8 July 2011


It's good to hear from David Sivier, a long-time Magonia reader and contributor who has provided many fine articles for the print version of the magazine. You can find them here:

He writes: Thanks for carrying on with the Magonia blog and its fascinating reviews of books on Magonia and Fortean topics. I'm sorry the print magazine has folded, but I can certainly understand your reasons for doing so. Although this email isn't about books to review, it is about a topic that has been discussed frequently in the pages of Magonia: the origins of the abduction myth in SF films and literature. I was recently reading Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove's book, Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction (London: Victor Gollancz 1986).

In the chapter on 19th century pulp SF and Edgar Rice Burroughs, Aldiss notes the recurrent motif in Burroughs' books of women being abducted and threatened with sexual violation by the villains, which he sees as fantastic versions of the indigenous terrestrial races then being encountered and conquered by the expanding Europeans. He suggests that these fears find expression in the pulp Westerns of the time with stories of White women being abducted by Native Americans. Through Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB) and writers like him, this motif and its fears were transferred from the American Indian and other non-western, terrestrial races, to the alien inhabitants of planets, such as Burroughs' own fictional Barsoom. The passage is worth quoting:

"One further general point before leaving Burroughs. ERB's stories are much like Westerns, and the Chicago in which he was born still retained elements of a frontier town. The vanishing redskin was not far away in space or time. Burroughs often wrote about him, directly or indirectly; his writings are a welter of racial fantasy - even Tar-Zan means White Skin the language of the apes.

"Burroughs fits very neatly into Leslie Fiedler's synthesis of the myths which give a special character to art and life in America. Fiedler's synthesis culminates in The Return of the Vanishing American. The one passage in that volume which deigns to mention Burroughs is so apropos to the hordes of odd-coloured and shaped creatures which were about to descend on twentieth-century man via science fiction that it deserves quotation.

"Fielder, putting his case against the American male, shows how the image of white girl tied naked to a stake while redskins dance howling round her appeals to both our xenophobia and a sense of horror. Often such images were used as crude magazine illustrations.
"And, indeed, this primordial image has continued to haunt pulp fiction ever since (often adorning the covers of magazines devoted to it); for it panders to that basic White male desire at once to relish and deplore, vicariously share and publicly condemn, the rape of White female innocence. To be sure, as the generations go by, the colour of her violators has changed, though that of the violated woman has remained the same: from the Red of the Indians with whom it all began, to the Yellow of such malign Chinese as Dr Fu Manchu, the Black of those Africans who stalk so lubriciously through the pages of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan books, or the Purple or Green Martians who represent the crudest fanasy level of science fiction."
"This theory does not hold water - or rather, holds more water than Fiedler thinks, for Sax Rohmer, the creator of Dr Fu Manchu, was an Englishman, and we have noted that two most likely source of Burroughs's Mars lie in Gulliver of Mars and She, both written by Englishmen. Americans are not alone in obsessional fears about sex and colour. Indeed such fears are also observed in deepest Africa. Suffice to to say that Pocahontas and Ayesha really started something. With those mother-figures, the guilts of their respective doomed continents merge. Burroughs let the spectral Red/ Black/ Yellow/ Green men into SF, and they have been on the warpath ever since - all the way to the stars on 'zitidars.'"(Trillion Year Spree, pp. 165-6).

The footnote to the passage from Fielder is also relevant to the origins of the abduction myth and also those of the Star and Indigo children, who are in the mythology aliens reincarnated amongst us. Fiedler notes the way his heroes have mysterious births, and links this to Burroughs' own rejection of his European heritage. The note reads:

"Leslie A. Fiedler, The Return of the Vanishing American. The Chapter on 'The Basic Myths, III: Two Mother of Us All'. To be guided entirely by Fiedler's theories would probably cause one to see the alienation surrounding the births of ERB's characters as explicable in terms of the latter's rejection of his European (or European cultural) ancestry. "What a lovely American dream - to be born as fatherless Indian boy from a husbandless Indian mother, to have no father at all, except for the Forest itself: all fear of miscegenation washed away in the same cleaning metaphor that washes away or European ancestry", says Fiedler". (Trillion Year Spree, p. 457).

I think the ancient fears and beliefs that form the basis of the abduction myth are far more ancient, going back to Plato's belief that souls ultimately come from the stars, as well as myths in which gods and demans appear to have sex with human women, Nevertheless, Fiedler, and Aldiss and Wingrove have presented a strong case for the transformation of racial fears about the abduction and rape of White women by Indians into the SF stores of rape by aliens. Aldiss and Wingrove don't discuss the abduction myth, but it seems clear that this too has been partly shaped by that form of SF which started with Burroughs. -- David Sivier

(Magonians with very long memories may remember my comments on 'white slavery' being a formative element in the abduction mythology, in my book The Evidence for Alien Abductions (Thorson, 1984)

P.S. Oh, the sheer horror of seeing my priceless volume on sale for 1p. on Amazon! If you're going to buy a copy, get the one that's on offer at £36!

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