Archive for July, 2007

On hybrids: from Wilbur Whatley to Mr. Spock

July 15, 2007

I was thinking recently about half-human characters in fiction, particularly those more on the sf end. Putting aside the likely impossibility of such individuals in a truly realistic setting, I noticed that such characters are far more acceptable now than in the past. Case in point: H.P. Lovecraft's “The Dunwich Horror.” I remember reading this story and finding it rather less than scary; in fact, I fet somewhat sorry for the 'monsters' Wilbur Whatley and his twin brother (the titular “horror”). Their mother is in a mental institution; their father is absent, being the trans-dimensional and trans-temporal being Yog-Sothoth; the nameless brother is so alien he must be kept out of sight in the barn. Wilbur is only able to 'pass' by wearing highly concealing, and, considering his physiology, restrictive and ill-fitting clothing. The 'offence' that leads to his death, attempting to steal Miskatonic University's more complete copy of the Necronomicon, was done because the passages it had (which his grandfather's copy lacked) would allow him more direct contact with Yog-Sothoth: in essence, he just wanted his father.
The horror of the story, of the Whatley twins, is to some degree a product of its time: beyond Lovecraft's personal revusion towards anything aquatic (thus the amphibious or tentacular nature of much of his 'monstrous' aliens), the story is imbedded with early 20th century racist fears of miscegenation and racial “degeneration.” Thus, in our modern era, when such attitudes are more fringe than mainstream, the hybrid is no longer an abomination, but just another interesting character. Aside from his unsettling physical appearance, is Wilbur Whatley really that different from Star Trek's Mr. Spock, who is also the product of a human mother and an alien father, and who struggles with issues of identity? Would we treat Wilbur and his nameless twin as unthinkable horrors to be destroyed, or simply as deformed young men craving the affection of absent parents?
In addition, I think fantasy stories and RPGs have helped this quite a bit as well. D&D has given us a massive variety of half-elves, half-dwarves, tieflings, et cetera. The Harry Potter novels give us friendly and sympathetic part-humans like Rubeus Hagrid and Fleur Delacour; while there are those within the books who discriminate against such “half-breeds,” those who do so are depicted as small-minded bigots or out-and-out racist villains.
Just something to consider.