic boils down production (labor and work) to a point at which human endeavors are engaged only around the exchangemarket and consumption, which Arendt argues can yield the eventual destruction of the man-made world, or the only possibility for a “home” on earth. Yamashita describes the plastic infiltrating “every crevice of modern life—plants, facial and physical remakes and appendages, shoes, clothing, jewelry, toys, cars, every sort of machine from electro-domestic to hightech, buildings, furniture—in short, the myriad of commercial products with which the civilized world adorns itself.”52 Much as Arendt warns, this artificial world based only on exchangemarket value and consumption will result in abject loss. Arendt indicates that “a great many scientific endeavors have been directed toward making life . . . ‘artificial,’ toward cutting the last tie through which even man belongs among the children of nature.”53 The danger of this artificiality is connected directly with the destruction of a “home” on earth and the inability for human thought—the very essence of the human condition—to flourish: “The most radical change in the human condition we can imagine would be an emigration of men from the earth to some other planet. Such an event . . . would imply that man would have to live under man-made conditions, radically different from those the earth offers him. Neither labor nor work nor action nor, indeed, thought as we know it would then make sense any longer.”54 In the placement of such a high exchangemarket value upon artificial objects with no intrinsic value, the human condition is destroyed. This discussion is circular, invoking Kazumasa’s forced emigration at the beginning of the novel due to technological simulation. The novel began by warning us that the imitation of human labor and work can lead only to loss, a point to which the novel returns at 50

Ibid., emphasis added. Arendt, The Human Condition, 173. 52 Yamashita, 143. 53 Arendt, The Human Condition, 2. 54 Ibid., 10. 51

The Literary and Literal Dangers of a Flawed Valuation System


its end. This destruction is made very real when the effects of Yamashita’s flawed valuation system are realized.

The Repercussions of Mis-Valuation for the Human Condition and for the World The effects of mis-valuation begin with the originally misperceived feather. When the feather’s exchange-market value plunges, those who relied on its high marketable worth die, as does its mis-valued expert, Mané Pena. Alleged “feather worshipers” first are found dead, followed by the quick discovery of “new instances of human death” not connected to feather worshiping, but, rather, to feather purchasing: These bodies . . . were found a great distance from the Matacão, as far as two or three hundred miles, clutching similar bunches of feathers, their heads buried in nosedives into the muddy pasture of some poor farmer or skidding across an abandoned highway, all of them a great distance from any tall buildings or cliffs from which they could have leapt or been pushed off.55

The feather fatalities eventually are linked also to a reliance on Matacão plastic: “It was discovered that many of the fallen bodies, whose demise could not be traced to feather worshiping, were those of people who had been experimenting with the use of a new feather made of Matacão plastic.”56 As people connected with feather “technology” and Matacão plastic begin to perish in these inexplicable ways, the Matacão, too, begins to decompose, resulting in further death: “Innocent people were caught unaware—killed or injured by falling chunks of the stuff.”57 These casualties are followed by a typhus epidemic, which “some people had begun to feel . . . was heralding the inevitable apocalypse.”58 “There was no cure. This particular strain of typhus did not seem to succumb to any of the normal procedures or recognized remedies.”59 The implication that this particular typhus strain differed from any other suggests that its root cause is almost supernatural, connected with the text’s flawed valuation system constructed around elements of magical realism. This epidemic, like the plastic deaths, begins with the feather: 55

Yamashita, 180-81. Ibid., 197. 57 Ibid., 207. 58 Ibid., 187. 59 Ibid., 183. 56


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“The true threat of typhus was in its cause: rickettsia,” a disease carried only by feathers.60 The feather, once highly valued in the exchange market, “was now absolutely useless.”61 By the point of this realization, the only recourse is to kill all living birds in the area, otherwise avoidable exterminations had the feather not been initially mis-valued.62 While the typhus deaths could occur in a “real” world, the presence of the “irreducible element” marks the absurd fatalities resulting from feathers and plastic as possible consequences in a future world; the deaths are real. In conjunction with human and animal mortality, mis-valuation results also in the collapse of the exchange market, alluding to the potential for a “capitalist apocalypse”. As the Matacão disintegrates as a result of supernatural plastic-eating bacteria, the stock market, too, dissolves.63 With the market collapse, money becomes worthless—a historical heralding of national doom. Hiroshi, Kazumasa’s cousin, laments: “If only those scoundrels [Kazumasa’s kidnappers] would take money. I could unload that GGG stock on them.”64 At this end-point in which money has no value, once-superfluous people become commodities, stripping away the remaining essence(s) of humanity and solidifying Arendt’s warnings from The Human Condition. The kidnappers explain that they will be happy to exchange the[ ] precious children for the Japanese with the ball.”65 “Let us say,” they tell Hiroshi, “one child for each commodity.”66

Conclusion Through magical realism and its “irreducible element,” the language of superfluity, and the ultimate mis-valuation of humanity, Yamashita’s text warns against a society based on a system of capitalist tyranny.67 The novel’s global economic system is one in which a blind reliance on capitalism endows such a system with absolute sovereignty over the 60

Ibid., 198. Ibid., 184. 62 Ibid., 199. 63 Ibid., 207. 64 Ibid., 179. 65 Ibid., 170. 66 Ibid. 67 Faris points out that “[m]any commentaries have understood Grass’s use of magical and extraordinary phenomena to reflect and condemn the extraordinary times of Nazism that he chronicles in The Tin Drum” (139). In fact, “[m]agical realist texts are frequently written not only against a bureaucratic mentality but in reaction to specific repressive regimes” (Faris141). 61

The Literary and Literal Dangers of a Flawed Valuation System


people. Superfluity infects the text, breeding greater excesses and forms of unqualified mis-valuation that result in cataclysmic destruction and the eradication of the human condition. An ultimate loss to which the novel ultimately alludes is that of the natural earth—an ecological genocide of sorts. Similar to Arendt’s concern surrounding the maintenance of the human condition in the world, scholars also point to her concern for the preservation of the earth and its existence as a human home.68 Once a flawed capitalist system extinguishes humanity, it has the possibility to continue beyond that point, destroying the earth itself. By placing high values on entities within the exchange market and placing low (or nonexistent) values on those outside it, objects not immediately consumable, like the rainforest, are tagged for obliteration. This labeling results in a genocide unlike anything before seen—the killing of the earth, and thus, the possibility of “home,” both for the future of mankind and for any life form associated with it. And although “[t]he old forest . . . return[s] once again” at the end of Yamashita’s novel, she warns us that “it will never be the same again.”69


Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Arendt’s biographer, mentioned this at the April 1, 2010 Arendt conference at the University of Virginia. For further information, see Elisabeth Young-Bruehl. Q&A, Reading Hannah Arendt for the 21st Century. University of Virginia. Charlottesville, VA. 1 April 2010. 69 Yamashita 212.


I have the habit—some would say the annoying habit—of reading books mainly to determine their pedagogical value. That is, while making my way through a novel, part of me does enjoy reading for reading’s sake, but the vast majority of my mental energy is devoted to imagining the discussions the text can spark in the classroom. I suppose that when you’re a teacher, everything looks like a teachable moment. This habit is particularly intensified when reading dystopian and apocalyptic science fiction, perhaps because I can still recall reading 1984 for a government class and wondering about the parallels between Orwell’s nightmare vision and our own society. Moreover, like many readers, I found myself wondering what could be done to remedy some of the more unsettling symptoms shared by Winston’s world and our own. Of course, this kind of speculation is not peculiar to readers of Orwell, as David Ketterer once wrote in Science Fiction Studies that “[i]t is usually assumed that the author of a dystopia is concerned with describing the horrors of life if present trends continue, If This Goes On. The author may hope that his or her fiction will serve either as a warning, if the possibility is allowed that what seems inevitable may be averted, or, at a later stage, as a call to rebellion.”1 And so, not surprisingly, as I worked my way through Margaret Atwood’s 2009 offering The Year of the Flood, I thought about the impact this novel could have on a class. More specifically, I thought about the 1

David Ketterer, “Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: A Contextual Dystopia,” Science Fiction Studies 16, no. 2 (July 1989), 212.


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pedagogical potential of this book when combined with two of her earlier forays into speculative fiction, The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake. All three novels, to one degree or another, offer glimpses into futures where the abuse of women and the environment go hand-in-hand. Taken together, they provide a sharp ecofeminist critique of patriarchal power. In the past, I’d taught Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake separately in general science fiction courses, exploring with students a variety of sociopolitical issues as they arose. But as I finished reading Year of the Flood, I realized that the thematic unity of these three texts might be able to focus a ray of light on the systems responsible for much oppression and destruction. In short, these novels contain a shared power to stir debate about the causes and solutions to the overlapping problems of gender inequality and environmental degradation. In this essay, after examining key ecofeminist moments from each text, I will discuss a number of specific debates Atwood’s work can generate in the classroom.

The Handmaid’s Tale: Glimmerings of an Ecofeminist Philosophy Originally published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale has become almost canonical, earning praise from literary critics and finding its way into countless classrooms. It is known primarily for its portrayal of extreme gender oppression: set in the not-so-distant future in the totalitarian society of Gilead, scores of women like protagonist Offred are forced to live as handmaids, functioning simply as reproductive vessels for their male Commanders. The other women of Gilead also play subservient roles to men, as dutiful wives, servants, prostitutes, and trainers of the handmaids. This grim premise has no doubt served as a springboard for discussions about the ways gender inequality permeates our own society. Interestingly, though, there are several brief hints in The Handmaid’s Tale that link the gender issues to environmental problems. Offred learns that before the coup that led to the establishment of Gilead, the world was befouled by contaminants that seeped into the natural environment and the human population alike, and that the consequences for releasing such poisons still exist: The chances [of having an unhealthy baby] are one in four…The air got too full, once, of chemicals, rays, radiation, the water swarmed with toxic molecules, all of that takes years to clean up, and meanwhile they creep into your body, camp out in your fatty cells. Who knows, your very flesh

The Pedagogical Potential of Margaret Atwood’s Speculative Fiction


may be polluted, dirty as an oily beach, sure death to shore birds and unborn babies.2

Here, we get not only a disturbing description of what environmental problems mean for humans in general, but a specific cautioning about the deleterious implications for the health of women’s reproductive systems. Moments later, another quick detail from the past is glimpsed: “Women took medicines, pills, men sprayed trees, cows ate grass, all that souped up piss flowed into the rivers.”3 Again, a vivid snapshot of the interconnectedness of nature, humanity, and the industrial world is offered, this time with a specific nod toward Big Pharma’s foray into female bodies. These are among the first clues Atwood drops that feminism and environmentalism. are not isolated sets of politics; rather, fighting for gender equality and the protection of the Earth are very much aligned. Additionally, Ketterer notes that the women of Gilead who cannot be fitted into the existing social hierarchy are deemed “Unwomen” and “usually given the job of clearing toxic wastes—itself a death sentence.”4 Indeed, these moments from The Handmaid’s Tale clearly echo calls from ecofeminists to be vigilant for the ways in which the marginalized are frequently the most vulnerable to hazardous environmental conditions. The term ecofeminism itself originated in 1974 thanks to French writer Francoise d’Eaubonne5 and it is interesting to note that, according to Charlene Spretnak, the “sources of inspiration at the time were not Thoreau, John Muir, or even Rachel Carson…but, rather [proponents’] own experiential explorations.”6 Spretnak explains that the early “paths” to ecofeminism included studying political theory, “nature-based” religions, and, of course, the growing environmental movement.7 Undoubtedly, another path must have been women’s all-too-real life experiences that pointed to patriarchal forces as the chief culprit in both the systematic exploitation of female members of society and the widespread degradation of the natural environment. It is this set of parallel abuses that Carol Adams identifies as the key targets of the movement: “Ecofeminism argues that the connection between the oppression of women and the rest 2

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (New York: Anchor Books, 1986), 112. Ibid. 4 Ketterer, “Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale,” 209-210. 5 Carolyn Merchant, “Ecofeminism and Feminist Theory,” In Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism, eds. Irene Diamond and Gloria Feman Orenstein (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1990), 100. 6 Charlene Spretnak. “Ecofeminism: Our Roots and Flowering.” In Reweaving the World, 5. 7 Ibid., 5-6. 3


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of nature must be recognized to understand adequately both oppressions.”8 While such an agenda may unite ecofeminists, there are, to be sure, different viewpoints and emphases within the broader movement—as Irene Diamond and Gloria Orenstein put it, “Ecofeminism is not a monolithic, homogenous ideology.”9 Greta Gaard has identified a number of ecofeminist schools of thought, including early ecofeminism’s examinations of the connections between corporations and the military, radical ecofeminism’s work on the problem of “speciesism,” social ecofeminism’s investigation of hierarchical relationships, and later ecofeminism’s emphasis on democracy10. Although these different strains are very much compatible, there is one important historical tension within ecofeminism worth pointing out—the debate between essentialists and social constructivists. According to Susan Buckingham, the essentialist view that women, because of biology, have a special relationship with nature has largely fallen out of fashion; the current direction for ecofeminism subscribes to the constructivist argument that women’s roles are produced by socioeconomic factors, and that these same factors are responsible for much of the harm we see done to the environment11 At this moment, though, it’s not imperative that we attempt to puzzle out Atwood’s specific ideology, assuming she even has one. In the pedagogical section later in this essay, I will explore how such a discussion might find its way into the classroom. For now, suffice it to say that The Handmaid’s Tale is woven subtly from an ecofeminist philosophy that becomes even more prominent in the later apocalyptic visions of Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood.

Oryx and Crake: A Caustic Critique of Corporate Power Upon the original publication of Oryx and Crake, Atwood described the novel as a “book end” to The Handmaid’s Tale.12 Certainly, the two works share the same bleak atmosphere frequently found in speculative, 8

Carol Adams, ed, Ecofeminism and the Sacred, (New York: The Continuum Publishing Company, 1993), 1. 9 Diamond and Orenstein, Reweaving the World, xii. 10 Greta Gaard, “Ecofeminism and Ecocomposition,” In Ecocomposition: Theoretical and Pedagogical Approaches, eds. Christian Weisser and Sidney I. Dobrin (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2001), 165-166. 11 Susan Buckingham “Ecofeminism in the Twenty-First Century,” The Geographical Journal, 170, no. 2 (June 2004), 147. 12 James Ingersoll, “Survival in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake,” Extrapolation, 45, no. 2 (Summer 2004), 162.

The Pedagogical Potential of Margaret Atwood’s Speculative Fiction


dystopian, and apocalyptic subgenres, but more specifically, they both condemn societies that have simultaneously oppressed women and poisoned the natural world. In Oryx and Crake, though, the tale eventually takes on a decidedly anti-corporate/consumerism cast that is not as evident in The Handmaid’s Tale. Oryx and Crake is narrated by a character named Snowman who gives up glimpses into the present and past. In the past, we learn that Snowman—then known as Jimmy—grew up as a corporate brat, his father a genetic engineer for companies responsible for all sorts of blasphemous creations, such as the pigoon, essentially a pig ballooned-up to epic proportions in order to grow organs for transplanting. The pigoon might as well be a thematic mascot for the novel, as nature itself has been reduced to one big commodity that’s valuable only to the extent that it can be experimented upon and manipulated for human consumption and corporate profit. The multinational corporations have become so rich and powerful that they in fact rule the world, with no pretense of democratically elected governments. Society has become a classed system driven to the extreme, with people bifurcated into the haves living on corporate compounds, and the have-nots wasting away in the pleeblands. When it’s time for Jimmy to attend college and play his part in this social hierarchy, it soon becomes clear that his education in languages and the humanities is de facto training for the advertising and marketing strategies of the corporate world. It’s significant that one of the few characters who outright rejects this system and its values is a woman—Jimmy’s mother. Through more flashbacks, it is revealed that although once a scientist, she eventually grows so disillusioned with her world that she drops out, leaving her husband and son to become a shadowy fugitive, a revolutionary figure actively fighting the corporate way of life. For this decision, she meets a violent fate, as Jimmy one day learns from corporate security men, known collectively as CorpSeCorps, that she has been executed for a number of “treasonable crimes against society,” including “hampering the dissemination of commercial products.”13 Amidst this hyper-commercialized culture, sexuality has been relegated to just another thing to be bought and sold, with women and children sometimes serving as nothing more than pawns in the maledriven, male-controlled sexploitation industry. A sampling from the pornography of the day depicts a skinny girl wearing nothing but high-heeled sandals and standing on her head; a blonde dangling from a hook in the ceiling in some kind of blackleather multiple-fracture truss, blindfolded but with her mouth sagging 13

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake, (New York: Anchor Books, 2003), 286.


Chapter Seven open in a hit-me-again drool; a big woman with huge breast implants and wet red lipstick, bending over and sticking out her pierced tongue. Same old stuff.14

Of course, the Internet has only exacerbated the most lurid objectification and violence, and via flashbacks, we witness Jimmy surfing child porn and sex tourism websites with his teenaged buddy Glenn (later to be known as Crake). In fact, it is during one of these web-cruising sessions that the boys first glimpse titular character Oryx, then a young girl forced into a life of pornography. To be sure, these cyber-porn subplots are some of the most disturbing moments in the novel, underscoring a scathing indictment of the patriarchal culture that systematically destroys the lives of women and children for profit and sexual fulfillment. That said, Atwood does weave in subtler moments of feminist critique. For instance, other clues of a consumerist/commodified culture include a “vanity table [that] holds the standard collection of firming creams, hormone treatments, ampoules and injections, cosmetics, colognes.”15 Excepting the last item, here we get a quick catalog of consumer goods corporations target women with, chemicals to put on or in the body. While perhaps not as alarming as the pornographic images, such details further point to a society determined to define and control women, arguably for men’s pleasure. And just as there exists inequality in gender relations, it is also apparent that environmental conditions are far out of balance. As the novel opens, we get quick references to “caustic solvents…scalding liquids, sickening fumes, poison dust” and various remnants of a consumer culture—hubcaps, soda bottles, fast food containers, pharmaceutical bottles, and computer accessories.16 Against this backdrop of toxins and refuse, it’s no wonder that the theme of species extinction becomes part of the story. In addition to surfing the sex sites, Jimmy and Glenn are also avid video game players, with Extinctathon ranking among Glenn’s favorites. The point of the game is to guess “some bioform that had kakked out within the past fifty years…and what had snuffed it.”17 Of course, at the time, the boys seem to play for sheer entertainment value, with the implications of the tragic premise lost on them. Fittingly, the character who seems to best comprehend the widespread environmental destruction is Jimmy’s mother. She was given to


Ibid., 271. Ibid., 231. 16 Ibid., 7. 17 Ibid., 80. 15

The Pedagogical Potential of Margaret Atwood’s Speculative Fiction


rambl[ing]…about how everything was being ruined and would never be the same again, like the beach house her family had owned when she was little, the one that got washed away with the rest of the beaches and quite a few of the eastern coastal cities when the sea-level rose so quickly, and then there was that huge tidal wave, from the Canary Islands volcano…And she used to snivel about her grandfather’s Florida grapefruit orchard that had dried up like a giant raisin when the rains had stopped coming, the same year Lake Okeechobee had shrunk to a reeking mud puddle and the Everglades had burned for three weeks straight.18

The cynical perspective framing her recollections is that of Jimmy, but it’s readily apparent that the climate change issues still mulled about in our own mainstream media have resulted in real and devastating consequences in Atwood’s speculative fiction. And while there’s no heavy-handed finger-pointing for these environmental woes, it gradually becomes evident that the entire culture, driven by profit and wallowing in vapid entertainment and consumerism, holds little respect for the natural world.

The Year of the Flood: Hints of Hope? The Year of the Flood is a companion novel to Oryx and Crake, and as it turns out, the second installment in what will be a trilogy. Sharing the premise and some of the characters from Oryx and Crake, many of the same anti-corporate and ecofeminist themes resonate throughout this novel. In fact, an image from the book’s cover of a mysterious visage hints symbolically at the dual exploitation of women and nature that occurs in the story. The face, simultaneously human and reptilian in appearance, is that of a dancer from “Scales and Tails,” an “adult entertainment” establishment that features young women “covered completely with shining green scales, like lizards, except for the hair.”19 In short, the club is a place where men go to leer at subjugated sexuality and a perverse personification of nature. Over the course of the novel, we witness tragic scenes involving Scales and Tails dancers that succinctly capture Atwood’s ecofeminist critique. For example, we see “a scaly girl running down the street in the daytime, with a black-suited man chasing her. She sparked a lot because of her shiny green scales; she’d kicked off her high heels and she was running in her bare feet, dodging in and out among the people, but then she hit a patch of 18 19

Ibid., 63. Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood, (New York: Anchor Books, 2009), 74.


Chapter Seven broken glass and fell. The man caught up with her and scooped her up, and carried her back to Scales with her green snakeskin arms dangling down. Her feet were bleeding.”20

This concise passage paints a picture of woman and nature on the run, wounded, with the symbolic essence of power in close pursuit. The power that controls Scales and Tales and all other sorts of adult entertainment is actually corporate—a business named “SeksMart” run by CorpSeCorps.21 Many of the business allusions in The Year of the Flood document an intensifying consolidation of power within the hands of a few elite corporations. In the story’s climax, we get one more stark, compressed image of woman and nature trampled under foot, this time of central character Ren, a Scales and Tails dancer in the remnants of a bird costume: “She’s hobbling, she’s thin and beat up; her long hair’s across her face, matted with dirt and dried blood. She’s wearing a spangled body suit, with damp, tattered blue feathers. The bird woman…”22 But the story’s critique of extant power doesn’t just exist on this symbolic plane, for there are plot turns that further illustrate how the corporate system destroys life. Take the other major character, Toby, for instance. Her mother passes away due to a mysterious illness when Toby is still young. Her death is all the more tragic and ironic because as a franchise manager for the HelthWyzer corporation, she took huge doses of supplements that she received at a reduced fee from her company. Yet, the more pills she popped, the sicker she became. HelthWyzer, we learn, “took an interest because she’d been such a faithful user of their products. They arranged for special care, with their own doctors. They charged for it, though, and even with the discount for members of the HelthWyzer Franchise Family it was a lot of money…”23 The details sound like one of the typically depressing moments from Michael Moore’s 2007 expose Sicko, in which money, not compassion, is the chief factor influencing major health care decisions. Later in the story, however, the circumstances surrounding the death of Toby’s mother begin to appear more sinister than simply depressing. Pilar, a mentor-like figure to Toby, asks her, “'Did it ever occur to you, my dear…that your mother may have been a guinea pig?’”24 Given the profit-by-any-means corporate context of the story, the 20

Ibid., 75. Ibid., 7. 22 Ibid., 353-354. 23 Ibid., 25. 21


Ibid., 104.

The Pedagogical Potential of Margaret Atwood’s Speculative Fiction


accusation that a pharmaceutical company would use a woman’s body as an experimental testing-ground doesn’t seem at all far-fetched. After asking this disturbing question, Pilar issues the following caveat against Big Pharma to Toby: Now, promise me that you will never take any pill made by a Corporation. Never buy such a pill, and never accept any such pill if offered, no matter what they say. They’ll produce data and scientists; they’ll produce doctors—worthless, they’ve all been bought…those Corporation pills are the food of the dead, my dear.25

Pilar, it should be noted, is a key member of the God’s Gardeners, an underground group that poses the most important environmental questions in the novel. These Gardeners, writes William Deresiewicz in The Nation, are what give The Year of the Flood a distinctly hopeful tone, especially when compared to the bleakness and destruction of Oryx and Crake.26 In fact, Deresiewicz suggests that juxtaposed against the grim “dead end” presented in Oryx and Crake, “the Gardeners, both to the novel’s characters and to us, its readers, offer the fragile prospect of a way out.”27 Undoubtedly, this cult does give environmentalists plenty to rejoice over. Led by the enigmatic Adam One, the Gardeners have forged a spirituality and way of life that celebrates sustainability and shuns the speciesism and consumerism responsible for so much devastation. Their saints are activists, defenders of the commoner and the Earth, including the likes of Gandhi, Karen Silkwood, and Rachel Carson. Recycling is like religion to them, as seen in the following commandment: “Nothing should be carelessly thrown away, not even wine from sinful places. There was no such thing as garbage, trash, or dirt, only matter that hadn’t been put to a proper use.”28 And nature is their medicine—for instance, Pilar tends to a cellar-full of mushrooms that are used, among other purposes, for their healing powers. All of this eco-friendly wisdom is passed on to the Gardener children through hands-on workshops. Based on these lifeaffirming, nature-embracing details, Deresiewicz concludes that “Atwood loves the Gardeners, whose way of life surely owes something to her girlhood in the forests of Northern Quebec.”29 25

Ibid., 105. William Deresiewicz, “Honey and Salt,” The Nation, (November 2, 2009). 27 Ibid. 28 Atwood, The Year of the Flood, 69. 29 Deresiewicz, “Honey and Salt.” 26


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Although it’s possible to gather that Atwood, through her portrayal of the Gardeners, is providing a blueprint for better living, she also builds in just enough skepticism to leave us wondering how best to live in harmony with nature and each other. First, there are the brief intimations that the Gardeners are more than a bit self-important; like many other religious groups, they fancy themselves the chosen ones. After she is adopted by the Gardeners, Toby describes how the members envision their special fate: “A massive die-off of the human race was impending, due to overpopulation and wickedness, but the Gardeners exempted themselves… they would survive to replenish the Earth. Or something like that.”30 The last bit samples the cynicism and subtle, mocking sense of humor that characterizes Toby’s view of the Gardeners’s beliefs and way of life. But the righteousness of the Gardeners extends well beyond their apocalyptic vision, touching upon even mundane wardrobe and grooming issues, as Toby eventually learns. Once she grows accustomed to attiring herself in “dark, sack-like garments,” her next lesson in looks concerns growing her hair long; yet, “when Toby asked why, she was given to understand that the aesthetic preference was God’s. This kind of smiling, bossy sanctimoniousness was a little too pervasive for Toby, especially among the female members of the sect.”31 Toby is not alone in her misgivings, as some of the most damning criticism comes from the perspective of another Gardener named Lucerne. In Lucerne’s mind, the Gardeners are not just pompous, but ultimately ineffectual: As for saving the world, nobody wanted to save the world as much as she did, but no matter how much the Gardeners deprived themselves of proper food and clothing and even proper showers, for heaven’s sake, and felt more high and mighty than everyone else, it wouldn’t really change anything. They were just like those people who used to whip themselves during the Middle Ages—those flagrants.32

When Lucerne’s views surface during conversation, Toby corrects her on the last bit, suggesting that the Gardeners are modern-day “flagellants.33” But between the both of them, we get a picture of the Gardeners as extremists who torture themselves, for either useless or perverse ends. That Lucerne later recants her criticism begs the question of just what position this novel is taking with regards to radical green groups. The 30

Atwood, The Year of the Flood, 47. Ibid., 46. 32 Ibid., 114. 33 Ibid. 31

The Pedagogical Potential of Margaret Atwood’s Speculative Fiction


various viewpoints come from characters within the story, so a unified, cohesive message is arguably never issued. What emerges instead seems to be more of a question—that is, how must environmental organizations conduct themselves if they are ever to reach large enough audiences to make a significant difference? Questions like this one make Atwood’s fiction ideal for launching productive classroom discussion.

Atwood, Ecofeminism, and the Classroom Admittedly, my reading of these three Atwood texts is not brimming with any complex, deconstructive maneuvers. The gender and environmental concerns at the heart of these novels surface in a fairly straightforward manner, so teasing apart the key questions really becomes a matter of discussing the texts with other readers, rather than struggling to apply profound literary analysis. But that’s exactly what I like about Atwood’s speculative fiction. The more I teach, the more I’m looking for literature that stimulates debate and encourages activism. In the postscript to his 2003 book Arts of Living: Reinventing the Humanities for the Twenty-First Century, Kurt Spellmeyer argues for the kind of college education that prepares undergraduates to become active, problem-solving citizens. Spurred on the “Qualls Report,” a study that concluded “college students across the United States graduate without an adequate understanding of their society, their world, and their times,” he proposes an interdisciplinary course that invites undergraduates to engage in robust discussion of the pressing problems we face.34 Spellmeyer then excerpts a snippet from the preface to a reader for just such a course that he helped to develop at Rutgers: Our problems today are not only much more sweeping than humankind has encountered before, they are also more complex…The degradation of the biosphere is not just an ecological matter, but a political, social, and cultural matter as well. The uniqueness of our time requires us to devise new understandings of ourselves and the world. One purpose of this course is to provide a place for these understandings to emerge.35

Atwood’s work, in a compelling fashion, provides one possible entry point for the kind of critical inquiry and understanding that Spellmeyer is calling for in the undergraduate curriculum. The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and 34

Kurt Spellmeyer, Arts of Living: Reinventing the Humanities for the TwentyFirst Century, (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2003), 242. 35 Ibid., 246.


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Crake, and The Year of the Flood set forth a series of problems that are all too real for readers, problems that today’s college students are going to need to find answers to. For me, perhaps the most important debate spotlighted in these novels goes straight to the heart of ecofeminism: to what extent are our gender and environmental problems systemic? That is, can our current socioeconomic system—call it corporate capitalism, call it patriarchy, call it what you will—be held responsible for these seemingly separate problems? The reason I like this debate is that it holds the potential to nudge me and my students out of our collective comfort zone. Our culture seems to program so many of us to adopt “bad apple” reasoning: whenever a problem arises, it’s an isolated event, the fault of a lone-acting individual or group, one bad apple spoiling the bunch. As Joel Bakan points out in the introduction to his book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, corporate scandals often prompt us to question if we have a widespread problem, or just a matter of a few bad apples.36 Of course, it’s completely understandable that many of us prefer to single out a few bad apples; acknowledging a deeply rooted flaw within the system is quite an intimidating prospect. Atwood’s speculative fiction asks to entertain the possibility that some of our biggest problems may in fact be intertwined. And if we conclude that the answer is yes, any attempts to make serious headway must arguably be extensive in nature, not just bandaid remedies. In a classroom discussion, I’m more than comfortable with students challenging ecofeminist notions and arguments that our problems are systemic in nature, but I believe that at the very least these issues need to be put on the table, especially when so many students are on the verge of entering the very corporate system critiqued in Atwood’s work. There are those who argue that the principles of ecofeminism are not completely at odds with capitalism. For instance, in his article “Ecofeminism Meets Business,” Chris Crittenden “present[s] an embryonic conception of ecofeminist capitalism” that encompasses a shift from egocentric consumption to “ecocentric” consumption, the supplanting of the GDP with the GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator), and an embracing of Stephen Gould’s “‘Buddhist perspective on business ethics.’”37 In short, according to Crittenden,


Bakan, Joel, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Power, (New York: Free Press, 2004), 1. 37 Chris Crittenden, “Ecofeminism Meets Business: A Comparison of Ecofeminist, Corporate, and Free Market Ideologies,” Journal of Business Ethics 24, no. 1 (March 2000): 60-61.

The Pedagogical Potential of Margaret Atwood’s Speculative Fiction


ecofeminist capitalism maintains…that a robust drive for consumption and profit is compatible with ecocentric attitudes and lifestyles. The human desire for purchasing multifarious products is not denied. What is denied is that such purchasing must be egocentric and divisive, pitting ravenous hedonists against the environment and embroiling them in myopic struggles for status and power.38

Holding out for a kinder, gentler version of capitalism that’s in tune with preserving the planet may sound overly optimistic and far-fetched to many; even Crittenen acknowledges the naivety of wishing for an overnight transformation.39 But his vision is certainly provocative and full of potential for sparking critical thinking in the classroom. Moreover, putting this kind of scholarly work in concert with Atwood’s fiction could lead to the kind of multidisciplinary discussion Spellmeyer wants to see. To be sure, ecofeminism and what it has to say about capitalism and corporations is not going to win over everyone, but for the students who are moved by this worldview, there are specific tensions within the philosophy worthy of debate. Earlier in this essay, I pointed out that historically, ecofeminists clashed over the role of biology in shaping women’s roles: while essentialists believed that women hold a unique relationship with nature due to their biology, constructivists emphasized the importance of social factors. From a literary perspective, students interested in the different ecofeminist perspectives could zoom in for a closer look at Atwood’s novels, searching for possible clues about where the texts stand in this debate—that is, assuming the texts impart a clear position. But perhaps more important, students could weigh the relative merits of these conflicting views. For example, although the biology argument may seem antiquated now, Susan Buckingham notes that “essentialism is often used to mobilize a group around a perceived characteristic which sets it apart.”40 This point could certainly serve as an interesting jumping-off point for discussion, because if there is indeed a strong link between essentialized identity and activism, there would likely be students who see strength in this perspective. At the very least, debating these competing ideas would help demonstrate how even a cohesive movement like ecofeminism has historical conflicts. In addition to specific ecofeminist debates, this set of Atwood novels lend themselves to discussion of broader feminist tensions. In The Handmaid’s Tale, we learn that before the establishment of the totalitarian 38

Ibid., 60. Ibid., 62. 40 Buckingham, “Ecofeminism,” 147. 39


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state that is Gilead, some feminists reacted against the abundance of pornography by holding bonfires to incinerate the offending items. The quick glimpse that young Offred gets of pornographic material pictures a “pretty woman…with no clothes on, hanging from the ceiling by a chain wound around her hands.”41 This rather disturbing image directly foreshadows some of the shocking pornography detailed in Oryx and Crake. And yet, Handmaid’s Tale seems to be making a complicated statement about pornography, as the views of the anti-porn activists arguably overlap with measures to control female sexuality imposed by the ultra-conservative leaders of Gilead. In essence, Atwood is framing the heated pornography debates sparked by sex-positive feminists in the 1980s: To what extent can pornography provide women sexual freedom and dignified employment? To what extent does pornography reaffirm oppressive, patriarchal power over women? Given the widespread availability of pornography via the Internet these days, it’s more important than ever that students be able to develop an informed stance in this debate. Studying this debate also has the potential to educate students on the complexities of feminism. Typically, when the topic of feminism surfaces during class discussion, I sense a mixture of apathy and confusion. In fact, over the years I’ve informally surveyed hundreds of students in class, and fewer than five have identified themselves as feminists. Reading Atwood can introduce students to the history and internal conflicts of feminism, as well as prompt the question about its necessity in our current political climate. Finally, it shouldn’t be overlooked that The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood can raise general environmental awareness in the classroom. Even for students who are resistant to ecofeminism, these novels can still spark critical thinking and concern regarding the current state of the ecosystem. And while environmental awareness seems to be growing among undergraduates, there’s always more to be done in the classroom, especially given the critical urgency of this issue. As Al Gore famously admonished in An Inconvenient Truth while gazing at an image of our world You see that pale, blue dot? That's us. Everything that has ever happened in all of human history has happened on that pixel. All the triumphs and all the tragedies, all the wars, all the famines, all the major advances... It's our


Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale, 38.

The Pedagogical Potential of Margaret Atwood’s Speculative Fiction


only home. And that is what is at stake—our ability to live on planet Earth, to have a future as a civilization.42

With stakes so high, it’s imperative that literature courses join the campaign to highlight environmental issues. In 2001, compositionist Derek Owens lamented that English studies is decades behind other disciplines in recognizing the importance of considering our research and teaching in light of local and global environmental exigencies. There is still a pervasive, if unacknowledged belief that much of our work ought to focus on the triad of race/class/gender.43

I suspect, thankfully, that the situation has changed for the better over the past decade, and that the environment has been embraced by many English faculty in the academy. Speculative and science fiction in the vein of this trio of Atwood books, with its capacity for impressing upon readers’ hearts and minds looming catastrophe, offer a compelling way to continue building on this momentum. Without a doubt, there will be those like Stanley Fish, who in his 2008 book Save the World on Your Own Time denounced those who would have colleges “attempting to cure every ill the world has known” including “environmental pollution.”44 Certainly, some university mission statements can overreach in their attempts to address the world’s mounting problems, but using literature to get students thinking deeply about the crises they are inheriting is a practice even Fish might welcome, and I’m thankful for compelling novels like those penned by Atwood that help get the conversation started. I would like to thank Princess Ikatekit for her invaluable help compiling research for this article.


An Inconvenient Truth, DVD, Directed by Davis Guggenheim (original release 2006, Lawrence Bender Productions, video release 2007). 43 Derek Owens, Composition and Sustainability: Teaching for a Threatened Generation, (Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2001), 3. 44 Stanley Fish, Save the World on Your Own Time, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 10.



Current environmental debate centers on such issues as overpopulation, food production, natural disasters, and global climate change. To bring attention to these issues, and others, environmental writers must find ways of capturing the attention of an audience, stressing the validity of the issue discussed, and then galvanizing the audience to take appropriate action. To achieve these goals, environmental writers and rhetors employ a number of metaphors about human relationships with the environment. For example, describing the earth or nature as feminine or as a mother is a common metaphorical trope in environmental discourse. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson are well known among linguists and rhetoricians for their work on metaphors. In Metaphors We Live by, they explain “metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.”1 One particularly common and powerful metaphor in environmental writing, and one upon which I will focus my attention in the rest of this analysis, is apocalypse. Apocalypticism is the use of language and imagery that portends a coming disaster or, in many cases, warns of total annihilation. Lawrence Buell, a major figure in the canon of environmental writing, acknowledges the power of this metaphor in environmental communication. He writes:

1 George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live by (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 3.


Chapter Eight Apocalypse is the single most powerful master metaphor that the contemporary environmental imagination has at its disposal. Of no other dimension of contemporary environmentalism, furthermore, can it be so unequivocally said that the role of the imagination is central to the project; for the rhetoric of apocalypticism implies that the fate of the world hinges on the arousal of the imagination to a sense of crisis.2

Here, I would like to emphasize two especially important points. First, Buell notes that apocalypticism hinges upon a sense of crisis. Second, imagination is central to both apocalypticism and environmentalism and, I add, science fiction. According to Jimmie Killingsworth and Jacqueline Palmer, apocalypticism as a rhetorical category "aims to transform the consciousness that a problem exists into acceptance of action toward a solution by prefacing the solution with a future scenario of what could happen if action is not taken, if the problem goes untreated.”3 The problem with rhetorical apocalypticism is that readers often struggle to separate the speculative, apocalyptic scenario about which they read or hear from the actual condition of the real world. Surprisingly, no one has examined the effects of merging apocalypticism with different text genres. By ignoring, not noticing, or misunderstanding the effects of these combinations, environmentalists may produce works that are counterproductive to environmental goals. For example, if a writer intends to stress the importance of an issue and encourage environmental consciousness and activism in an audience, but does not pay attention to which apocalyptic strategies are combined with a genre, the resultant text may fail to meet these goals. Rather than inspiring action, the text may instead cause readers to develop “eco-anxiety”—a chronic concern over environmental issues, characterized by such symptoms as panic attacks, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, and an overweening sense of helplessness.4 Especially in works of nonfiction, readers are likely to take apocalypticism very seriously. Indeed, the “sense of crisis” is emphasized so much, readers often feel powerless to forestall the melting of the polar icecaps, hurricanes, earthquakes—like those suffered by Japan this year— and other environmental disasters. While writers often use apocalypticism 2

Lawrence Buell, The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1995), 285. 3 M. Jimmie Killingsworth and Jacqueline S. Palmer, “Millennial Ecology: The Apocalyptic Narrative from Silent Spring to Global Warming,” in Green Culture: Environmental Rhetoric in Contemporary America, ed. Carl G. Herndl and Stuart C. Brown (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996), 22. 4 Thomas J. Doherty and Susan Clayton, “The Psychological Impacts of Global Climate Change,” American Psychologist 66 no. 4 (2011): 269.

Destroying Imagination to Save Reality


with the intention of galvanizing an audience to take action, it can be overwhelming and even immobilizing for many readers. In an effort to bring clarity and focus to the use of apocalypticism in environmental discourse, I now offer an explanation of the mechanics of using apocalyptic strategies in different textual forms, and focus on the positive effects of apocalypticism in environmental science fiction.

Defining Apocalypticism To understand how apocalypticism functions rhetorically in different textual genres requires an understanding of what constitutes apocalyptic writing. In Imagining Apocalypse: Studies in Cultural Crisis, David Seed explains that apocalypse may be understood in two configurations: terminus and telos.5 Apocalypse as terminus refers to the sense of an ending, while apocalypse as telos refers to the “ultimate aim” of the event.6 Through the lens of terminus, for example, we expect that environmental apocalypse is the process by which the world will end. We despair and are ultimately swept away by the singularity of climate change, a catastrophic impact with an asteroid, or the blinding shear of light from a world-wide nuclear crisis. When environmental discourse engages the concept of apocalypse as terminus, readers are admonished, scolded, and left feeling helpless in the face of absolute, inexorable crisis. Through the lens of telos, on the other hand, we expect that apocalypse is the culmination of history in a final goal or destination. In environmental writing, telos appears as the idea that our current paradigm ends, and we then rely upon our ingenuity and will to survive to eke out an existence within a new paradigm. If the world floods, we will learn to survive at sea, or use technology to adapt to hotter climates. Environmental writers hope to convince audiences that Earth is worth saving and that, with increased ecoconsciousness, people can learn to thrive in a future, “green” world. Greg Garrard explains in Ecocriticism, “Only if we imagine that the planet has a future, after all, are we likely to take responsibility for it.”7 Contrary to the goals of the environmental movement, environmental writing most often employs terministic apocalyptic episodes, which portray apocalyptic events as irrevocable endings. Clearly, terministic environmental writing suggests that the earth 5

David Seed, Imagining Apocalypse: Studies in Cultural Crisis (London: Macmillan, 2000), 2. 6 Ibid. 7 Greg Garrard. Ecocriticism (London: Routledge, 2004), 107.


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has no future and using this form of writing is counterproductive to the goals of the environmental movement and its spokespersons. Barry Brummett, author of several books on the rhetoric of popular culture, offers a brief survey of some of apocalypticism’s other definitions.8 First, such scholars as Seed may understand apocalyptic as “a synonym for eschatology, the study of the end, of final things.”9 However, Brummett locates alternatives: apocalyptic as crisis or disaster, characterized by impending doom; and apocalyptic as a transition from “this world, era, or state of being to another one.”10 Brummett also explains that there are two subgenres of apocalyptic rhetoric: premillennial and postmillennial, which suggest different trajectories for the imagined environmental apocalypse. To premillennarians, our troubles and pains—shrinking glaciers, unpredictable weather and subsequent problems in agriculture and water availability—are not our fault and are a sign of the coming apocalypse, which will be followed by a period of peace and prosperity. In this view, global warming is not really our problem as much as it is a sign of the coming religious apocalypse and then, after the requisite period of suffering, a golden age. Premillennial apocalypse, then, aligns with the concept of telos because the doomsday event marks a transition. To postmillennarians, however, we are already living in the golden age, and the problems we face are our responsibility. In this view, prevention of the culmination of history in a terminal ecological apocalypse requires that we take responsibility for our carbon emissions and dependence upon fossil fuels and align ourselves now with extant environmental initiatives, which if closely followed and widely supported, may help us to avert ecological crisis. For example, postmillennarians may contend that giving up on the manic impulse to expand and grow our economies, and instead focusing on minimizing our resource use and maximizing our sustainability and environmental conservation will enable us to avoid apocalypse.

Apocalypse and Genre Expectations As previously noted, readers are apt to take apocalypticism very seriously, and heavy-handed use of apocalyptic rhetoric can be immobilizing. Psychologists have found that exposure to doomsday scenarios in nonfiction environmental texts worries audiences and that “individuals’ worries about environmental health threats take a toll on 8

Barry Brummett, Contemporary Apocalyptic Rhetoric (New York: Praeger, 1991). 9 Ibid., 7. 10 Ibid., 8-9.

Destroying Imagination to Save Reality


their subjective well-being.”11 Furthermore, what many environmentalists may perceive as apathy about the environment, which they may hope to correct by using apocalyptic imagery to secure attention, “is actually paralysis in the face of the size of the problem.”12 Killingsworth and Palmer explain that “the appeal to emotion in the rhetoric of public debate is always risky…Fear can cause readers to open their eyes wide or to shut them tightly.”13 Despite the risks of numbing or failing to galvanize audiences to take pro-environmental action, environmentalists continue to employ apocalyptic rhetoric to raise readers’ awareness of environmental issues. To understand how apocalypticism functions in nonfiction genres and science fiction, it is helpful to consider genre expectations and the cognitive processes by which readers decouple the world of the text from reality. According to Clare Beghtol, “readers have explicit learned expectations for the genres with which they are familiar.”14 Examining genre expectations elucidates how the form of a text influences the responses and reading processes of readers, which is critical to understanding how apocalypticism functions in science fiction. In “Effect of Genre Expectations on Text Comprehension,” Rolf Zwaan explains, “knowledge of a discourse genre may function as a pragmatic device triggering in the reader comprehension strategies that are specific to that particular genre.”15 The expectations that readers hold for genres act as “contextual information [that] influences both the process and the products of text comprehension.”16 That is, genre expectations influence how readers engage and remember texts. Models of discourse comprehension exhibit three distinct types of text comprehension. First, the surface structure, which “represents the exact form of a text, for example, its wording and syntactic structure.”17 The second type, the text base representation, “is a propositional network that represents the meaning of the text.”18 Third, the situation model “is a representation of a state of 11

Doherty and Clayton, “The Psychological Impacts,” 269. Ibid., 270. 13 M. Jimmie Killingsworth and Jacqueline S. Palmer, Ecospeak: Rhetoric and Environmental Politics in America (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 71. 14 Clare Beghtol, “The Concept of Genre and its Characteristics,” Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 27 no. 2 (2001): 18. 15 Rolf Zwaan, “Effect of Genre Expectations on Text Comprehension,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 20 no. 4 (1994): 920. 16 Ibid. 17 Ibid. 18 Ibid. 12


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affairs (in reality or in some fictional world) that is referred to by the text.”19 When readers encounter different genres of text, they process their reading experience by using the surface structure, the text base representation, and the situation model. Which of these elements is emphasized depends upon the genre of the text and its associated reader expectations. For example, Zwaan explains: News stories are primarily a tool for updating people’s representations of real-world situations. Therefore, when reading a text under a newscomprehension control system, readers should emphasize the construction of the situation model. Under a literary-comprehension control system, however, readers should focus on the text itself and thus construct a relatively strong surface representation.20

Therefore, readers employing a news-comprehension control system will read quickly and with focus on updating their situation model while readers of literary texts deemphasize the situation model, instead favoring development of the surface structure, which allows multiple interpretations to coexist. Each genre activates specific expectations in readers; therefore, we can sense that environmental issues—like ecological apocalypse—can be understood differently depending upon the genre in which they are expressed.

Decoupling Apocalypse from Reality Readers engage apocalypticism through different genres of environmental literature, which alter their perceptions of apocalyptic episodes. Throughout this article, I use the term “decoupling” to refer to the cognitive process by which readers’ genre expectations allow them to locate and create “gaps” between reality and the text. Although Zwaan discusses news sources and not nonfiction in general, I find that the logic of his work loosely applies to nonfiction genres. Whether and to what degree readers are able to use a text to update their situation model affects the synchronic cognitive process of decoupling. When readers encounter nonfictional text genres, their fiction expectations are deactivated; less development of the surface structure representation occurs while the situation model is emphasized. Rather than allowing multiple interpretations of the nonfiction text to coexist, readers adopt one interpretation and relate that representation to their reality. Apocalypticism—a speculative, 19 20

Ibid. Ibid., 921.

Destroying Imagination to Save Reality


imaginative rhetorical strategy—is not perceived as fiction when readers encounter it through nonfictional genres. The expectations that readers apply generally to nonfiction also apply to apocalypticism; rather than noting the speculative nature of apocalyptic episodes, readers perceive these episodes as predictions that must apply to their situation models of reality. Readers of nonfiction typically expect to learn something from the text, and thus may use the text to update their situation model. Because readers approach nonfiction texts as works of truth or as sources of accurate or useful information, it is difficult and unlikely that readers will see the worlds of reality and the text differently. That is, readers of nonfiction will not decouple the textual world from the real. The gap between text and reality collapses for readers of nonfiction because the genre expectations deactivate the decoupling process. Without this gap, speculation is deactivated, affecting which stases—“a series of three or sometimes four points at which certain types of questions arise about a subject; these questions constitute a taxonomy of arguments”21—are activated. The taxonomy of the stases proceeds as follows: fact, definition, value, cause, and policy.22 As a brief example of how genres affect the stases, nonfiction texts tend to emphasize the stasis of policy by galvanizing audiences to pursue specific actions, whereas works of science fiction focus on the stasis of definition but do not demand social engagement or activism through the stasis of policy. When readers encounter works of eco-fiction, the “fiction” label activates a new set of genre expectations that govern how readers will engage apocalyptic themes in the text. In encountering eco-fiction, readers are more able to accept the setting of the text as a possible reality rather than as the real world because the “fiction” label does not encourage readers to update their situation models of reality in the same way that a “nonfiction” label would. Therefore, the apocalyptic scenario that appears in the fictional world does not pose a threat to the reader’s sense of reality. This degree of decoupling allows readers to begin to consider and engage environmental issues by exploring the connections drawn between the fictional and real worlds. The speculative nature of apocalypticism becomes clearer in fictional texts, and readers may be less likely to feel immobilized by fear and eco-anxiety, and may respond favorably to the call-for-action espoused by the narrator, characters, or the author. Readers activate a new set of specific genre expectations and reading behaviors when they engage works of environmental science fiction. As a 21

Jeanne Fahnestock and Marie Secor, “The Stases in Scientific and Literary Argument,” Written Communication 5 no. 4 (1988): 428. 22 Ibid.


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result of these genre expectations—which include engagement of innovative science and technology, the appearance of non-human characters, and new worlds and settings predicated on unique natural laws—readers can more completely decouple the science fictional text than the nonfictional text from reality. From this decoupled stance, readers imaginatively construct the world of the novel as an imagined reality, and accept and engage fantastic creatures, scenarios, settings, and plots. Because the cognitive process of decoupling is so active in the science fiction genre, this allows speculation to assume its full effect—enabling readers to experience an alternative reality and perhaps to thoughtfully consider scenarios that they would quickly dismiss if encountered in a nonfictional text. Sensitivity to speculation in environmental science fiction—a naturally speculative genre—is important for environmental rhetoricians, environmentalists, and ecocritics. I argue that the imaginative space science fiction provides to readers creates opportunities for a more comfortable engagement with environmental issues and potential solutions. Finally, I argue that the speculative nature of science fiction establishes a redemptive potential for apocalypticism that does not function in other genres of environmental writing.

Decoupling Apocalypse in Science Fiction As science fiction theorist William Sims Bainbridge notes, science fiction exists as a place in which alternate realities can be explored, and the conceptualization of these alternate realities can allow readers to become more aware of concepts which they had not previously considered.23 As a narrative-driven form of writing, the science fiction novel in particular allows readers to connect with science in ways that they may not be able or willing to do if it were only written in the passive, “objective,” voice of authority that defines so many scientific publications.24 Therefore, the creative narrative work of science fiction, paired with its necessary, genre-defining focus on plausible or actual sciences, allows readers to explore scientific concepts through lived narratives and experiences. The ability for literature to allow some degree of escape or separation from reality also allows readers to imagine themselves in the alternate futures crafted by science fiction writers. The degree of separation of reality from fiction is made possible through the readers’ cognitive process of decoupling the text from reality. 23

William Sims Bainbridge, Dimensions of Science Fiction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), 214. 24 Ibid., 198.

Destroying Imagination to Save Reality


Decoupling readers’ expectations about their actual lived reality from the literature they read is significant. As Zwaan concedes: “in literature, the poetic function predominates… attention is focused on the verbal code itself, rather than on the specific situation it denotes. This does not mean that the situations that are described in literary texts are unimportant. What it means is that literary texts are primarily verbal works of art.”25 Understanding that literary texts are considered works of art or entertainment, and understanding that readers will thus pick up a work of environmental science fiction to be entertained, rather than educated, I still see the didactic potential of science fiction. If science fiction authors craft probable situations that draw from real world concerns, readers may come to view these texts as far more than verbal works of art; they may learn to see science fictional situations as figurations of real problems and solutions. Through the remainder of this chapter, I hope to explore what science fiction has to say to and about reality. While some may view literature—especially fiction—as primarily entertaining, and thus in opposition to public, civic discourse, which is considered persuasive and instrumental in affecting changes in reality, I argue that literature can be both entertaining and persuasive. In her theory of genre, Carolyn Miller asserts that communities create genres that in turn “serve as keys to understanding how to participate in the actions of a community.”26 Genres and their communities are thus co-constitutive. With this point in mind, consider David Ketterer’s argument that because of this co-constitutive nature of genre and community, science fiction can indeed suggest and create new assumptions and new realities.27 In other words, Ketterer proposes that science fiction authors create new realities that may influence audiences and new authors, thus creating and perpetuating a genre and culture of reading that addresses problems via imaginative solutions. Ketterer is attuned to the importance of apocalypticism in science fiction, too: Apocalyptic literature is concerned with the creation of other worlds which exist, on the literal level, in a credible relationship (whether on the basis of rational extrapolation and analogy or religious belief) with the ‘real’ world, thereby causing a metaphorical destruction of that ‘real’ world in the reader’s head.28 25

Zwaan, “Effect of Genre,” 921 (my italics). Carolyn Miller, “Genre as Social Action,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 70 (1984): 165. 27 David Ketterer, New Worlds for Old: The Apocalyptic Imagination, Science Fiction, and American Literature (Garden City: Anchor, 1974). 28 Ibid., 13. 26


Chapter Eight

That the act of reading is itself apocalyptic is a fascinating point, and I argue that the suppression of the real world in the reader’s head is what allows him or her to fully engage the imaginative spaces left open by the science fiction genre. To clarify how the real and imaginary worlds are separate, Ketterer explains that “while mimetic literature addresses itself to reproductions of the ‘real’ world, fantastic literature involves the creation of escapist worlds that, existing in an incredible relationship to the 'real' world, do not impinge destructively on that world.”29

World Made by Hand James Howard Kunstler, a prolific American author and environmental critic, is best known for his nonfiction book, The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century,30 in which he argues that the United States’ dependence upon oil is a long-term emergency that will end in social, ecological, and economic crises. Kunstler argues throughout his book that oil and gas production have peaked and that because of the imminent crash of our oil-based society, US citizens will have to abandon suburban and urban life in favor of living in local, self-sustaining communities. As the title suggests, The Long Emergency focuses on catastrophes—apocalyptic episodes—while building a sense of impending crisis, thereby in alignment with Buell’s view that the master metaphor of apocalypse is used to produce “the arousal of the imagination to a sense of crisis.”31 Because of the nonfiction genre expectations readers bring to The Long Emergency, particularly the knowledge that they are not reading fiction, decoupling will not occur. Rather, it is more likely that readers will approach readings of The Long Emergency as opportunities to update their knowledge about the issues Kunstler discusses. Without the freedom or genre expectation of speculation at their disposal, readers will likely view Kunstler’s apocalyptic scenarios through the stasis of fact. By virtue of the upward pull of the stases, which results from the hierarchy of fact, definition, value, cause, and policy,32 this apocalypse-as-fact stasis carries readers upward through the rest of the stases. Via the stasis of definition, Kunstler defines the crises he sees brewing as a result of oil dependency. The stasis of value stresses that oil dependency is bad, and the stasis of 29

Ibid. James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century (New York: Atlantic Monthly, 2005). 31 Buell, The Environmental Imagination, 285. 32 Fahnestock and Secor, “The Stases,” 428. 30

Destroying Imagination to Save Reality


cause indicates that human beings and industrialism are the cause of the oil crisis. Still rooted in the value judgments about oil dependency, readers shift into the final stasis: policy. Through this stasis, the narrative alerts readers that changes in behavior and policy are necessary to forestall ecological apocalypse. Through these stases and the nonfiction genre, readers are expected to learn about the issues Kunstler presents, and they are expected to make changes based on his recommendations. With so much emphasis on these stases—especially fact, value, and action—there is little room for readers to step back and engage speculation as a means of considering possible futures, and without speculation, the apocalyptic strategies employed in the text seem real. To demonstrate how influential the combination of apocalyptic strategies with different text genres is, let us now turn toward Kunstler’s other book on the topics of The Long Emergency. Rather than producing another nonfiction text about peak oil and its related crises, Kunstler wrote World Made by Hand,33 an apocalyptic, dystopic novel set in the fictional town of Union Grove, New York. This work of environmental science fiction (SF) is narrated by the protagonist, Robert Earle: a former computer software executive who, after the collapse of the US economic and social systems, became a carpenter in a small, local community. Earle’s narrative explores what life might be like after the major collapses about which Kunstler warned readers three years earlier in The Long Emergency. The scenario Kunstler presents in World Made by Hand is apocalyptic in that the world as readers currently know it has ended: Americans are living well beyond the peak of oil production, and the economy has completely crashed, causing communities to fragment into different factions. Earle, whose wife and son died sometime in the aftermath of the apocalyptic events, introduces the world in which he and the other Union Grove townspeople live: there is no media coverage, no shopping malls, no modern medicine, and people recycle because they must; no factories exist to produce new goods.34 As a result of the collapsed economic and social systems, unnamed persons or groups bombed Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., lending the novel a dystopic feel since there is no stable governmental force to maintain peace or security for US citizens. Everything that seems commonplace to modern readers of this novel is long lost to the characters. For example, in the opening scene, Earle is walking with the Union Grove minister, Loren, who is “obsessed with the 33

James Howard Kunstler, World Made by Hand (New York: Atlantic Monthly, 2008). 34 Kunstler, World Made by Hand, 1, 3.


Chapter Eight

old days.”35 Loren waxes nostalgic about shopping malls and Earle chimes in “I miss a lot of things, but I don’t miss [malls].”36 Over the course of the novel, Earle is elected mayor of his town and appointed to handle a local murder, locate a team of missing traders, and restore law, order, and a sense of purpose to Union Grove. As a result of genre expectations readers will engage while reading this fictional work, this text activates speculation: readers will see one possible configuration of the future that Kunstler predicts in his nonfiction works. According to Zwaan’s work on news and literature genre expectations, readers are more likely to read World Made by Hand for pleasure than to update their situational models, and may read more thoroughly, allowing for multiple interpretations and meanings to coexist instead of quickly choosing one interpretation.37 This shift in genre and reader expectations thus alters how readers engage Kunstler’s arguments. The key to how readers engage World Made by Hand is the fact that speculation in activated by the SF genre. The novel begins, “Sometime in the not-distant future” and the opening scene reveals characters engaged in elegiac remembering of the shopping mall that existed “before our world changed.”38 Already, readers will sense that the world of the novel is not actually real—but it is plausible. This plausibility allows readers to comfortably engage speculation about the future. Furthermore, the ability of readers to begin to see the speculative elements of this novel is the result of the partial decoupling of the real and fictitious worlds. As with The Long Emergency, Kunstler employs apocalyptic episodes and strategies within World Made by Hand to convey his arguments about oil dependency and the environment; however, his apocalyptic strategy decouples from reality because the environmental SF genre expectations distance reality from the narrative. The activation of speculation enhances readers’ ability to decouple the apocalyptic episodes from reality, thus producing an imaginative space in which to envision possible routes to the future.

Conclusion Science fictional depictions of real world concerns allow readers to decouple the fictitious world from the real world. This decoupling creates and holds open an imaginative space that provides opportunities for 35

Ibid., 1. Ibid. 37 Zwaan, “Effect of Genre,” 921. 38 Kunstler, World Made by Hand, 2. 36

Destroying Imagination to Save Reality


readers to meaningfully consider connections between these worlds. By discussing how science fiction operates within the stasis of fact—asserting that the conditions of the fictitious world are not a possible future or even related to the present reality, but their own solid, concrete, rational formulation—I hope to have demonstrated how science fiction is able to address such issues as environmental apocalypse without the explicit callto-action that accompanies texts written in the stases of action or policy. Rather than demanding action, science fictional worlds ask readers to become part of that world, to accept that world as it is, and to understand how that world operates. In understanding how a fictitious world operates, perhaps readers will be able to translate this experience to the real world, to examine possible futures and solutions to problems. By imaginatively participating in and witnessing the destruction of a fictional world, perhaps readers are able to encounter and consider concepts that could positively impact reality. In this chapter I have argued, like Ketterer and others, that science fictional texts act as thought experiments in which readers can “test out” new realities or imaginative solutions to real world problems. While many of the scenarios readers encounter in science fiction are bleak or apocalyptic, this genre holds creative, positive potential. According to The Science in Science Fiction, by Robert W. Bly, more than 80 scientific inventions, concepts, and revolutions—from atomic warfare to genetically modified foods, robots to television, and test-tube babies to global warming—were prefigured in science fiction.39 Without science fiction as a creative and engaging thought experiment, it is possible that some of these advances would not have been made, or that issues of global warming, water shortages, and genetic modification of foods might not figure so prominently in our minds and literatures today. While such prominent figures as Al Gore have created documentaries and books40 describing the data and events leading up to a global, climate change catastrophe in which the icecaps melt, polar bears and other species become extinct, and the seas warm and rise to flood continents, little is said about what life under such circumstances might be like. James Howard Kunstler and other science fiction writers, however, engage with the scientific data surrounding environmental concerns and explore what it might be like to live during a time that we have fully expended our global stock of gasoline and been cornered by the rising oceans. Science fiction allows us to explore “the human consequences of technical 39 40

Robert W. Bly, The Science in Science Fiction (Dallas: BenBella, 2005), ix-xii. Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth (New York: Rodale, 2006).


Chapter Eight

developments.”41 However, it is essential to note that “science fiction does not resolve the serious issues of mundane world,”42 though it may enable us to think more critically about our world, and to understand how our ideological and aesthetic relationships with environments affect our material uses, abuses, and connections with the world. Bainbridge may be right to assert that “no variety of literature except science fiction wonders about the long-term future of the human species, and none suggests such a wide range of alternative fates,”43 in which case literary and rhetorical studies of science fiction such as mine should continue to be engaged. Perhaps in the practice tests offered by science fiction, we can explore and generate solutions before we must truly know what it means to live in future worlds wherein the world’s major cities are submerged or the human race is extinct and forgotten alongside countless other species of “obscure bugs, weeds, and frogs nobody had ever heard of.”44 I hope this chapter has increased ecocritical and rhetorical sensitivity to science fiction and that it facilitates discussion about the decoupling of apocalypticism and the resultant effects on speculation and the stases. The speculative foundations of science, and the genre expectations readers bring to their readings of science fictional texts, change how apocalypticism functions in these texts. Rather than “revealing” the actual future or our inexorable fate, as the root of apocalypse suggests, this speculative genre allows us to use apocalypticism to envision new possibilities. By envisioning and speculating about these alternatives, rather than committing ourselves to bleak doomsday scenarios, perhaps we can learn to use the imaginative spaces provided by this genre to help us reveal real solutions to our global and local environmental concerns.


Bainbridge, Dimensions of Science Fiction, 212. Ibid., 222. 43 Ibid. 44 Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake: A Novel (New York: Anchor, 2004), 81. 42


Cormac McCarthy’s The Road propels the reader along a horrifying journey through the nuclear winter of post-apocalyptic America. Following an unnamed father and son through the fiercest and bleakest of landscapes, readers breathlessly watch as the two battle inconceivable odds in their simple quest for survival. In as realistic a context as possible, McCarthy examines not only the environmental, but also the phenomenological consequences of cataclysm. His is a world where not only the planet collapses, but civilization as well: speech, writing, oral tales, memories and dreams disintegrate and decay, as do almost all articulations and representations of language. Ironically, the lushness of McCarthy's prose swells as the words and semantic trappings of this post-holocaustic earth vanish, providing the reader with if not hope, at least some sense of reprieve. Although the catalyst of the calamity is never specifically named, one can infer that it is indeed the aftermath of a nuclear war. The text does describe “a long shear of light and then a series of low concussions” which give rise to “a dull rose glow”1 that lends credence to this idea. In this setting, a dust-cloud surrounding the Northern Hemisphere (or perhaps the entire planet) has rendered the process of photosynthesis null, killing almost all edible plant-life. As a direct result, almost all animal-life is destroyed and many humans, in their desperate struggle for life, have resorted to enslaving and cannibalizing one another. The phenomenon depicted is almost directly in line with the sort of post-nuclear war scenario that noted scientist, Carl Sagan and his colleagues describe in their 1983 study: Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of Multiple Nuclear Explosions: 1

Cormac McCarthy, The Road (New York: Vantage International, 2006), 52.


Chapter Nine We knew that nuclear explosions, particularly groundbursts, would lift an enormous quantity of…soil particles into the atmosphere…Airbursts over cities and…military installations make fires and therefore smoke… the amount of sunlight at the ground [would be] too dark for plants to [conduct] photosynthesis…land temperatures [would drop] to minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit…virtually all crops and farm animals, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, would be destroyed…Most of the human survivors would starve.2

Inspiration drawn from this scientific research is evident in The Road. As “scientists concerned about the long-term consequences of nuclear war used new theories of mass extinctions to develop the notion of a ‘nuclear winter’”3 McCarthy used the same theories as fodder to create his own dystopic narrative. Meditations upon this theme are in line with McCarthy's own keen interest in scientific matters, evidenced by the fact that the author is a mainstay fixture at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, an organization “devoted to creating a new kind of scientific research community, one emphasizing multi-disciplinary collaboration.”4 In a recent interview, the author discusses his “extensive reading in 20th-century physics, the philosophy of mathematics and animal behavior...What physicists did in the 20th century was one of the extraordinary flowerings ever in the human enterprise,” he said, “They changed reality.”5 But as Maslin writes, McCarthy's language renews and creates a reality of his own—one that tracks a “father’s loving efforts to shepherd his son [through a landscape made] wrenching by the unavailability of food, shelter, safety, companionship or hope in most places where they scavenge to subsist.”6 What's described in The Road is not merely the extinction of a species; he portrays the human-oriented experience of the demise of both planet and civilization. The first issue worthy of examination is McCarthy's own craft with language and how it both reflects and offsets his dystopic, ecological cataclysm. Much like a modernist poet, McCarthy de-and-re-constructs the 2

R.P. Torco, O. B. Toon, T. P. Ackerman, J. B. Pollack and Carl Sagan, “Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of Multiple Nuclear Explosions,” Science, New Series 222.4630 (Dec. 23, 1983): 1283-1292. 3 Stuart K Culver, “Waiting for the End of the World: Catastrophe and the Populist Myth of History.” Configurations 3.3 (Fall 1995): 391-413. 392. 4 Santa Fe Institute. Web. 7 Jun. 2009 (par. 1). 5 Richard B. Woodward, “Cormac Country; Cormac McCarthy Would Rather Hang Out With Physicists.” 6 Janet Maslin, “The Road Through Hell, Paved With Desperation” New York Times (25 Sept. 2006): 7 Jun. 2009. (par. 11).

Linguistic Disintegration in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road


very form of prose. “Parataxis [is] in the first sense… the most salient feature of McCarthy's [writing].”7 Fragmented sentences that mirror the processes of sensory perception are scattered through the text and evoke the fractured status humankind has found itself: In the morning they went on. Desolate country. A boarhide nailed to a barndoor. Ratty. Wisp of a tail. Inside the barn three bodies hanging from the rafters, dried and dusty among the wan slats of light. There could be something here, the boy said. There could be some corn or something. Let's go, the man said.8

The “desolate country” is one mankind, through its folly and lack of environmental concern has created. The very fact that “bodies hanging from rafters” are noted so casually and evoke no reaction from the son shows us how very dismal this universe is. The drumming, steady rhythm evoked by the repetition of sentence fragments lulls and encapsulates the reader within the dreary atmosphere and the imagery is bleak at best. The lack of names, apostrophes and quotation marks in the novel also provokes an eerie sense of displacement within the readers' minds. The main protagonists are known only as “the man” or “the boy.” This absence of any distinguishing signifier causes an almost everyman-effect, causing readers to more readily identify with the unnamed hero and his angst brought on by the savage ruin of his natural world. Much like anything else impractical within this annihilated planet, unnecessary punctuation is also discarded. The boy loses his toys and picture books early on in the novel, and the father too can possess nothing extraneous. Even the old photograph of his dead wife is eventually left behind. Although the father does take time to admire certain objects—the sextant, for instance—he merely stares at it reverentially, wraps it back up and puts it away. The boy's flute, a wonderful trope for sound, beauty, nature and language, also gets unremorsefully thrown away. As father and son abandon all but the most essential (food, water, clothing, gasoline), so too does McCarthy do away with quotation marks and the apostrophes of most contractions. The lack of speaker differentiation also causes an interesting confusion in the minds of the reader. It is very likely that McCarthy purposefully renders the speaker unclear in order to highlight the childlike qualities of the father and the sometimes-mature qualities of the son: 7

Mark Eaton, “Dis(re)membered Bodies: Cormac McCarthy's Border Fiction.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies 49.1 (Spring 2003): 155-180. 167. 8 McCarthy, 17.


Chapter Nine What? he said. What is it? Nothing. Tell me. I think there's someone following us. That's what I thought. That's what you thought? Yes. That's what I thought you were going to say. What do you want to do? I dont know.9

It is nearly impossible to ascertain who the elder speaker in this passage is. It works whether the father or the son starts the dialogue, which serves to emphasize the very vulnerable position both are in. But their discourse does more than obfuscate. Their minimalist mode of conversation is also one that is comforting; it is a catechism-like call and response that highlights the ritualistic, soothing linguistics of parent and child. Are we still the good guys? he said. Yes. We're still the good guys. And we always will be. Yes. We always will be. Okay.10

What's also rather interesting is McCarthy's use of the word “okay” in their dialogue. The word occurs an impressive 168 times and ends a total of 32 conversations. The word itself carries different connotations. At times it's a questing for permission, at other times it's a pressing of will, but most often it's a pleading call for existential reassurance—another ritualistic call and response that serves to reassure that the two are physically and psychically safe: Can we wait a while? Okay. But it's getting dark. I know. Okay… There's no one here… Okay. Are you still scared? Yes. We're okay. Okay.11 9

McCarthy, 193. Ibid., 77. 11 Ibid., 204. 10

Linguistic Disintegration in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road


The two reaffirm their status as “the good guys,” the ones who do not eat people, thus maintaining their moral integrity—and thereby their humanity: We wouldnt ever eat anybody, would we? No. Of course not. Even if we were starving? We're starving now. You said we werent. I said we werent dying. I didnt say we werent starving. But we wouldnt No. We wouldnt. No matter what. No. No matter what. Because we're the good guys. Yes. And we're carrying the fire. And we're carrying the fire. Yes. Okay.12

In contrast to the minimalist speech where words like “okay” falter in their role as conveyors of complex meanings and emotions, McCarthy creates new words in his descriptive passages; neologisms and kennings are dotted throughout, formed out of the need to illustrate the vast and sullen deafening chaos that subsumes the duo. Words like “illucid”13 “parsible,”14 and “salitter”15 rise out of the ash; all sorts of kennings from “feverland”16 to “lampblack”17 to “deathships”18 abound. This embodies the new lyricism that emerges from a fallen and forlorn world. Much as the father uses the fragments of the old epoch to create new tools for survival (rags and oil become lamps, flares become weapons), new words and meanings are also carved out of the old. “Mr. McCarthy’s affinity for words like rachitic and crozzled has as much visceral, atmospheric power as precise meaning. His use of language is as exultant as his imaginings are hellish, a hint that The Road will ultimately be more radiant than it is punishing.”19


McCarthy, 128-29. Ibid., 116. 14 Ibid., 88. 15 Ibid., 261. 16 Ibid., 28. 17 Ibid., 244. 18 Ibid., 218. 19 Maslin, “The Road Through Hell, Paved With Desperation,” (par. 11) 13


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This glossological innovation does not stop at the word-level. McCarthy's prose reads like script from a distant civilization—akin to ours, but not quite part of it: The mummied dead everywhere. The flesh cloven along the bones, the ligaments dried to tug and taut as wires. Shriveled and drawn like latterday bogfolk, their faces of boiled sheeting, the yellow palings of their teeth. They were discalced to a man like pilgrims of some common order for all their shoes were long since stolen.20

But as verdant as McCarthy's prose is, it is all in an ironic service of the portrayal of a world where words die. We see this best represented in the child's own relationship with language. In the beginning of the text, the boy is excited about communication. The father has been painstakingly teaching his son the alphabet and how to read. In the beginning, the son is quite enthusiastic. The two share lessons, conversations, memories and dreams and, despite the suicide of the boy's mother (or perhaps because of it), they develop a close and intimate bond; “You can read me a story…Cant you Papa?” the boy begs his dad.21 Each one depends on the other for love and their close bond enables them to grasp a fleeting semblance of normalcy within their increasingly dark and absurd environment. However, as time progresses, we see the boy retreat away from speech. Whereas previously the child clamored for his father's tales (which persistently and consistently reaffirmed their moral status as “the good guys” who don't cannibalize) the child ultimately rejects his father's stories as untrue: Do you want me to tell you a story? No. Why not? Those stories are not true. They don't have to be true. They're stories. Yes. But in the stories we're always helping people and we don’t help people. Why don't you tell me a story? I don't want to. Okay. I don't have any stories to tell.22 20

McCarthy, 24. Ibid., 7. 22 McCarthy, 268. 21

Linguistic Disintegration in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road


It is apparent that their previous cheerful and comforting discourse has gradually fallen into a numbness of frozen silence. The boy retreats deeper into himself as he distances from stories. The child also begins to refuse to share his dreams: I had some weird dreams. What about? I don't want to tell you.23

The paradigm shift in their relationship continues to unfold as their weariness of the road sets in. Eventually, the child also loses all interest in his lessons: Can you write the alphabet? I can write it. We dont work on your lessons anymore. I know. Can you write something in the sand? Maybe we could write a letter to the good guys… What if the bad guys saw it? Yeah. I shouldnt have said that. We could write them a letter. The boy shook his head. That's okay…24

This important passage illustrates the death of language as a direct consequence of the post-holocaustic world. “We sense the despair when we learn the child knows his alphabet, but does not work on his lessons anymore.”25 Here, the suggested use of language implies hope for the future—the letter to the “good guys.” But the fear and pessimism of the reality the father offers: “What if the bad guys see it?” supplants the idea of positive communication and renders the usage of the written word null. Sometimes the boy's prolonged silences are prompted by a traumatic event, such as when the child is attacked by the would-be murderer. Understandably enough, the child neither talks nor eats for at least twentyfour hours after the event and the father can only speak “into a blackness without depth or dimension.”26 23

Ibid., 252. Ibid., 245. 25 Thomas A. Carlson, “With the World at Heart: Reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road with Augustine and Heidegger.” Religion and Literature 39.3 (Autumn 2007): 47-71. 26 McCarthy, 67. 24


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During another horrific event of the novel, the boy unwittingly stumbles upon the remains of a “charred human infant headless and gutted and blackening on the spit.”27 Aghast, he plunges into his silent world once more. Indeed, the father wonders if the child would “ever speak again.”28 Clearly, these dreadful events cause selective mutism in the boy, a “disorder of childhood characterized by an inability to speak in certain settings…[and is] associated with anxiety.”29 But equally traumatic to the child are the moments of callousness or even cruelty that the father displays towards the other travelers. Indeed, as the father's morality corrodes, the son's despondency, and thus his distance from language, grows. The first instance of this occurs after the two run into a man who had been “struck by lightning.” The boy, always the one to be stricken with compassion for his fellow travelers, begs his father to help the stranger, but his father refuses, claiming, “there was nothing to be done for him.”30 This strikes the child to the core; he is only able to “cry,” “nod,” and “look down.” Again, for at least an entire day, he is unable to speak—finally prompting his father to ask him, “So when are you going to speak with me again?”31 This becomes a recurring theme between the pair. As the son falls into more lengthy periods of withdrawn silence, it increasingly disturbs his father, who ultimately is reduced to begging and cajoling his son back into conversation. In fact, variations of the very phrase, “You have to talk to me” are repeated at least ten times throughout the text. But the father can do little to pull the boy out of his selective mutism. The child's disorder, however, isn't merely an unfortunate posttraumatic by-product. Part of it is also born from the boy's need to display his own power over his father. As loving as the man is, he is also oftentimes repressive and seeks to impose his will upon the child at every turn. He must stop and go when his father tells him; he must enter unnatural abodes that are truly terrifying; he cannot stay where he prefers (as by the river or in the bunker). Some of this may turn out to be tolerable for the child, but what clearly isn't tolerable is when the father mistreats others. There is no clearer indication of this then when they reach the shore and their precious cart of goods is stolen. Driven to distraction, the father finally apprehends the thief and humiliates the wretch by forcing him to strip of his clothes. Throughout the ordeal, the boy desperately tries 27

Ibid., 198. Ibid., 199. 29 Selective Mutism Group, “What is Selective Mutism (SMG),” 2009. (par.1) 30 McCarthy, 50. 31 Ibid., 52. 28

Linguistic Disintegration in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road


to intervene, but when it is apparent he can do nothing, the child simply “puts his hands over his ears”32 sobs and retreats into his customary wordlessness. But the death of language isn't only made manifest in the boy's aversion to words. Concomitantly, other examples of literacy and linguistics break apart. Tropes of this phenomenological breakdown abound. Any time the duo discover a book or a library, it is always within a context of destruction: he'd stood in the charred ruins of a library where blackened books lay in pools of water. Shelves tipped over. Some rage at the lies arranged in their thousands row on row. He picked up one of the books and thumbed through the heavy bloated pages…He let the book fall…”33 “The space of this written and once living memory, the library as it appears here in its ruin, was essentially—and the ruin itself illuminates this—a space of expectation…by this story of the failure and fall of books and their possibility…”34

“Dying words”35 become the un-mourned victims of the apocalypse. The man finally becomes “too tired for reading.”36 When he discovers “Soggy volumes in a bookcase,” he takes “one down and open[s] it and then put[s] it back. Everything damp. Rotting.”37 All books in this novel are either “swollen and shapeless,”38 water-damaged and faded, found, glanced at and, without exception, tossed away. They are ignored and dismissed as useless artifacts from a bygone era. Words have faltered and language has failed: the names of things slowly following those things into oblivion. Colors, the names of birds. Things to eat. Finally, the names of things one believed to be true. More fragile than he would have thought. How much was already gone? The sacred idiom shorn of its referents and so of its reality.39

Thomas A. Carlson, an essayist on McCarthy asks, “What become of time and language, of life and story, in the presence of such darkness, in the 32

McCarthy, 259. Ibid.,, 187. 34 Carlson, 15. 35 Ibid.,, 31. 36 Ibid., 10. 37 Ibid., 130. 38 Ibid., 226. 39 McCarthy, 74-5. 33


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seeming collapse of the world…What role would memory and expectation [play] in sustaining the time and language of a world sufficiently living to bear (or to be born by) the telling of a story?”40 Vereen Bell would seem to provide an answer: “The world itself is always insisting upon its own reality; it is then to be dealt with as itself and not as the subordinated service of ideas.”41 The concept of God, as embodied within the natural world, is a complex and tricky one. At one end of the spectrum we have the relentless freezing and darkening of an unobserved and insignificant planet: He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like groundfoxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.42

But descriptions of this sort are juxtaposed with musings of a more theological nature. God exists in the minds of men and it creates profound effects—especially within the framework of language. As Carlson indicates, “The Road engages us in a meditation—both literary and religious—on the essential interplay of world and heart.”43 As the ecological realm is destroyed, so too is the concept of God. From the beginning, language and divinity is intrinsically associated with the child; some may even argue that this is even an intertextual reference to Christianity. In his review, Steve Gehrke makes the observation that “the father is partly driven by a religious zealotry that McCarthy seems only half-invested in44; but it is clear that McCarthy is deeply involved in the exploration of this theme. The child clearly evokes religious sentiment in the mind of the father who describes himself as appointed by God to care for the child.45 As The Gospel of John opens with, “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God,”46 the 40

Carlson, 55. Vince Brewton, “The Changing Landscape of Violence in Cormac McCarthy's Early Novels and the Border Trilogy” The Southern Literary Journal 37.1 (Fall 2004): 121-143. (Bell qtd. in Brewton 127) 42 McCarthy, 130. 43 Carlson 9. 44 Steve Gehrke, “The Road (review),” The Missouri Review 30.1 (Spring 2007): 151. 45 McCarthy, 77. 46 King James Bible. Biblios.com. 2004. John 1:1. 41

Linguistic Disintegration in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road


father says of the boy, “If he is not the word of God, God never spoke.”47 The father uses a similar metaphor again when he claims that “on the road there are no godspoke men.”48 Thus, in this novel, the ontological nature of words is indelibly welded to the notion of divinity. McCarthy creates deeply connective tissue between the semantics of language, the construction of character and the natural realm. As the dark cloud surrounds the earth, so does caliginosity befall humanity. As trees fail to gain their much-needed light, so too, does mankind revert from learning and thought. Representations of speech, writing, oral tales—all disintegrate while ecology and climate concomitantly decay. As the environment is destroyed, so too is compassion and ethos. But language, like the planet, displays naturally regenerative powers, and does reaffirm itself—in the resurrection of thoughts, gods and speech. Directly before and after the father's demise, we see a transformation in the child as evidenced by the father and son's last poignant conversation. As he lays dying, the elder again instructs his child to talk with him; but this time, the speech evolves: If I'm not here you can still talk to me. You can talk to me and I'll talk to you. You'll see. Will I hear you? Yes. You will. You have to make it like talk that you imagine. And you'll hear me. You have to practice. Just don’t give up. Okay? Okay.49

And so the child very lovingly and obediently, “closed his eyes and talked to him and he kept his eyes closed and listened. Then he tried again.”50 After his father passes, he whispers, “I'll talk to you every day.”51 The boy’s silent speech to his father is almost directly identified as prayer, again solidifying the thematic link between semantics and spirituality. When the child is very conveniently discovered in the end (by a nuclear family with a mother and daughter, no less), the mother instructs the boy to pray to God. But the child finds it easier to keep his father in mind and heart: He tried to talk to God but the best thing was to talk to his father and he did talk to him and he didnt forget. The woman said that was all right. She said 47

McCarthy, 5. Ibid., 32. 49 Ibid., 279. 50 McCarthy, 280. 51 McCarthy, 286. 48


Chapter Nine that the breath of God was his breath yet though it pass from man to man through all of time.52

And so language, with its divine spark of humanity and meaning, is ultimately “the fire” that the two have carefully tended and carried. Throughout the narrative, the father uses this ambiguous and undefined image to bring meaning to the son's life. The boy often entertains selfdestructive thoughts, but it is clear that the idea of carrying the flame brings him hope: You have to carry the fire. I dont know how to. Yes, you do. Is it real? The fire? Yes it is. I dont know where it is. Yes you do. It's inside you. It was always there. I can see it.53

The trope can also be wedded to the construct of rhetoric and its contrapuntal, ecocritical theme. This symbol of fire has ingrained itself so much into the child's psyche that when he is discovered by the man “in a gray and yellow ski parka,” it is the subject of his first question: Are you carrying the fire? Am I what? Carrying the fire.54

When his rescuer answers in the affirmative, the boy knows that he is safe at last. And thus, the fire of language, as embodied by the violent beauty of McCarthy's word-craft, presents the only relief in this artificial, cold and unrelenting world. The Road serves as warning, not just of an environmental decay, but of a moral one as well. Having been born in 1933, McCarthy came of age during the twentieth century's great holocaust and many of his formative years were spent under the dismal threat of the nuclear bomb. It is no wonder that McCarthy chooses to work with such themes and create a world that, though fictitious, reflects the non-illusory teleological, if not eschatological, folly and destructive nature


McCarthy, 286. McCarthy 278-9. 54 McCarthy, 283. 53

Linguistic Disintegration in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road


of humanity. But as bleak as a universe McCarthy has painted is, he takes great pains to make sure it is not without hope.


Once upon a time in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of “world history,” but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die. One might invent such a fable, and yet he would still not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happen. —Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense.”

In the world of fiction, the genres of sci-fi and fantasy purportedly seek to offer an escape from our everyday reality. As the Kennedys argue in “Science Fiction/Fantasy Films, Fairy Tales and Control: Landscape Stereotypes on a Wilderness to Ultra-Urban Continuum,” science fiction and fantasy are “derived from or are reflective of actual geographic space or place. In many fairy tales, the landscape, the ugly reality that the hero or heroine must struggle through, with or overcome, can be seen as the antagonist. It is a place, at least potentially, outside the control of the protagonist”1. It is the environment, or the oppressor in control of the environment, that prompts the protagonist’s initial escape. In Richard Adams’ Watership Down, this trope is clearly exhibited. The novel, which exemplifies the collective escape of rabbits from an oppressive warren, 1

Christina Kennedy, et al. “Science Fiction/Fantasy Films, Fairy Tales and Control: Landscape Stereotypes on a Wilderness to Ultra-Urban Continuum.” Cinema and Landscape, Graeme Harper and Jonathan Rayne, eds. (Bristol: Intellect, 2009), par. 1.


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reveals the many assaults the nonhuman must face in a world that has become blatantly anthropocentric. Watership Down is not only a novel about rabbit survival; it is a novel that explicitly connects environmental concerns with fictional representation. The refugee rabbits, who are in search of a different home, reveal the devastating impact of modernization upon the nonhuman world. By giving voice, reason and agency to the rabbits, I argue that Watership Down is a novel that expresses incipient ecocritical concerns. Despite the fact the novel has historically been couched in the tradition of “fantasy,” I emphasize that Watership Down inhabits the genre while also coupling urgent environmental concerns within the plot.  In Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking ecocritical text Silent Spring, she examines the relationship between man’s power over the natural world and the devastating impact such power has had on the ecosphere. As she argues: The history of life on earth has been a history of interaction between living things and their surroundings. To a large extent, the physical form and the habits of the earth’s vegetation and its animal life have been molded by the environment. Considering the whole span of earthly time, the opposite effect, in which life actually modifies its surroundings, has been relatively slight. Only within the moment of time represented by the present century as one species—man—acquired significant power to alter the nature of the world.2

The entire movement of ecocriticism is distinctly predicated on “the interaction between living things and their surroundings,” and, more importantly, the need to give agency to the nonhuman world. The land, the environment, shapes our life, our adaptability. But man’s increased control and dominion over the environment has drastically altered the integrity of our ecosystems. In a world that has become technological, our concerns have become centered on “saving the environment” in a way that is catered towards the interests of the human world. Ecocriticism, however, maintains the “connection between humankind and other living systems” in order to “maintain the planet for future habitation”3. Literature, in this respect, offers an important medium through which to explore this connection and can transform our attitudes towards the land, towards the nonhuman world. 2

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1962) 5. Yvonne Hammer, “Confronting Ecological Futures: Global Environment Crises in Contemporary Survival Quests for Young Adults.” Barnboken: Swedish Institute for Children’s Books 33.2 (2010), 37.


Ecofantasy and Animal Dystopia in Richard Adams’ Watership Down


Richard Adams’ Watership Down is a novel that deploys an ecocritical lens from within the genre of fantasy. At the beginning of the novel, we immediately learn that the protagonist, Hazel, has an important decision to make regarding his rabbit warren. From the outset we see that Hazel is primarily concerned with the future and vitality of the group over the individual. Furthermore, we discover that rabbits experience a profoundly different relationship with the land than the human—further expressing the novel’s desire to transform our ontological orientation towards nature itself. Australian deep ecologist John Seed examines and describes the importance of this transformative ontology: When I realize that I don’t have any independent existence, that I am part of a food chain, for instance, then at a certain point Me-first and Earth-first become inseparable. I feel that’s the best position to be coming from—to realize one’s identity with the Earth. ‘Myself’ now includes the rainforest, it includes clean air and water.”4

By giving voice, agency and reason to a group of rabbit protagonists, Adams inalterably gives agency to the earth. He urges us to identify with the nonhuman world so that we might begin to transform our anthropocentric orientation into a more ethical, ecocentric perspective. I quote at length the following passage, which explicitly details a group ethic over individual concerns—a tenet of ecological criticism: Rabbits, of course, have no idea of precise time or punctuality. In this respect they are much the same as primitive people, who often take several days over assembling for some purpose and then several more to get started. Before such people can act together, a kind of telepathic feeling has to flow through them and ripen to the point when they all know they are ready to begin. Anyone who has seen the martins and swallows in September, assembling on the telephone wires, twittering, making short flights singly and in groups over the open, stubbly fields, returning to form longer and even longer lines above the yellowing verges of the lanes—the hundreds of individual birds merging and blending, in a mountain excitement, into swarms…until that moment when the greater part (but not all) of them know that the time has come: they are off, and have begun once more that great southward flight which many will not survive; anyone seeing this has seen at work the current that flows (among creatures who think of themselves primarily part of a group and only secondarily, if at all,


John Seed, “Deep Ecology Down Under,” an interview in Turtle Talk: Voices for a Sustainable Future, Christopher Plant and Judith Plant, eds (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1990).


Chapter Ten individuals) to fuse them together and impel them into action without conscious thought or will.5

Time, punctuality, precision: these are human concerns, concerns that are symptomatic of the West’s desire to maintain order, control and dominion over both the human and nonhuman world. Producing an orderly, prompt population assures the regulatory functioning of Western power. The environment, the nonhuman world, however, refuses to ascribe to this mode of being. In fact, the natural world is inherently erratic, chaotic and unpredictable. Man’s desire to maintain order over the natural world reveals his desire to control the land according to his will. As exemplified within this passage, however, birds, rabbits and other species simply do not adhere to this understanding; these species privilege the longevity and vitality of the community over the individual. Furthermore, their actions are predicated on the natural changes and cycles of the earth—actions that are antithetical to Western man’s motives, who seeks to stabilize and dominate the land according to his individualized, egocentric motives. As we have begun to see, Watership Down challenges us to look at other modalities of being, of livelihood, through the perspective of rabbits. The way in which these animals interact with the natural world radically challenges Western modes of inhabitation. Humans, unlike nonhumans, have been mechanistically inscribed by the ethos of Western bodily instrumentalism—an inscription Michel Foucault deconstructs in The History of Sexuality: Volume I. As Foucault reveals, one of the most integral examples of Western civilization’s impulse to cipher control over the population is an administration of the individual body. As he argues, “starting in the seventeenth century, this power over life” was “centered on the body as a machine: its disciplining, the optimization of its capabilities, the extortion of its forces, the parallel increase of its usefulness and its docility, its integration into systems of efficient and economic controls”6 (italics added). By honing in on the individual body, the West began to perfect its ability to transform the body into a “machine,” a useful, pliable means of totalized “efficient and economic controls.”7 As Foucault emphasizes, an increased focus on the “usefulness” of the body dramatically changed the ways in which humans perceive themselves in relation to the natural world. I augment Foucault’s argument by adding that this increased focus on the management of life and human concerns 5

Richard Adams, Watership Down, (New York: Avon, 1972), 25-26. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: Volume I, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990), 139. 7 Ibid., 140. 6

Ecofantasy and Animal Dystopia in Richard Adams’ Watership Down


exacerbated the divide between the human and nonhuman world. Man became increasingly obsessed with his development as an individual. By situating himself over and against the natural world, man further deploys his power to control, mediate and garner authority over the land—further increasing his “usefulness” and “efficiency.” No doubt, this consciousness has led to our current environmental crisis. In fact, most environmental movements are interested in securing the natural world for the future of humanity. If we are to truly examine and challenge this ethos, we must reconceptualize our relationship with the environment. Watership Down does just that. In addition to privileging the importance of the group over the individual, the novel reveals how we, as humans, have lost our connection with the natural world. Furthermore, the novel exemplifies how we can learn many lessons from the nonhuman world. As Adams writes, “one watch succeeded another through the day, though how the rabbits judged the passing of time is something that civilized human beings have lost the power to feel. Creatures that have neither clocks nor books are alive to all manner of knowledge about time and the weather; and about direction, too, as we know from their extraordinary migratory and homing journeys.”8 Animals experience the natural world through their immediate, direct relationship with it. Migration, for instance, is a profound example of how animals, birds and other species decipher their own agency in relation with the natural world. As Adams infers, humans have “lost the power to feel” this connection. Humans privilege “sight” over other senses, which results in a unilateral, obfuscated perception of the environment. He makes this apparent in the following passage: No human beings, except the courageous and experienced blind, are able to sense much in a strange place where they cannot see, but with rabbits it is otherwise. They spend half their lives underground in darkness or neardarkness, and touch, smell and hearing convey as much or more to them than sight.9

While animals utilize their senses, their instincts, to navigate, men have lost that capability. As Adams infers, men have lost their connection with the natural world and only experience nature on their own terms—terms that relegate nature to little more than fodder for development. As Luce Irigaray argues, “even as man seeks to rise higher and higher—in his knowledge too—so the ground fractures beneath his feet. ‘Nature’ is 8 9

Adams, Watership Down, 53. Ibid., 80.


Chapter Ten

forever dodging his projects of representation, of reproduction.”10 Much like Irigaray’s assertion that “nature is forever dodging” man’s continual “projects of representation and reproduction,” the rabbits are forever “dodging” man’s assault on the landscape. In Watership Down the rabbits inhabit this very ground, thus revealing the delicate, vulnerable connection between humans and nonhumans. The more humans aspire to know, to develop and order the land, the further divided he becomes from the natural world. Throughout the novel, Adams consistently reveals this divide and illustrates the impact of man’s development on the nonhuman world: “The way in which [Adams] approaches nature is not entirely divorced from political considerations, and the pastoral element is important for an understanding of the text as a whole. Whilst Watership Down gives expression to protests against the destruction of nature, it also lends a particular inflection to the ecological theme.”11 This “ecological theme” is the framework through which the narrative is expressed. In the following conversation between Hazel and Bigwig, for instance, we see how difficult it is for rabbits to conceptualize modernization—something with which we, as humans, perceive as a natural tenet of modern life: Hazel looked down at the road in astonishment. For a moment he thought he was looking at another river—black, smooth and straight between its banks. Then he saw the gravel embedded in the tar and watched a spider running over the surface. ‘But that’s not natural,’ he said, sniffing the strong smells or tar and oil. ‘What is it? How did it come there?’ ‘It’s a man thing,’ said Bigwig. ‘They put that stuff there and then the hrududil run on it—faster than we can; and what else can run faster than we?’ ‘It’s dangerous, then? They can catch us?’ ‘No, that’s what’s so odd. They don’t take any notice of us at all.”12 (italics added).

The rabbits are baffled by roads and cars, or in lapine terms, “hrududil.” They can only understand the natural world in terms of its interconnectivity; roads, cars, technology—these only serve as barriers. As Hazel astutely 10

Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman, trans Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985), 134. 11 Christopher Pawling, “Watership Down: Rolling Back the 1960s” Popular Fiction and Social Chang (1984), 220. 12 Adams, Watership Down, 56.

Ecofantasy and Animal Dystopia in Richard Adams’ Watership Down


recognizes, the humans “don’t take any notice” of nonhuman creatures or the kind of impact modern development has on the natural world. This passage reveals our inherent negligence of the living natural world. We blatantly conceal the living world from our conscience, which allows us to dominate, expand and develop the land at our will. In this regard, we can perceive Watership Down as an inherently dystopic novel, depicting the fallacies and life-threatening impact of modernization on the natural world. As Yvonne Hammer argues in “Confronting Ecological Futures: Global Environmental Crises in Contemporary Survival Quests for Young Adults,” “Dystopian settings imply a critique of failed human societal systems: the destructive capacities of contemporary world orders are exposed and ethical issues posited, namely, the acceptance of further action. Within the interactive space that is constructed between dystopian and utopian visions, each refugee protagonist is represented within social spaces that either limit or empower an ongoing survival journey.”13 Indeed, Watership Down is an “ongoing survival journey,” in which the rabbits must work together to escape the loss of their own home, their own environment. Time and again throughout the novel, the rabbits comment on the destructive motives of man. In chapter 21, “For El-ahrairah to Cry,” Holly, one of the novel’s rabbit protagonists, details how developers have taken over the warren and have begun clearing the land and exterminating the rabbits. As Holly states, “Men will never rest until they’ve spoiled the earth and destroyed the animals.”14 From Holly’s perspective, machines and industry have no place in the natural world—they only serve to decimate the land and its resources. Perceiving industrial development from this incredulous perspective forces the reader to sympathize with the rabbit’s dystopic perspective. As Yvonne Hammer insists: Dystopian settings imply a critique of failed human societal systems: the destructive capacities of contemporary world orders are exposed and ethical issues posited, namely, the acceptance of further marginalization of the innocent, the use of control and surveillance, and an avoidance of social and political responsibilities toward displaced subjects.15 In Watership Down, the rabbits are the “displaced subjects,” who have been forced off their land by men. The entirety of the novel revolves around the rabbits’ need to find a new domicile and they are repeatedly horrified by man’s destructive, violent actions. As Christopher Pawling points out in “Watership Down: Rolling Back the 1960s, “Adams evokes a 13

Hammer, “Confronting Ecological Futures,” 39. Adams, Watership Down, 157. 15 Hammer, “Confronting Ecological Futures,” 41. 14


Chapter Ten

quality of fragility in his description of the natural world…thereby underlining the vulnerability of the world in the face of man’s insensitivity and his technological armory.”16 Holly’s description of a bulldozer clearing the old warren exemplifies his awe and sadness for “man’s insensitivity and his technological armory”: ‘Upon my life, said Holly, trembling, ‘it buried itself in the ground and pushed great masses of earth in front of it until the field was destroyed. The whole place became like a cattle wade in winter and you could no longer tell where any part of the field had been, between the wood and the brook. Earth and roots and grass and bushed it pushed before it and—and other things as well, from underground…Bluebell had been saying that he knew the men hated us for raiding their crops and gardens, and Toadflax answered, ‘That wasn’t why they destroyed the warren. It was just because we were in their way. They killed us to suit themselves.’17

Perhaps the most important line from this passage is Holly’s depiction of why the men destroyed the rabbit warren: “it was just because we were in their way.” The humans have no regard for the animals as subjects— instead they are an obstacle, a nuisance, which hinders their progress. In his repeated, critical depictions of development, industry and technology, I argue that Adams is intuiting the need for a paradigm shift, and in many ways, inhabits the position of a transpersonal ecologist. As Michael Zimmerman argues in Contesting Earth’s Future: Radical Ecology and Postmodernity, “transpersonal ecologists maintain that human maturity and ecological sanity require identifying with what lies beyond the personal ego-structure. Such wider identification brings about a new fieldlike sense of self and a nondomineering attitude to what formerly seemed ‘other.’”18 In Watership Down, humans perceive rabbits as inherently “other”; this perception is what allows the men to justifiably exterminate all living things that are in the way of their development. The men in the novel epitomize Western ideals of ego-fulfillment, that is, every action the men take is in response to their own self-centered ideals; the men identify the land as an extension of their own ego-structure and, therefore, their territory. In Elizabeth Grosz’s words, “This anchoring of subjectivity in its body is the condition of coherent identity, and, moreover, the condition under which the subject has a perspective on the world, becomes the point


Adams, Watership Down, 142. Ibid., 162-3. 18 Michael Zimmerman, Contesting Earth’s Future: Radical Ecology and Postmodernity, Berkeley: University of California, 1994. 17

Ecofantasy and Animal Dystopia in Richard Adams’ Watership Down


from which vision emanates.”19 Adams, however, “perceives rabbits and humans as representing autonomous threads within a weave of animalness understandable as much through sociological and psychological similarity as through anatomical and physiological difference.”20 By giving voice and agency to animals, Adams urges us to identify the similarities that coexist within the human and nonhuman world. Throughout the novel Adams deliberately points out the differences between man and animal, helping us realize the ways in which we can revise our own ideals to mimic that of the rabbits. As the rabbits continue their journey to a new place, they are repeatedly confronted with danger and conflict. In seeking to protect their group, the rabbits often must fight for their survival. But Adams points out an important difference between men and animals: “Animals don’t behave like men…If they have to fight, they fight; and if they have to kill, they kill. But they don’t sit down and set their wits to work to devise ways of spoiling other creatures’ lives and hurting them. They have dignity and animality.”21 The motives of the animals are not premeditated; they are not intended to deliberately harm another species’ existence. Because the rabbits’ livelihood is directly predicated on their relationship with the earth, their day-to-day survival changes as they move through the landscape. The novel, in many ways, reminds us that “there is value in any experience that reminds us of our dependency on the soil-plant-animal-man food chain, and of the fundamental organization of the biota. Civilization has so cluttered this elemental man-earth relation with gadgets and middlemen that awareness of it is growing dim. We fancy that industry supports us, forgetting what supports industry.”22 Watership Down repeatedly draws attention to our innate “dependency” on the food chain and, furthermore, the ways in which our civilized life further endangers the alterity and integrity of the natural world. The many obstacles and encounters the rabbits experience, which are initially prompted by human intervention, remind us of just how fragile and delicate the life cycle is. Watership Down urges us to recuperate our relationship with the natural world. Adams’ critical depiction of modern development signals his desire to deploy a “nondomineering attitude” to the land, to the animals—each of which are tenets of an ecocritically concerned text. As 19

Elizabeth Grosz, Space, Time and Perversion: Essays on the Politics of Bodies, New York: Routledge, 1995. 89. 20 Adams, Watership Down, 142. 21 Ibid., 243. 22 Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There, New York: Oxford, 1949. 148.


Chapter Ten

Yvonne Hammer asserts, an “ecocritical frame” argues that a “connection between humankind and other living systems implies an obligation to maintain the planet for future habitation. Thus ecocritical views are conveyed through a dystopian lens that reflects refugee issues of exclusion” while also advocating for the “development of agential behaviors, [animal] resilience, relational strategies and negotiation of social justice issues.”23 The animals, who are all refugees, learn to develop survival and group skills to survive. Despite man’s most dogged attempts to decimate the natural world, rabbits become increasingly more resilient. As Adams illustrates, Rabbits…are like human beings in many ways. One of these is certainly their staunch ability to withstand disaster and to let the stream of their life carry them along, past reaches of terror and loss. They have a certain quality which it would not be accurate to describe as callousness or indifference. It is, rather, a blessedly circumscribed imagination and intuitive feeling that Life is Now. A foraging wild creature, intent upon all survival, is as strong as the grass.24

In many ways, the novel seeks to revise the relationship between men with the natural world. Adams is unsympathetic to human development; in the spirit of Aldo Leopold, the novel reveals “that men are only fellowvoyagers with other creatures in the odyssey of evolution.”25 Indeed, men have created the tumultuous, chaotic conditions in which the rabbits are forced to survive. By decentralizing man’s power, and placing animals at the center of the story, Adams urges us to reconsider our relationship with the natural world in the hopes that “this new knowledge” may give us a “sense of kinship with fellow-creatures; a wish to live and let live; a sense of wonder of the magnitude and duration of the biotic enterprise.”26 Despite the novel’s explicit ecocritical concerns, however, Watership Down is not without its flaws. While attempting to critique the destructive values of Western civilization, the novel reinstates many human hierarchies that have contributed to the very ecological issues Adams eschews. For instance, the novel remains centered on primarily male values; females are virtually nonexistent or only serve to propagate the reproductive needs of the group. Female rabbits are not even mentioned in the plot until Hazel realizes the longevity of the group is in peril. It is only at this point that the male rabbits begin to search for females. As Jane 23

Hammer, “Confronting Ecological Futures”, 37. Adams, Watership Down, 167. 25 Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 109. 26 Ibid., 109. 24

Ecofantasy and Animal Dystopia in Richard Adams’ Watership Down


Resh Thomas argues in “Old Worlds and New: Anti-Feminism in Watership Down,” “it seems odd that Adams counters an ugly totalitarian society with a system where females are merely interchangeable ciphers, one easily ignores that discrepancy too, because the females are unessential baggage, present only to motivate the male characters, not necessary to the story for their own individual sakes.”27 In the novel, females have no subjectivity, no agency; they serve as vessels of reproduction and male necessity. In many ways, Adams’ characterization of female rabbits in the story reinstitutes the problematic values of Western civilization he wishes to critique. As Luce Irigaray astutely argues, in the Western world women function “as a choice, but a choice that has always already been made by ‘nature,’ between a male pleasure and her role as a vehicle for procreation.”28 This fissure in Adams’ plot structure obfuscates the novel’s potential for producing a legitimately sound ecological critique of Western value systems. Watership Down is a novel about environmental resilience and animal agency. Despite its overtly patriarchal overtones, it nevertheless deserves consideration as one of the field’s inaugural ecocritical texts. The fantastic element of the text is not the rabbits’ ability to communicate and act like humans; but rather, the fantasy, the surreal element, is humankind’s unprecedented violence against nonhuman nature. In this respect, the novel is not only about attributing agency to the nonhuman world, but it is also about revising the ways in which we perceive nature. In R. Radhakrishnan’s words, in the wake of our current environmental crisis, “it is crucial to coordinate a critical human position that neither squares off against nature nor succumbs to the religion of nature as though the only way to consecrate, valorize, and dignify the human is through a profound genuflection to nature.”29 Indeed, Watership Down instructs us to offer more care and attention to the living, nonhuman world. It also teaches us to revise our ideals of inhabitation, development—or before it’s too late we, too, like the rabbits, may become exiles in our own homelands.


Jane Resh Thomas, “Old Worlds and New: Anti-Feminism in Watership Down.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 7.4 (Winter 1982). Par 15. 28 Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman, 166. 29 R Radhkrishnan, History, the Human, and the World Between, Durham: Duke, 2008. 247.


Adams, Carol, ed. 1993, Ecofeminism and the Sacred, New York: The Continuum Adams, Richard. 1972, Watership Down, New York: Avon. Arendt, Hannah. 1958, The Human Condition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. —. 1951, The Origins of Totalitarianism, New York: Harcourt, Inc. Atwood, Margaret. 1986, The Handmaid’s Tale, New York: Anchor Books. —. 2003, Oryx and Crake, New York: Anchor Books. —. 2009, The Year of the Flood, New York: Anchor Books. Isaac Asimov. 1984, I, Asimov: A Memoir Paperback, New York: Bantam. Bleiler, Everett F. 1990, Science-Fiction: The Early Years, Kent, OH: Kent State UP. Butler, Octavia E. 1993, Parable of the Sower, New York: Warner Books, 1993. Card, Orson Scott. 2001, Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the Twentieth Century, New York: The Berkley Publishing Company. Carson, Rachel. 1962, Silent Spring, New York: Houghton Mifflin. Diamond, Irene and Gloria Feman Orenstein. 1990, Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism, San Francisco: Sierra Club. Dobson. Andrew. 2007, Green Political Thought, 4th Ed., New York: Routledge. Donnachie, Ian. 2000, Robert Owen: Owen of New Lanark and New Harmony, East Lothian, Scotland. Drengson, Alan and Yuichi Inoue. 1995, The Deep Ecology Movement: An Introductory Anthology, Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books. George Sessions, Ed. 1995, Deep Ecology for the 21st Century: Readings on the Philosophy and the Practice of the New Environmentalism, Boston: Shambhala. Grebowicz, Margaret, Ed. 2007, SciFi in the Mind’s Eye: Reading Science through Science, Chicago: Open Court. Griffith, Nicola. 1985, Slow River, New York: Ballantine Books. Held, Serge-Simon. 1931, La Mort du Fer. Paris: Fayard. Jameson, Fredric. 2005, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions, London: Verso.


Select Bibliography

Kunstler, James Howard, The Long Emergency, New York: Grove Press, 2005. L’officier, Jean-Marc and Randy. 2000, French Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Pulp Fiction, Jefferson, NC: McFarland. Leopold, Aldo. 1949, A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There, New York: Oxford. Lockridge, Larry. 1994, Shade of the Raintree, New York: Viking Penguin. McCarthy, Cormac. 2006, The Road, New York: Vantage International. Moran, Emilio F. 2006, People and Nature: An Introduction to Human Ecological Relations, Malden, MA: Blackwell. Morris, William. 1891, News from Nowhere, or an Epoch of Rest: Being Some Chapters from a Utopian Romance, London: Reeves & Turner. Publishing Company. Radhkrishnan, R. 2008, History, the Human, and the World Between, Durham: Duke UP. Sadoul, Jacques. 1973, Histoire de la Science-Fiction Moderne (19111971), Paris: Albin Michel. Suvin, Darko. 1979, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, New Haven: Yale UP. Tolkien, J.R.R. 1937, The Hobbit, London: Allen & Unwin. —. 1954, The Lord of the Rings, London: Allen & Unwin. Yamashita, Karen Tei. 1990, Through the Arc of the Rainforest, Minneapolis: Coffee House. Zimmerman, Michael E. 1994, Contesting Earth’s Future: Radical Ecology and Postmodernity, Berkeley: University of California.


Frederick Waage is a Professor in the Literature & Language at East Tennessee S.U. He has a special interest in environmental literature & writing. Some of his recent publications include: Stream-Divided Earth: The Ecology of Ross Lockridge’s Raintree County, Sinking Creek Journal: An Environmental Book of Days, and Teaching North American Environmental Literature (co-editor). Chris Baratta is a doctoral candidate in English at Binghamton University (SUNY). His interests include ecocriticism, 18th and 19th century American literature and culture, post-WWII American literature and culture, political discourse, and, of course, science fiction and fantasy literature. His dissertation is titled “Everything Will Again be Great and Mighty”: How the Counterculture Shaped and Influenced Current Environmental Thought.” Annette Magid is a Professor at SUNY Erie Community College in Buffalo, New York. Among her scholarly interests are children’s literature, science fiction, creative writing, and poetry. She is the author of a book of poetry titled Tunnel of Stone (2002) and editor of You are What You Eat: Literary Probes into the Palate (2008) and Women of Accomplishment (2001). Susan Bernardo is a Professor at Wagner College in New York. Her academic interests include Anne Thackeray Ritchie’s fiction, ecocriticism, Oscar Wilde’s essays and short fiction, and Victorian Fiction. Some of her publications include Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion and Gender Reconstructions: Pornography and Perversions in Literature and Culture (co-editor). Melanie Dawson is a Visiting Assistant Professor at William & Mary College in Virginia. Her scholarly interests include late nineteenth and early twentieth-century American literature, cultural studies, history and theory of the novel, and the intersections of literature and material cultures. Her publications include Laboring to Pay: Home Entertainment



and the Spectacle of Middle-Class Cultural Life 1850-1920 and The American 1890s: A Cultural Reader (co-editor). Audrey Golden is an English Ph.D. candidate at the University of Virginia. Her research focuses on postwar law and literature, with specific attention to the intertwining of international human rights law and the literary form. Her work examines how texts narrativize human rights and the related manifestations of emigration, refugeeism, and statelessness, as well as literary-legal issues of citizenship, reparation, and testimony. Sean Murray is an Assistant Professor of English Composition at St. John’s University’s (NY) Institute for Writing Studies. His research interests include academic service-learning, the history and politics of higher education, and science fiction studies. Keira Hambrick graduated in 2011 from the University of Nevada, Reno with her Masters degree in Literature & Environment studies. Her thesis, The End of Apocalypse: The Rhetoric of Apocalypse in Contemporary Environmental Discourse, explores how apocalyptic tropes function in works of ecologically themed nonfiction, fiction, and science fiction. Keira currently teaches freshman composition and writes grants for environmental education non-profit organizations in Northern Nevada. She hopes to continue to develop her science fiction scholarship by pursuing a PhD. Dawn A. Saliba is a pursuing a PhD with Binghamton University where she is working on a dissertation titled, Incantations: The (Re)Presentation of Witchcraft Upon the Jacobean Stage. She also teaches poetry and drama at Five Towns College. She holds an MFA from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts where she studied creative writing. Her current research strives to synthesize a historical cultural approach to literature with the theoretical deconstruction of performative liminality. Christine Battista received her PhD in English, General Literature & Rhetoric at SUNY Binghamton in December 2010. Her primary interests include ecocritical approaches to literature, feminism, animal studies, rhetoric & composition and American Studies. She currently is a Lecturer in the Department of Arts and Sciences at Johnson and Wales, Denver.


A Adams, Richard......8, 157, 159, 160 Watership Down8, 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 162, 163, 164, 165, 166, 167 allegory ..................5, 7, 31, 94, 103 An Inconvenient Truth 124, 125, 141 animality.................................... 165 anthropocentric2, 4, 5, 8, 33, 34, 36, 81, 88, 158, 159 apocalypse7, 25, 107, 108, 129, 131, 132, 134, 138, 141, 142, 151 technological apocalypsism .... 18 apocalyptic ......7, 11, 16, 20, 27, 93, 111, 114, 115, 120, 130, 131, 132, 134, 135, 138, 139, 140, 141, 143 apocalypticism...129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 142 Arendt, Hannah ...7, 93, 94, 96, 103, 109 The Human Condition...7, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 100, 101, 102, 106, 108 The Origins of Totalitarianism 7, 94, 96, 97, 98, 104 Asimov, Isaac............................ 1, 4 Atwood, Margaret .7, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 142

B Baggins, Frodo ....34, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 42, 43, 44 biocentric....................................... 5 biology..60, 68, 77, 79, 80, 114, 123 Bradbury, Ray ............................... 4 Brummett, Barry........................ 132 Buell, Lawrence......... 129, 130, 138 Butler, Octavia....... 6, 59, 64, 66, 68

C capitalism ..7, 14, 16, 25, 33, 34, 56, 57, 71, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 103, 108, 109, 122, 123 Carson, Rachel................... 119, 158 Christianity................................ 152 God20, 28, 32, 64, 119, 120, 152, 153, 154 commodification............ 5, 7, 34, 99 commodity.31, 32, 49, 65, 102, 103, 108, 115 communal ..6, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 56, 57, 58 communism ....14, 23, 48, 49, 54, 55 community.6, 20, 31, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 64, 65, 72, 74, 81, 94, 137, 139, 144, 160 consciousness ....3, 5, 19, 23, 28, 29, 52, 73, 80, 83, 85, 86, 88, 130, 161



conservation .........................35, 132 consumerism .....102, 115, 116, 117, 119 corporations.63, 114, 115, 116, 118, 123 culture . 8, 17, 42, 76, 103, 115, 116, 117, 122, 132, 137 cyborg ..............................40, 51, 52

D deep ecology ...6, 71, 72, 73, 79, 80, 81 democracy ............................73, 114 dialogue..................................... 146 Duhamel, Georges................. 14, 15 dystopia ...5, 7, 14, 51, 66, 111, 115, 139, 144, 163, 166

E ecocentric ...................................... 5 ecocriticism ...2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 131, 158, 171 ecofantasy.............................. 8, 157 ecofeminism ..7, 111, 112, 113, 114, 117, 121, 122, 123, 124 ecology....6, 7, 8, 11, 70, 71, 72, 79, 94, 95, 109, 121, 132, 134, 138, 139, 144, 152, 159, 162, 164, 166, 167 economics......7, 34, 55, 77, 94, 108, 138, 139, 160 Engels, Friedrich ................... 54, 55 environment ....3, 4, 7, 8, 14, 28, 31, 32, 34, 37, 38, 39, 41, 42, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 55, 56, 58, 59, 61, 70, 71, 79, 80, 98, 112, 113, 123, 125, 129, 133, 140, 148, 153, 157, 158, 160, 161, 163 environmentalism..2, 8, 12, 28, 113, 129, 130, 132, 161

F factory15, 16, 18, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 42, 48, 101 feminism.................... 113, 124, 129 Foucault, Michel........................ 160 functionalism............................. 106

G gender..6, 7, 47, 49, 52, 57, 68, 112, 113, 116, 121, 122, 125 Gollum.6, 31, 33, 34, 35, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44 Griffith, Nicola ............ 6, 59, 60, 62

H Harry Potter ...................... 6, 72, 88 Chamber of Secrets .... 69, 73, 77, 78, 81, 84, 85 Goblet of Fire........ 70, 79, 80, 81 Order of the Phoenix......... 69, 75 Prisoner of Azkaban................ 73 Sorcerer’s Stone... 73, 78, 80, 81, 83 The Deathly Hallows.. 70, 74, 76, 81, 82, 86, 87, 88 Held, S.S....5, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 25, 26, 28, 29, 169 Howard, Ebenezer .53, 76, 138, 139, 141 Garden City of Tomorrow....... 53 human consumption...... 55, 99, 103, 106, 115, 122, 123 human nature ............................... 20 humanity..2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 17, 18, 20, 23, 24, 26, 29, 85, 94, 95, 100, 103, 108, 109, 113, 147, 153, 154, 155, 161

Environmentalism in the Realm of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature 175

I individual individualism .......................... 57 industry ...4, 5, 6, 11, 13, 14, 15, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 26, 27, 28, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 43, 50, 96, 104, 113, 115, 139, 163, 164, 165

K Kunstler, James Howard....138, 139, 140, 141 The Long Emergency ....138, 139, 140 World Made by Hand....138, 139, 140


The Road .......143, 144, 147, 149, 152, 154 Middle-earth ...31, 32, 33, 35, 38, 44 morality .8, 15, 32, 33, 62, 147, 148, 154 Morris, William ...47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 58 mythopoeic .................................... 5

N Naess, Arne ..................... 73, 80, 81 nature.....3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 11, 12, 16, 17, 19, 20, 24, 25, 27, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 59, 64, 66, 67, 68, 69, 72, 76, 78, 79, 80, 81, 86, 95, 99, 100, 102, 103, 104, 106, 113, 115, 117, 118, 119, 120, 122, 123, 129, 135, 136, 137, 145, 152, 153, 154, 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 162, 163, 164, 165, 166, 167

labor .. 16, 17, 18, 19, 22, 42, 83, 96, 97, 102, 104, 105, 106 landscapes ............5, 32, 35, 44, 143 language ......3, 7, 8, 40, 55, 56, 103, 108, 129, 143, 144, 145, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151, 152, 153, 154 communication ........40, 148, 149 minimalist speech ................. 147 Leopold, Aldo ........31, 72, 165, 166

One Ring ...6, 33, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 43, 44 Oryx and Crake .....7, 112, 114, 115, 117, 119, 122, 124, 142 Owen, Robert ..6, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 57, 58



magic. 29, 32, 69, 72, 74, 79, 98, 99, 104 magical realism 94, 95, 97, 107, 108 market collapse......... See economics Marx, Karl................................... 54 materialism 7, 11, 23, 26, 29, 33, 38, 82, 83, 94, 102, 103, 104, 105, 124, 142 materialist............... See materialism McCarthy, Cormac ....7, 8, 143, 144, 145, 149, 152

Parable of the Sower .. 6, 59, 63, 64, 66, 67, 68 Lauren ..59, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68 pastoral .......................... 32, 34, 162 patriarchal7, 22, 112, 113, 116, 124, 167 pedagogical................ See pedagogy pedagogy ............... 7, 111, 112, 114 politics ...5, 7, 14, 17, 34, 71, 73, 76, 79, 83, 94, 96, 113, 121, 124, 162, 163 psychology .............. 34, 42, 81, 165




R radiation ............................ See , See Renaud ..........See The Death of Iron Roddenberry, Gene....48, 49, 51, 53, 56, 57, 58 Rodenberry, Gene ......................... 6

S Sagan, Carl .........................143, 144 Sauron 33, 35, 36, 38, 40, 41, 42, 43 sexuality ...............49, 115, 117, 124 Silent Spring......See Carson, Rachel Slow River ..6, 59, 60, 62, 63, 66, 68 Lore 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 66, 67, 68 Sméagol.....6, 33, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44 social ecology.............................. 34 society4, 6, 8, 23, 25, 31, 48, 50, 52, 53, 55, 59, 65, 68, 74, 95, 100, 102, 103, 108, 111, 112, 113, 115, 116, 121, 138, 167 sustainability ..................5, 119, 132 symbiotic..............................4, 6, 37

T technology...4, 5, 11, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 27, 32, 71, 72, 94, 95, 98, 99, 103, 106, 107, 131, 136, 158, 162, 164 anti-machine ........................... 17 as antihumanistic..................... 15 The Death of Iron .........5, 11, 13, 16 The Handmaid’s Tale ....7, 112, 113, 114, 121, 123, 124

The Hobbit............................. 31, 37 The Lord of the Rings . 5, 31, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38 The Road ....................................... 7 the Shire ..32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 39, 40, 43, 44 The Year of the Flood ... 7, 111, 114, 117, 118, 119, 120, 122, 124 Tolkien, J.RR...5, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 41, 42, 43, 44 totalitarianism........................ 94, 96

U utopia...6, 20, 23, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 54, 56, 57, 58, 59, 66, 163

W Watership Down ............See Adams, Richard

Y Yamashita, Karen Tei . 7, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 99, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109 Through the Arc of the Rainforest ........... 7, 93, 96, 97

Z Zimmerman, Michael .... 34, 85, 164 Zola, Emile .................. 6, 11, 19, 20