It’s (Not) the End of the World!
December 26, 2012
It’s the end of 2012. And this holiday season, we can celebrate not only the beginning of a new year but our apparent survival of that devastating Mayan prophecy. So the world isn’t ending, at least not now, but it got me wondering what we would have done if some sort of disaster had actually happened.
I’ve always been a fan of dystopian novels, those tales that take place after some sort of apocalyptic calamity. It was probably growing up in the latter days of the Cold War that made me a fan of such stories. A lot of early dystopian books were set in worlds in which war between the U.S. and Russia resulted in a nuclear holocaust. Now, many of these books focus of terrorist actions, biological disasters, and environmental calamities that bring about the destruction of our planet.
Ashfall by Mike Mullin and Life As We Knew It by Susan Pfeffer are two young adult novels that look at life in America after a natural phenomenon destroys the world as we know it. In the former, it is the eruption of the super volcano in Yellowstone. In the latter, an asteroid impact forces the moon closer to the earth causing complete environmental devastation. Both novels focus on the struggle to survive, but they have slightly different outlooks on human nature.
In Ashfall, after the disastrous eruption in Yellowstone, teenage Alex is forced to trek across the state of Iowa in order to locate the rest of his family in Illinois. Along the way he encounters fear, ruthless predators, those that have turned to cannibalism, and a government that imprisons its own citizens in concentration camps. And while he does encounter good people (like Darla, who will become his love), most seem to be focused only on their own personal survival.
In Life As We Knew It, the changes caused to the Earth by the shifting position of the moon ends the normal life of Pennsylvania native Miranda. However, her story is about the bonds of family. She and her loved ones show tremendous courage as they struggle to survive the hunger, illness, and catastrophic weather changes that threaten their lives. Rather than a look at the depravity of man in extreme circumstances, the strength and self-sacrifice of the characters shows the best in human nature at a time of crisis. Love and unity ultimately win the day.
These are two very different looks at possible end of the world scenarios, and they raise an important question. Who are we really? If calamity had come, would we now be residing in Alex’s world or Miranda’s? Well, the good news is that this is something we only have to wonder about as we leave 2012 and the Mayans behind. Happy New Year!