WASTELAND by W. Scott Poole


The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror
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Poole (History/Coll. of Charleston; In the Mountains of Madness: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of H.P. Lovecraft, 2016, etc.) brings a scholar's eye and a devotee's heart to a study of the literary, film, and artistic incarnations of horror from the World War I period to today.

This is really two books, one an excellent examination of the nightmare repercussions of the Great War and a second that is only partially successful in tying it to the origins of horror as entertainment—and catharsis. Tales of the macabre existed long before the war, but the author argues that the war remains the true wellspring of the modern genre. His evidence makes a persuasive case, up to a point. The book is obviously the result of significant research, but Poole spends too much time playing amateur psychologist in an effort to support his premise, frequently interpreting the facts to fit his conjectures. The author’s command of literary and film studies is evident, and he takes care to examine a wide range of noted works and their creators rather than just the standard-bearers. But he also undercuts his arguments through overstatement—e.g., claiming that the recent rash of zombie films and TV is “a national obsession.” An astute exploration of the cultural significance of a film like Nosferatu is one thing, but some readers may have a hard time taking seriously the claim that an orgy of ooze like the dreadful 1982 remake of The Thing is a “classic.” This is not a matter of being dismissive of genre works, which can be superb, or of the author, who is clearly a sharp, talented historian.

A mixed bag studded with insights and flaws. Poole, who tends to conflate his personal tastes with high art, fires pre-emptive strikes against critics dismissive of the horror genre, but he fails to accept the legitimate reasons why these judgments hold sway.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-64009-093-4
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Counterpoint
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2018


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