Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror (Hardcover)
World War I introduced the world to carnage on a massive scale. New and more grotesque ways of destroying life played out on the battle fields of Europe, much of it mechanized and devoid of humanity. The psychological terror and unresolved trauma of war bore fruit, as Bram Stoker Award nominee and historian W. Scott Poole writes, in the birth of the horror genre we know today.
Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror draws a direct line from the shell-shocked soldiers who returned from war to the films they made, heavy laden with sinister shadows and deep with metaphor. The films of Weimar Germany such as Nosferatu, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and M had an immense influence on American film noir and later on the walking dead of George Romero’s films, the automaton killers of the Halloween and Friday the 13th franchises, and the surrealist horror of David Lynch. Poole writes, in a world traumatized by war, these dark shadows and sinister automatons made sense to film audiences in a way that escapes modern viewers.
Poole examines the work of authors and artists of the time and points to the evidence of war terror in their works; those of Kafka, Dali, and the French existentialist philosophers. With an historian's approach, Poole traces the lineage of literary horror from present day to the works of H. P. Lovecraft and Arthur Machen. Writers such as Lovecraft, Frank Belknap Long, and Machen would take the mostly innocuous Victorian horror tale and express the casual disregard for life experienced in the world war in a new kind of psychologically terrifying tale, particularly evidenced in Lovecraft's philosophy of Cosmic Horror.
If Wasteland seems like a mere dissection of popular culture, it is not. Poole turns a searing eye toward the lives of poet T.S. Eliot, his mentor Ezra Pound, Salvador Dali, and Lovecraft who expressed fascist sympathies after the war, and draws parallels to the troubled (and troubling) Presidential administration of our times. Poole makes the point that the violence of World War I may correlate with the escalating conflicts we have seen in the last century and a cyclical return to fascist ideologies. For those of us who don’t remember a time before daily news cycles about never-ending foreign conflicts, he points to the horror of World War I as the origin of the madness, and delivers a cautionary tale: we must either deal with the original trauma of a world shocked out of its senses, or suffer the inevitable return of war and totalitarianism.
-- Emma Fox
— From Best Weller's Pick
November 2018 Indie Next List
“Wasteland is as breathtaking as it is sensitive. The backdrop of bloodshed that is the Great War is almost its own character in Poole’s writing. The early lives and war experiences of each man lend themselves so well to the dissection of the works produced by those who returned but never really came back. Poole’s latest is dead on with sharp analysis and drinkable prose as he illustrates the hunger for horror, the almost compulsive need to relive and re-experience the trauma, and the irrevocable mark on the landscape of our psychology and pop culture.”
— Bethany Kibblesmith, The Book Table, Oak Park, IL
Historian and Bram Stoker Award nominee W. Scott Poole traces the confluence of history, technology, and art that gave us modern horror films and literature In the early twentieth century, World War I was the most devastating event humanity had yet experienced. New machines of war left tens of millions killed or wounded in the most grotesque of ways. The Great War remade the world's map, created new global powers, and brought forth some of the biggest problems still facing us today. But it also birthed a new art form: the horror film, made from the fears of a generation ruined by war.
From Nosferatu to Frankenstein's monster and the Wolf Man, from Fritz Lang, F. W. Murnau, and Albin Grau to Tod Browning and James Whale, the touchstones of horror can all trace their roots to the bloodshed of the First World War. Historian W. Scott Poole chronicles these major figures and the many movements they influenced. Wasteland reveals how bloody battlefields, the fear of the corpse, and a growing darkness made their way into the deepest corners of our psyche.
On the one-hundredth anniversary of the signing of the armistice that brought World War I to a close, W. Scott Poole takes us behind the front lines of battle to a no-man's-land where the legacy of the War to End All Wars lives on.
About the Author
W. SCOTT POOLE is a professor of history at the College of Charleston who teaches and writes about horror and popular culture. His past books include th award-winning Monsters in America and the biography Vampira: Dark Goddess of Horror. He is a Bram Stoker Award nominee for his critically acclaimed biography of H. P. Lovecraft, In the Mountains of Madness.