Book Review: WASTELAND: THE GREAT WAR AND THE ORIGINS OF MODERN HORROR by W. Scott Poole
I’m guilty of it, and I’m gonna go out on a limb, here, and suggest that you are also. We’ve had so many wars. World War Two gets all the attention, doesn’t it? And then there’s Korea, Vietnam, and more recently Iraq and Afghanistan. Even, if you’re an American, the Civil War. So much atrocity and degradation. They all tend to run together. World War One, unless you’re a historian, sorta gets pushed to the rear. I don’t think we appreciate the degree to which it shaped the world we currently live in, just what a big, massively big, awful deal it really was. Nothing like it had ever happened before in human history, death and destruction on a scale never even imagined before. The specifics of it may have been nearly forgotten, but its influence is still omnipresent. It made the modern world in its image.
There are a few times where I think historian W. Scott Poole was stretching it a bit in his attempts to link the Horror genre to World War One. For one thing, there’s the fact that the genre predated the “Great War” by centuries if not more. His claims that our *modern* Horror genre came from it are more credible, although I don’t believe Cthulhu was created specifically as a metaphor for WWI, to give another example. Still, the point is solidly made that people at the time of the release of NOSFERATU and FRANKENSTEIN, among others, would have viewed those works with different eyes than we see them today. Their perceptions were colored by the recent experience of WWI, and it stands to reason that the creators of such works would likewise have been influenced. Once you think to look for it, the symbolism is obvious.
There were a few spots where the book struggled to hold my interest, as when it focused on the careers of painters like Dali, but most of the book concerns itself with film and Literature. Even at its least interesting moments, though—what can I say, I just don’t care overly much about Art history—it still taught me things I hadn’t known before. It is a fascinating read overall and I highly recommend it.
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS, specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced, and directed (and occasionally acted in) over two dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and True Crime genres. He obtained a doctorate in Occult Studies from Miskatonic University and is an active paranormal investigator. Is frequently told he resembles Anton Lavey. And Ming the Merciless.
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