Tag Archives: end of the world

“Poor and rich were now equal…”

The Last Man by Mary Shelley, 1826

As so many people must, I enjoy reading about how cultured aristocrats, especially those of straight-laced 17th and 18th century England, may act when things go awry.  And although the topic of death and plague is nothing to be pleased about, I found Mary Shelley’s stab at decorum being upended quite pleasing.

While England has been hit with an apocalyptic plague, the main character describes the current state of events:

The Last Man by Mary Shelley, 1826“Families late devoted to exalting and refined pursuits, rich, blooming, and young, with diminished numbers and care-fraught hearts, huddled over a fire, grown selfish and grovelling through suffering.  Without the aid of servants, it was necessary to discharge all household duties; hands unused to such labour must knead the bread, or in the absence of flour, the statesmen or perfumed courtier must undertake the butcher’s office.  Poor and rich were now equal, or rather the poor were the superior, since they entered on such tasks with alacrity and experience; while ignorance, inaptitude, and habits of repose, rendered them fatiguing to the luxurious, galling to the proud, disgustful to all whose minds, bent on intellectual improvement, held it their dearest privilege to be exempt from attending to mere animal wants.”

More from this book in the last couple of posts.


Why do I read apocalypse novels?

I have to ask myself, why do I enjoy apocalypse books?  Why do I want to hear about destruction?  Do I have a secret fantasy that people be killed en masse?

2012: The Movie
2012: The Movie

And I have to say that, no, I don’t want any of these things to happen.

I guess you could ask anyone who enjoys action, do you have a secret fantasy of being in a car chase or gunfire fight?  I’m guessing most would say no.

What about 2012 (the quientessential apocalypse movie, though by far not the best out there), a movie in which most people on earth died; there were only a few left to

2012, the movie poster
2012, the movie poster

re-populate the earth at the very end.  Virtually no one wants this to happen, but I guess humans do have a fantasy about starting over, doing things right, not having to fight for resources, having an Eden to call their very own.

The thing is, we are bored with our action-less lives.  Part of our psyches dream of living a more dramatic, important life, one where the actions we take on a daily basis are ones that will actually help us survive.  Like planting our own food, feeling more self-sufficient… some people undoubtedly fantasize about a lower tech way of life where they have a very important daily purpose:  to survive.  It would feel more meaningful.

I hold down a job that certainly needs to be done, and you could call it important, at least to the people around me.  But I sit in an office and the way I survive is make a paycheck in order to live comfortably in a house, buy groceries, etc.  The tasks I accomplish are not directly going to impact my ability to live, and sometimes as I realize how much humans have forgotten about actually surviving on their own, without grocery stores and cars and all the aspects of modern life, it makes me want to re-learn those skills in case I ever need them.

So apocalyptic books kindle this spark of getting down to the nitty gritty of life, seeing what happens when all that high technology is taken away from people.  At least that’s the best explanation I have for why I enjoy apocalyptic novels.