Imagining the End

Banner image credits: “dystopia” by Mosman Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Why are we so fascinated with imagining our own demise?

“Tapisserie de l’apocalypse” by Jean Bondol and Nicholas Bataille (photo by Kimon Berlin) is licensed under CC BY 3.0

As long as humans have been telling stories of our creation, we’ve been telling stories of our destruction. Apocalyptic texts, like the Book of Revelations or the story of Ragnarok, populate the imaginations of people and cultures throughout history, seeking to outline the future fate (and destruction) of humanity.

“Four Horsemen of Apocalypse” (1887) by Viktor Vasnetsov

Constructing stories that speculate about the fate of humanity seem appropriate in a pre-scientific, pre-enlightenment society, where people have to create stories to make sense of the world around them. However, these stories have followed us even into the modern age, where they take the form of speculative fiction. Some of the most popular modern fictions involve Apocalyptic and post-Apocalyptic scenarios, exploring how humanity will react to its own demise and what shape the fall of humanity will take. These stories often envision the annihilation (or potential annihilation) of the human race, but some focus more on the fall of humanity and the deterioration of enlightened society.

“Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” by Tristan Eaton (photo taken March 26, 2011 by Garrett Zlegler) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

From Victorian era novels like Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to the Golden Age of Science Fiction in the 1950s and ’60s to the modern fascination with zombies, visions of the Apocalypse have continued to spark human imaginations. Apocalyptic and post-Apocalyptic stories are so popular, they have been tackled in all forms of story telling media, from books to movies to graphic novels to video games.

So why, even in the modern age of science, are we still drawn to these kinds of apocalyptic stories? Why are we still so fascinated by the idea of our own downfall? Examining works of speculative fiction paired with interviews by speculative authors may lead to answers about why both readers and creators are drawn to the genre and these stories of human demise.