As a child, I didn’t care for the brothers Grimm, though I have an appreciation now for them. Hans Christian Anderson’s never appealed to me. Most folk stories from centuries long seemed tone-deaf, warning me of things my generation didn’t have to worry about: impiety, impurity, wolves in the woods.
Michael Crichton was my favorite author when I was old enough to understand the complexities of a novel, and admittedly even a little before that. He wrote fables for my society, stories about the fears that really lay in wait for a child at the turn of the 21st century. His novels were heavy reading for a seven-year old, but they were the stories about technology in the wrong hands, corporate greed, ignorance, and paranoia - evils that grew in the shade of Capitalism – that should have been taught.
We didn’t need to learn about the danger of straying too far into the woods. We didn’t need stories about distrust of the diseases of the elderly, or of men lying in wait to victimize pretty girls. Any evils that had existed a thousand years ago had been tamed or had become so commonplace that folklore that taught us how to handle them was not just unnecessary – it was outdated. And as for wolves, real wolves, well, who ever saw one of the enormous beasts that terrorized sheep? Who even had sheep anymore?
There were dragons in our concrete jungles. There were enormous constructs made of manipulated genes and bank account numbers. They breathed quantum mechanics and chaos theory. They preyed on those who believed in such a thing as harmless experimentation. No one had ever had to slay them before, because no one had ever seen them before.
We make our own monsters now.
Technothrillers never seemed over the top in their warnings: most didn’t eschew technology or commerce entirely, but rather served as cautionary tales about the new power we had found, and how those who play god cause so much more devastation than simple self-destruction.
They weren’t wrong in their warnings. These new bards speculated about the end of the world, made possible now by the sheer breadth of humanity’s power and knowledge. They imagined all the ways we could bring our own end upon us. The apocalypse was brought about because we did the unnecessary for no other reason than because we could.
Bees are dying. That’s important. Temperatures in the oceans are changing. Coral is bleaching. That’s important. In a fairy tale, there would be children vanishing or sheep slaughtered to warn of the wolf. We have bees and coral.
Sometimes I think there are too many voices in the world.
There are people who believe the wrong things, with their own evidentiary fairy tales to support their suppositions. There are people who think the very science that keeps old evils at bay will make us sick. They’re dangerous in their ignorance, but ignorance can be cured.
Worse, though, are people who don’t want to believe that anything is wrong at all. Everyone can have his or her voice heard now, and the din is overwhelming.
There are people who write new fairytales, warning like Cassandra warned of the fall of Troy, and like Cassandra, ignored, even on the eve of war.
The common thread between the old fairytales and the modern novels is that people have never really heeded them. In hindsight, we see that the warnings were necessary, and we consider people foolish for wandering around in the woods where all the dangers lurked. It’s easy to look back and see the mistakes of the past. It’s much harder to spot them as they’re happening.
This probably seems disjointed. It’s 5:45 in the morning and I have a migraine. I’ve slept seven hours, though, and most nights I get more rest than that. Hungry wolves don’t keep me up at night, and to be honest with you, neither do dying bees.
That should scare me more than it does.