Roots of Evil


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Prior to the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species, the antagonists of popular and literary horror fiction were almost exclusively either criminal or spiritual in nature. Villains were either sinister cads and fraudsters the like of M. G. Lewis’ lecherous friar in The Monk, or supernatural forces—vampires, ghosts, demons, monsters etc.—as in John Polidori’s The Vampyre and Mary W. Shelley’s Frankenstein. But with the rise in acceptance of evolutionary science, a new spectrum of terror was exposed: natural horror. Darwin’s theories emphasized the unimportance of human life and culture: how civilization was a byproduct of natural selection which would be eradicated as easily as it was established if a stronger or abler competitor moved into the ecological neighborhood.

The subgenre of speculative fiction which was most inspired by this idea—one which has never been widely studied or celebrated in proportion to its influence and genius—has been called ecohorror. In their phenomenal critical treatise, Fear and Nature: Ecohorror Studies in the Anthropocene, Christy Tidwell and Carter Soles define the genre in the following terms: “Ecohorror represents human fears about the natural world—killer plants and animals, catastrophic weather events, and disquieting encounters with the nonhuman.” Indeed, part of the reason that eco-horror proved so subsequently chilling was specifically because it crushed the pre-Darwin ideas of anthropocentricism. To quote P. G. Wodehouse, “it alter[ed] one’s whole conception of Man as Nature’s last word.”

So, while virtually no plants—outside of those which are poisonous when ingested—have been shown to prove dangerous to human beings, still the possibility that surveys of tropical forests’ flora might uncover some carnivorous plant was highly realistic in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Visions of strangling vines, blood-sucking orchids, and parasitic fungi were prevalent in Anglo-American science fiction beginning with William Gilmore Simms’ “The Armchair of Tustenuggee. A Tradition of the Catawba.” (Godey’s Lady’s Book, Feb., 1840.)

The fear that they inspire stems from the idea that even plants—seemingly the most benign creatures in existence—could pose a threat to our individual and collective safety, if only equipped to compete with us. And, if such did not already exist—perhaps mutations would emerge; perhaps horrible alien flora might be dragged back to earth; or perhaps in some way, plants could be possessed, or controlled. Eek!

Some of the prominent authors extrapolating these themes in our book are John Buchan, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, E. M. Forster, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Laurence Housman, M. R. James, Edgar Wallace, and H. G. Wells. So, plant yourself down, leaf through the pages, and enjoy!

ISBN: 9781943022908, 6 x 9″, paper cover, 407 total pages