What Would Freud Say About This SciFi Theme?

I have read a lot of SciFi literature, and have always wondered about a common theme in these stories. Its about a bunch of people (scientists, explorers, space travelers) who find the ruins of an old civilization. They uncover some old texts, that warn them against doing certain things…lest they awaken a millennial-old monster. Of course, they ignore this…and so a terrifying monster is awakened…and causes havoc. This theme is in “Alien”, “The War of the Worlds” (to a certain extent, and in most of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories.
My question: what would a Freudian psychologist sat about this meme-is it something buried in our subconscious?

He’d say it was the monster from the id, of course. :slight_smile:

Ha! Yeah, he probably would. The unconscious desire for death and destruction and adventure and insanity.

He’d also probably say something about how the Egos of the people involved in these stories are overinflated and far outweigh their Superegos.

In “Forbidden Planet”, the monster is quite literally a creature of the Id.

But in general, this theme is actually a genre motif adapted from other types of pulp fiction stories dating back to Victorian times - namely “lost world” stories in which intrepid ‘Indiana Jones’-like archeologists stumble upon the ruins of a lost (non-Caucasian, non-Christian) civilization and discover a monster lurking within the ruins. The monster typically symbolizing the hubris and godless secularism that led this once proud & mighty race to ruin. (Of course, the strapping WASP-y hero would vanquish the monster, thus subtly validating the inherent superiority of white men from European / American backgrounds.)

Lovecraft was especially influential in adapting the motif to science fiction stories. It’s worth noting that he was a notorious racist, and that his macabre tales of chaotic evil monster races who miscegenate with humans are barely disguised xenophobic cautionary tales. His descriptions of “fish-faced mongrels with slitted eyes, who are known to exist in the furthest regions of the Orient” - well, you do the math.

Of course, more modern writers downplay the more racist connotations, but the theme generally validates the “rightness” of the writers’ (and supposedly the readers’) culture & society: the story always has a Captain Kirk-like character embodying the values of the audience, discovering the ruins of a once-proud alien (i.e. foreign) nation, and encountering a monster that destroyed this civilization (symbolizing all the vices that destroyed the culture in the first place.) The Captain Kirk character defeats the monster through right-thinking, ingenuity and general manliness, thus proving that ‘our’ culture is better and fitter than the one that was left in ruins.

Thanks, Don Draper…I like your interpretation. But I think that Lovecraft went a bit further-his monsters (e.g. “the old ones”) are incomprehensible to humans-they don’t even consider humans to be on the level of insects. Their encounters with humans are therefore random, pointless…and exceedingly terrifying.:eek:

How is this in War of the Worlds?
The Martians invaded the earth. Nobody on Earth saw any warning, or did anything forbidden – the Martians came to us as a conquering power.

Pretend you’re a Martian.

War of the Worlds was, at least in part, an allegory of colonialism.

Still doesn’t work. I don’t see it. Was Earth forbidden?

“at least in part”? It was damned near the whole point of the book.
Interestingly enough, the very same story (in greatly reduced form) was written almost 90 years earlier, right down to the invading aliens using a heat ray. It was Washington Irving’s Invasion of the Moon (sic), in which aliens from the moon invade the earth in order to obtain our resources. Irving’s use of the parallel with European colonialism is as obvious and intentional (he explicitly states it) as Wells’ was almost a century later.

More Jung’s bailiwick, really.

What’s really interesting about War of the Worlds is, despite all the talk of the aliens’ superior technology, it really wasn’t all that. Whenever the humans got in a hit with a big gun, the tripods went down, and if we’d just had a bit more accuracy, we could have fought them off easily. Really, the alien tech level was only something between WWI and WWII (aside from the heat rays, of course, but there’s really no advantage to a heat ray over a machine gun).

Well, Wells was extrapolating from his time. The problem was, in part, that the Earth people (British, actually, in Wells’ novel) couldn’t get big guns moving around easily – that effective shot was the result of one of the guns from the Thunder Child “torpedo ram”, and the Martians nullified that by being able to move their tripods, with their heat rays, about more effectively. The torpedo rams were, of course, limited to motion o n the water.
The tripods were, in effect, tanks, and it’s interesting that Wells also wrote the first story about the effective use of tanks in warfare ("The Land Ironclads"1903), only five years after War of the Worlds (and later got to see real tanks in action in WWI, which he wrote about in War and the Future (1915)). His tripods were basically tanks that used non-human technology (his Martians, like the Aztecs and Incans, didn’t use the wheel).

I’m a little surprised that, in his search for “futuristic” or non-human technology, he didn’t givce his Martians flying machines, which he advocated in several of his stories before it became a reality (“The War in the Air”, for instance). It was too early for his “atomic bombs”, which he lifted from Frederick Soddy’s work, but if that had been around he’d have used it.

He certainly gave his Martians a non-human weapon in the form of the Heat Ray, and in their Black Smoke, which predates the battlefield use of poison gas in WWI.

But you are correct in that the Martians ended up using what amounted to WWI devices just a bit early on humans. I put it down in part to the difficulty i n extrapolating beyond the known, and a desire to keep things believable and understandable.

If he’d given his Martians magical weapons working on completely unknown prionciples it wouldmn’t have carried as much conviction, and the “war” would be over in no time. Harry Turtledove wisely saw that and limited the alien technology in his “World War” series so that humans actually had a (literal) fighting chance.

It’s part of the greater theme of our curiosity being greater than our sense of self-preservation. We awaken the beast because we want to know what happens when we awaken the beast, and we just assume that we’ll deal with whatever that is when it happens.

Also, if you’re basically writing an allegory of 19th century European imperialism, it makes sense not to give your invaders tech that’s incomprehensibly advanced. After all, the people the Europeans were stomping on in the 19th century often had at least some firearms; they could even occasionally win a battle. They generally lost the war though, the people of Earth being luckier with respect to getting their bacterial deus ex machina against the Martians.