# 15 = Volume 5, Part 2 = July 1978
Elizabeth Cummins Cogell
The Middle-Landscape Myth in Science Fiction
In a recent article in Parabola, Ursula K. Le Guin has identified myth
as "an expression of one of the several ways the human being, body/psyche
perceives, understands, and relates to the world."1 Mircea
Eliade, Northrop Frye, and others have noted that the archetypal images of myth
attempt to explain the universal; and that the viability of a myth depends on
its ability to forge a "link...to the social and intellectual life of the
culture itself."2 Le Guin summarizes these various functions
when she states that myth "may serve for thousands of years as an
inexhaustible source of intellectual speculation, religious joy, ethical
inquiry, and artistic renewal."3
The central myth or controlling images of a particular period of American
literature have been the focus of such authors as R.W.B. Lewis in The
American Adam, Raymond Olderman in Beyond the Wasteland, John R. May
in Toward A New Earth, and Leo Marx in The Machine in the Garden.
Believing that a developing culture is its own lively debate over the ideals
that effervesce within it, they argue that the creative imagination is
frequently better able to give a more comprehensive view of the debate than the
rational argument can. Its imagery and narrative partake of old myths, change
them, create new ones, thus dramatizing the culture's paradoxes and unresolved
It is the thesis of this paper that the myths of the apocalypse and the
middle landscape, in combination, express current cultural tensions, a
combination heretofore unrecognized.
Man's ability to imagine a planetary catastrophe is nothing new, but his
ability to do it is a recent accomplishment. Science fiction has long reflected
this concern, as evidenced by C.S. Lewis's and James Gunn's discussions of the
eschatological as a major category of science fiction.4 David
Ketterer is even more to the point when he asserts that all science fiction is
apocalyptic because it "is destroying old assumptions and suggesting a new,
and often visionary, reality."5 An apocalyptic novel, according
to May's 1972 study, must contain the first two of the three apocalyptic
elements — catastrophe, judgment, and renewal.6
The potential for change, although not necessarily apocalyptic, has always
been associated with the literary middle landscape. Tracing its origin back to
the pastoral, Leo Marx asserts that its "vital element" is "the
ordering of meaning and value around the contrast between two styles of life,
one identified with a rural and the other with an urban setting."7
The middle landscape, Marx argues, has lost its significance in the culture of
an advanced urban environment of concrete, glass, steel, and — above all (or
under and through all) — machinery. But when it is combined with the
apocalypse, it regains some of its old strength. What if the advanced
civilization ceases to exist? What if man alters his evaluation of technological
progress? Some contemporary authors are offering the middle landscape as a place
What is particularly surprising is that both May and Marx have ignored
science fiction in their studies of these myths. Yet the genre abounds with
examples of both and, what is significant for this paper, with examples of them
in combination. The novels I have selected for this cursory study illustrate the
three most distinctive varieties charted by May: the primitive apocalypse,
represented here by George Stewart's Earth Abides, the Judeo-Christian by
Walker Percy's Love in the Ruins, and the secular by Ursula K. Le Guin's The
Lathe of Heaven. Percy's novel is especially significant as it criticizes
the false middle landscape and depicts the potential physical, ethical, and
psychological meaning of this myth.
In Stewart's Earth Abides (1949), the catastrophe is a fast-spreading,
world-wide disease for which no treatment could be found. May has demonstrated
that in the primitive apocalypse, the catastrophe is caused by human error or
the natural process of decay. Stewart suggests both. The near demise of the
human race is either caused by an "escape, possibly even a vindictive
release, from some laboratory of bacteriological warfare"8 or
the "biological law of flux and reflux," that is, "the number of
individuals in a species never remains constant but always rises and
In ferreting out the causes for the catastrophe, we are really discussing the
judgment which, in the primitive apocalypse, is more than simply a condemnation
of man for his sins. It is a recognition that man must periodically go through
chaos to renew his life, to make contact with his being, i.e., the cosmos, the
reality which was conceived as being the original time of the gods before man's
existence. The novel rejects the Judeo-Christian tradition of a God directing
the universe, of man occupying a special place in the universe, and of man
progressing through linear time to a spiritual renewal in the kingdom of Heaven.
The primitive metaphysics is thus anti-historical and Platonic. Stewart's cyclic
view of civilization is as anti-historical as these primitive myths, or the
American Adam, or the garden of the world myth where the yeoman of the West
stands free of his European past.10
The middle landscape setting suggests a return to primitivism, a momentary
regaining of innocence only to have it always and forever lost again. The
surviving colony, led by Ish (whose Adamic name means man), lives in the ruins
of a city relying, on the one hand, on the existing homes and stores for
shelter, clothing, and material needs but, on the other hand, on nature for game
and fish for food. The tension between city and wilderness thus makes the novel
a compelling account of the daily struggle to survive planetary destruction and
ultimately results in "an affirmation of man's creative capacity to start
anew."11 This leads us to the third aspect of the apocalyptic
novel — the renewal.
The controlling force directing man's renewal is consistent and operates
under the laws of causality: Nature. Man is one unit among many constituting the
living species of the universe. He is not the measure of all things. Man must
realize that he lives in nature — this is the meaning of life which Ish
discovers, especially through the death of Joey. The middle landscape which the
colony lives in is effectively meeting the challenge of the counterforce, both
physically and socially. The post-apocalyptic counterforce in this novel is
wilderness, chaos. Physically, the landscape, the natural hazards of fire and
flood, of inundations of ants or rats, of prowling lions or coiled rattlesnakes
is a reality of hardship equivalent to the realities of civilized man's chaos,
i.e., biological warfare. The human species will be totally overwhelmed if it
does not recognize its place as a unit in the fluctuations and cycles of nature.
Man's failure to recognize the inevitability of an accident in germ warfare
suggests that man had assumed the role of controller to which he was not
entitled. The senselessness of man's achievements is epitomized by the utter
uselessness of New York City after the catastrophe.
On the other hand, Earth Abides also recognizes that the human species
will be totally overwhelmed if individuals do not form a society to protect it
from the wilderness of nature (which can easily overwhelm an individual) or
correspondingly, this chaos or evil of other humans, as represented by Charlie.
The social values in the colony are clearly those of the traditional middle
landscape — simplicity in economics and politics, decency of behavior, freedom
of action yet enough law and order to maintain the communal unit.
In combining the middle landscape and apocalypse myths, Earth Abides shows
that in the closed cycle of time, the high level of civilization, technology,
and intellectual inquiry cannot be maintained after the catastrophe. Yet the
resolution of the judgment hopefully suggests that these levels may be attempted
again in the future. Renewal, in this novel, entails a return to basic human
values at the expense of civilization. The power of the novel is the recognition
of the paradoxes in a return to Edenic innocence; it is fallen man making the
best of a bad situation. The ambiguous ending of the novel, then, is really a
bittersweet recognition of the unresolved paradoxes in man's relationship with
nature, with society, with time, and with evil — the paradoxes, that is, which
vitalize the middle landscape-apocalypse myths.
Even more dystopic is Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven (1971),
included here as an example of the secular apocalypse. In the secular form, the
sign of the end, of the collapse of moral values, is the appearance of what May
calls "the super-promiser whose protean face reflects the evil of the
society he woos."12 This is the behaviorist, Dr. Haber. Like the
psychology he espouses, Haber adapts his behavior to fit the patient or the
circumstances of the moment. He flaunts his confidence and vitality, but his
patient senses its instability:
There was a warmth to the man, an outgoingness, which was real; but it had
got plasticoated with professional mannerisms, distorted by the doctor's unspontaneous use of himself. Orr felt in him a wish to be liked and a desire to
be helpful; the doctor was not, he thought, really sure that anyone else
existed, and wanted to prove they did by helping them. He boomed "Good
afternoon!" so loud because he was never sure he would get an answer.13
In this novel of multiple realities in which the reader is never permitted
that comfortable perspective of being able to discriminate between the real and
the unreal, the middle landscape has been transformed into a middle way between
the forces of natural chaos (Mt. Hood threatening to erupt) and the forces of
manmade chaos (overpopulation and pollution). No longer the agricultural abode
of the yeoman, it is an urbanized area, equipped with machinery in which people
make their living in all ways but plowing and planting. The middle landscape is
threatened by external and internal catastrophe. The major external catastrophe
appears to have been the threat of nuclear war in April 1998, brought on by
world-wide overpopulation and overindustrialization. Orr averted the world's
destruction through his ability to dream a new reality into existence. The major
internal catastrophe is Dr. Haber. Manipulating Orr's dreams, ostensibly to
improve the world but in fact to increase his own power and status, Haber
increases the power of the government, kills six billion people by plague, and
alters reality at will.
May asserts that the apocalyptic mood of modern secular literature is a
"reaction against the ineffectual gradualism of social change, the faceless
horror of technological society, and the myths perpetrated to distract us from
the reality of impending universal cataclysm."14 Haber offers
himself as the new myth — the behaviorist who can solve all problems based on
the false assumptions that all things are quantifiable, thus all things can be
known and controlled. A mystery, Haber asserts, is simply a problem to which no
solution has been found, yet. Presiding over his wonderful Augmentor or dream
machine, he fulfills Eliade's assertion that "every ritual has a divine
model, an archetype."15 Thus the full humor of his character
emerges. He acts as if he represents something larger than himself but he has
never seen what that "something" is. Reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz,
Haber ultimately lacks the core of being of the Wizard. The very existence of
the Aliens is a marvelous commentary on Haber's view. The distinguishing
characteristic of them is their unexplained connection with dream time and with
the supernormal powers such as Orr exhibits. Their presence proves Haber's
viewpoint is wrong.
The Judgment made against Haber is the Judgment against the world-gone-wrong,
and it is made from the perspective of Taoist humanism. Haber's principles can
be reduced to three mottoes: the greatest good for the greatest number, the
proper study of mankind is man, and the end justifies the means. Against these
principles which deny the significance of the individual and of the rest of the
universe, are Orr's principles: if the single individual is not significant,
nothing is; man is not the measure of all things; and the means are the ends.
Opposed to the view of mankind en masse, Orr returns again and again to
searching for the sense of wholeness and being which he has lost. In contrast, Haber is condemned as a man without being. Orr's image of him is striking:
"But the big man was like an onion, slip off layer after layer of
personality, belief, response, infinite layers, no end to them, no center to
him."16 In the end, Haber's approach has failed in two
significant ways. First, his means being faulty, his goal (the greatest good for
the greatest number) is never achieved quite the way he imagined it. He set out
with a rational purpose but tapped the aid of the irrational and treated it as
if it were rational. Second, when Haber is finally able to hook himself into the
Augmentor and trigger his first effective dream, he destroys himself and nearly
destroys the world with him. So Haber's goal has been deflected and the end
result is his own vacuity and insanity, a gruesome condemnation of the ends
justifying the means.
Catastrophes have occurred, have been warded off, but will not occur in the
future, at least not as directed by Haber. The judgments have been made against
him and his quantified approach. Is a renewal possible? As is typical of the
secular apocalypse outlined by May, the novel offers hope; but the new life is
not detailed. The hope is that Orr will continue to experience wholeness of
being and participation in the flux of the universe, while maintaining an
attitude of stillness and receptivity — he is a Taoist sage. The hope is that
his natural self will continue unviolated by the demands and pressures of
society. And what of society in this renewal? In spite of the horror and trauma
of that evening when Orr stopped the world from melting in the middle of Haber's
dream, individuals survive and begin to achieve some semblance of order. Nature
participates in that the trees leaf out and roses bloom abundantly. The general
conditions of Portland reflect some order. The Aliens have been integrated into
the economy and the wheels of complex society are gearing up to create the Gross
National Product. Individuals, then, keep going, and that is hopeful; the Aliens
are an integral unit and that is hopeful. George Orr is happy in his work,
designing kitchen equipment; Heather Lelache appears in Orr's shop, "the
fierce, recalcitrant, and fragile stranger, forever to be won again."17
The last words in the novel are spoken by the Alien, "To go is to
return," a reflection not of the cyclic time of the primitive apocalypse,
but of the spiral time of Taoism.
The Judeo-Christian apocalypse is the framework for Walker Percy's Love in
the Ruins (1971). John R. May rejects the traditional interpretation of the
apocalypse in Revelation which is that Christians must persevere to reach
eternity. The function of the writing, May argues, is "to deny the
immanence of easy victory, to force Jews and Christians alike to accept the
agony of history, the birth-pangs of creation."18 Time is not
cyclic or spiral but linear; God has acted in history before and will do so
again. Eventual renewal will occur; but, in the meantime, evil plagues the
Church, the "terror of existence" must be faced, man must discover
which historical events have religious significance. I would argue that this is
the milieu of Percy's novel. Let us examine the process of catastrophe,
judgment, and renewal in the middle landscape which structures this narrative.
The moment we turn to the catastrophe in Love in the Ruins, the reader
familiar with this novel begins to grin sceptically — a catastrophe? Oh,
really? The supposed catastrophe is an attack on Fedville and Paradise Estates
by the black Bantus from the swamp with a counterattack on Fedville by the
Conservatives from town, all of which took place on July 4. Not only do we have
an unreliable narrator (an alcoholic and former mental patient), but the
arrangement of the chapters suggests Tom More's account is all a dream. He falls
asleep on page 58 and wakens on page 353 — fifteen minutes later. In fact, all
scenes in which Art Immelman appears and the lapsometer is seen in operation are
in dream sequences.
Percy is purposefully not telling us whether this is or is not a dream,
whether this is or is not an accurate account of what really happened in order
to reject the burden of the traditional "objective-empirical"
perspective19 and to emphasize that for each individual, it is the
internal psyche dealing with the perceived events which is important and unique.
Thus, he allows a most zany individual to write out his most bizarre series of
events in which he came to terms with himself. Percy has written that his
solution for telling his readership about Christianity and warning them of
disaster is through exaggeration — "violence, shock, comedy, insult, the
The catastrophe takes place among the still visible ruins of a similar riot
which occurred five years ago. The ruins, reflected in the novel's title,
suggest the wasteland milieu of the 60's novel, analyzed by Olderman — the
meaninglessness, the chaos, the absurdity of the modern world which has resulted
from the blurring of fact and fiction. Love in the Ruins, however, is not
simply another 60's novel because it offers more than just fragments to shore up
the ruins. Turning to the judgment within this apocalypse enables us to see the
nature of what is offered.
Percy's norm of judgment is Christian humanism and judgments are rendered
against the psyche of Western man, the false middle landscape he has created,
and the substitute ideology he has offered, i.e., scientism. Tom More asserts
that the "soul of Western man is in the very act of flying apart"21
because he has polarized the self, creating "chronic angelism-bestialism
that rives soul from body and sets it orbiting the great world as the spirit of
abstraction."22 Angelism is an excessive admiration for the
ability to be objective; bestialism is an excessive regard for one's physical
needs and desires. This "postmodern consciousness," as Percy calls it,
results in a particular type of postmodern hero: "a man who has forgotten
his bad memories and conquered his present ills and who finds himself in the
victorious secular city. His only problem now is to keep from blowing his brains
out."23 Cutting himself off from the past and its knowledge of
good and evil, achieving physical security and comfort, the hero has lost sight
of the imaginative self and finds his new, urban world meaningless.
Reflecting this false dualism is the equally false middle landscape setting,
i.e., Paradise Estates, "an oasis of concord in a troubled land."24
This is not the cultivated green fields of the yeoman but a country club of
beautiful homes and an enormous golf course for the leisured, wealthy folk. The
fame (and fortune) of the area results, not from its yield per acre, but from
its Moonlight Golf Tournament, the first in the country, necessitating a new 36-hole
golf course with extensive night lighting and Tifton 451 grass which needs no
care and so relieves the yeomen (blacks) of their jobs. If this ironic contrast
is not enough, Percy clarifies the paradoxes of Paradise with such details as
the security guard at the entrance, the fake hill on which the wealthiest home
was built, and the recurrent image of vines encroaching on the residences,
particularly a bottle of Southern Comfort in the clubhouse bar. Ironically, the
residents are surprised to learn that their black domestics prefer not to live
in the renovated slave quarters.
Not only is the physical middle landscape a mockery, but the two
counterforces provide no viable solution. The black Bantus and the white love
communities who have returned to the primitive life in the swamp have all left
it by the end of the novel. The Bantus discovered oil and bought out Paradise
Estates; the love community was convicted of atrocities in town. The
townspeople, on the other hand, have factionalized into conservatives and
liberals and their shoot-outs destroy their power.
Fedville, the third of the three centers of habitation, represents, more than
the town does, the alternative choice, i.e., the high level of civilization —
Marx's machine in the garden. It is a pivotal landscape in the novel because it
threatens the middle, it embodies the worst cases of angelism and — worse yet
— it teaches angelism to its patients. Fedville consists of the Love Clinic
where machinery such as the vaginal console measures physical responses in
copulating couples or masturbating women and calls it love research; Gerry Rehab
where Skinner boxes are filled with oldsters expelled from retirement centers as
unhappy misfits; and the Hospital whose psychiatric ward contains the honest
mad. It is the epitome of scientism, the ideology which Percy believes has
unfortunately replaced humanism. Scientism is not the scientific method nor its
findings, per se, it is the obsession with the objective-empirical perspective,
to the exclusion of any other type of knowledge. It makes man, Percy asserts,
simply "an organism in an environment."25 Science, then,
emphasizes knowledge by category, extracting only the common elements from each
group of individuals. The novelist, on the other hand — and in this case the
Christian humanist — focuses on the individual and "upon the mystery, the
paradox, the openness of an individual human existence."26
Significantly, Percy then argues that the modern man "stands both in danger
of catastrophe and somehow in need of it,"27 a statement right
out of the apocalyptic tradition.
The polarizations of Western man, caused by scientism, erupt into the crises
preceding the end. Preferring reason, fact, intellect, and power, Western man
rejects imagination, feeling, myth, and freedom. The ineffective gradualism of
social change makes the blacks unhappy, the belief in empirical fact makes Buddy
Brown misjudge Mr. Ives; the planned, senseless recreation for the old causes
the very despair the doctors are trying to cure. The doctors are treating people
as objects, unwilling to admit there is a mystery within the human psyche.
Larger than scientism, then, is man's overweening pride. As May reported,
"Genuine apocalypse had always functioned as a warning against the
presumption of man."28 Pride is More's flaw and the flaw of the
town, Paradise Estates, and Fedville. Once he has invented the lapsometer, a
diagnostic instrument to measure the activity of brain centers, More's pride
compels him to seek funding, his pride creates Art Immelman who offers him an
attachment which will treat the individual brain. The judgment is against man;
the catastrophes (real, dreamt, or threatened) are a result of man's actions,
not the interference of God. May believes, as does Percy, that people need the
faith of the Christian apocalypse to "bridge the cultural chasm with
hope."29 What is the nature of More's renewal?
When we see him five years after the infamous real or imagined Fourth of July
weekend events, we discover Tom is living in the traditional American middle
landscape following the traditional yeoman's values. He has moved from Paradise
Estates down to the old Slave Quarters, the direction suggesting a return to
basics physically, economically, and socially, as well as down to decisions
based on emotion, sensation, and intuition. He farms and he fishes, has few
material wants (outside of a kingsize bed for Ellen) and is keeping the vines
out of the landscape. Another indication that the wilderness counterforce is
being kept out of this garden is that he has not been left in the wasteland. Not
trapped in wilderness, meaninglessness, and sterile relationships, More is
married and the father of two children. "Poor as I am," he says,
"I feel like God's spoiled child. I am Robinson Crusoe set down on the best
possible island with a library, a laboratory, a lusty Presbyterian wife, a cozy
tree house, an idea, and all the time in the world."30
Suggestive of utopia, Percy makes it quite clear this is not Eden. There has
been no return to the innocence of Adam. More is still representing fallen man,
consistent with Percy's view of linear time, as evidenced by the fact that More
still hopes to heal Western man's split psyche with a machine. More is a post-Edenic
Adam who has come a long way but who has sinned and is still sinning. The middle
landscape demands of man both abstract thought and physical labor; it is the
perfect setting for the whole man.
Aware of the need for man's return to wholeness and having made his choices
for family and church, More is closer to being the whole man, the man he
describes as the "sovereign wanderer, lordly exile, worker and writer and
watcher."31 Drawing on the existentialist tradition, Percy's
model also lies within the middle landscape — the yeoman. From Virgil's Eclogues
to The Tempest to the dream of America as the embodiment of Eden, there
is an exile quality in the middle landscape. The yeoman chooses it in preference
to wilderness or the city where other humans live. Exiled by choice from his
society, the yeoman is strengthened by his choice. Again, it is not utopia;
fallen man lives here with his machine, dependent on the nearby civilization,
now controlled by blacks, for his livelihood. His sense of well being could be
called religious, i.e., as Percy defines it, "a passionate conviction about
man's nature, the world, and man's obligation in the world."32
His own family unit can be viewed as the beginning of a new type of community.
Nearby in the chapel is a religious community of Catholics, Jews, and
Protestants of which More is a faithful member. And, third, there is his
agreement to be Victor's campaign manager, a commitment to the political
The acceptance and commitment is explained in one of the final scenes of the
novel. When More confesses his sins to Father Smith, he is not immediately able
to feel sorry for them. More, as he converses with the priest, imagines that the
priest is "drifting off into smoke and brushfires," a reference which
recalls the whole dream sequence of the novel and the character of Art Immelman.
The priest, however, is able to cut through More's "middle-aged
daydreams" by reminding him of the more important things, i.e. humane
commitments to individuals and society. More, "scalded," feels
instantly sorry for his sins and willingly dons the sackcloth and ashes.33
This event has two ramifications in the Judeo-Christian apocalypse and middle
landscape myths. First, although More's awareness of his sins testifies to his
acceptance of the past and present, it is not until he accepts the guilt that he
acknowledges his role in the future. Finally, then, More wholly enters into the
linear time of the Judeo-Christian apocalypse. Second, it signifies that he is
also beyond the black humor of the modern novel where man's sole consolation is
that life is better than death. More accepts again the hope which comes from the
Christian "good news."
Has the end of the world really come, is it still expected, or is it not
coming? More believes the Troubles were just one of several calamities preceding
the end of the world. The American states have split, he reports, and they must
pray for reunion at Church. Also, "the monks are beginning to collect books
again."34 Western man is still split apart and More is half-heartedly
working on his lapsometer to repair man's fall. In the end, More answers Yeats'
poem, will the center hold? Yes, for him personally, and he is grateful to God
for the variegations of life, celebrated in the Hopkins poem which More quotes.
In the middle landscape, all the paradoxes of man's existence can be accepted
as part of the human condition. More has followed the Christian apocalypse in
accepting "the agony of living," thus enabling him to "face the
terror of history and accept the frighteningly slow process of growth into the
future. Anyone with genuine hope can face the gloom of man's potential for
destruction and yet work for the final city of man."35
Thus the middle landscape myth, in conjunction with the apocalypse, still
resonates with ethical, intellectual, and aesthetic meaning. Man's relationship
with nature is still debatable. The juxtaposition and resolution offer an
aesthetically pleasing form for the novel; the variety of middle landscape
settings enlarges the range of value decisions, and the paradoxes of these
decisions challenges the most astute reader.
1. Ursula K. Le Guin, "Myth and Archetype in Science
Fiction," Parabola, 1 (Fall 1976),42.
2. Gary K. Wolfe, "Mythic Structures in Cordwainer
Smith's 'The Game of Rat and Dragon,'" Science-Fiction Studies, 4
(July 1977), 145.
3. Le Guin, "Myth and Archetype," 45.
4. C.S. Lewis, "On Science Fiction," in Of Other
Worlds (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1966), pp. 59-73. James Gunn,
"Introduction," The End of the Dreams (New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons, 1975), pp. ix-xiv.
5. David Ketterer, New Worlds For Old (Garden City,
N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1974), p. 18.
6. John R. May, Toward a New Earth: Apocalypse in the
American Novel (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1972), p. 88.
7. Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the
Pastoral Ideal in America (London: Oxford University Press, 1964), p. 94.
8. George Stewart, Earth Abides (Greenwich, Conn.:
Fawcett Publications, Inc., 1949), p. 18.
9. Ibid., pp. 13, 12.
10. Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as
Symbol and Myth (New York: Vintage Books, 1957), p. 217.
11. May, p. 76.
12. Ibid., p. 34.
13. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven (New York:
Avon, 1971), p. 32.
14. May, p. 202.
15. Mircea Eliade, Cosmos and History: The Myth of the
Eternal Return, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Harper, 1959), p. 21.
16. Le Guin, Lathe, p. 82.
17. Ibid., p. 175.
18. May, pp. 17-18.
19. Walker Percy, "The Man on the Train," in The
Message in the Bottle (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1975), pp.
20. Walker Percy, "Notes for a Novel About the End of the
World," in The Message in the Bottle, p. 118.
21. Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins: the adventures of a
bad Catholic at a time near the end of the world (New York: Farrar, Strauss,
and Giroux, 1971), p. 115.
22. Ibid., p. 383.
23. Percy, "Notes," pp. 111-12.
24. Percy, Love, p. 17.
25. Percy, "Notes," p. 111.
26. Ibid., p. 108.
27. Ibid., p. 109.
28. May, p. 32.
29. Ibid., p. 20.
30. Percy, Love, p. 383.
32. Percy, "Notes," p. 103.
33. Percy, Love, pp. 398-99. I am indebted to Dr. Larry
Vonalt (Humanities Dept., Univ. of Mo.—Rolla), a persistent and sensitive
reader of Walker Percy, for this interpretation.
34. Percy, Love, p. 383.
35. May, p. 227.
An apocalyptic novel, according to John R. May's Toward
a New Earth (1972), must contain catastrophe and judgment; it may also dramatize
renewal. The issue of change, although not necessarily apocalyptic, has always been
associated with the literary middle landscape. Tracing its origin back to the pastoral,
Leo Marx asserts that the "vital element" in the middle landscape is "the
ordering of meaning and value around the contrast between two styles of life, one
identified with a rural and the other with an urban setting." The middle landscape,
Marx argues, has lost its significance in our contemporary culture of concrete, glass,
steel, and machinery. But what if the advanced technology, the machine, ceases to exist?
What if apocalypse shatters the pattern of technological progress? Neither May nor Marx
consider science fiction in their studies of apocalypse and the literary middle-landscape
myth, although the genre abounds with examples of both. The novels in this study
illustrate three varieties of apocalypse described by May: the primitive, represented by
George Stewart's Earth Abides, the Judeo-Christian, represented by Walker Percy's
Love in the Ruins, and the secular, represented by Ursula K. Le Guin's The
Lathe of Heaven. Percy's novel is especially significant, for it critiques the false
middle landscape and depicts the physical, ethical, and psychological meaning of this
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