cover image Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror

Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror

W. Scott Poole. Counterpoint, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-1-64009-093-4

In this thoroughly engrossing cultural study, Poole (In the Mountains of Madness), a history professor at the College of Charleston, persuasively argues that the birth of horror as a genre is rooted in the unprecedented destruction and carnage of WWI. Filmmakers and artists, many of them veterans, he proposes, saw in horror imagery a way to critique war, and thereby “transformed fantasy into a simulacrum of reality.” Poole locates glimpses of the war’s horrors in work produced during and soon after it—not only explicit references, as in the trench warfare art of Otto Dix and the war dead rising at the end of Abel Gance’s film J’Accuse, but in more subliminal images: the technologized tools of killing in Kafka’s story “In the Penal Colony”; the somnambulist who unthinkingly obeys an authoritarian master in the film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; images of body dismemberment in Freud’s essay The Uncanny. Although some may feel that Poole overstates the proliferation of war horror images in the arts, his extensive and well-supported citations will make it hard for readers who haven’t considered the wartime context for horror’s emergence to forget it. Agent: Deirdre Mullane, Mullane Literary. (Oct.)