Yesterday, April 22, was Earth Day. Our planet is in deep ecological trouble, and America’s Predator-in-Chief is making things worse with his profoundly anti-environment policies. I guess he’s also the Polluter-in-Chief.
Anyway, I began to think about novels that have directly or indirectly focused on the environment, and the first one that came to mind was Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior.
That book is many things — including a compelling portrayal of a rural Tennessean’s dissatisfaction with her life and marriage, and what she does about it. But Flight Behavior is also a novel about climate change — including how butterflies are devastatingly affected by it.
Kingsolver addresses ecological matters in Prodigal Summer, too.
One of the ultimate environmental catastrophes takes place in Nevil Shute’s On the Beach when nuclear radiation bears down on Australia after ruining much of the world.
Then there are novels in which environmentalism is perhaps not the biggest theme, but an important theme. For instance, the harming of Oklahoma land by greedy agribusiness is a big reason why the Joad family of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is forced to uproot themselves to try their luck in California. The evil forces in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings certainly lay waste to a lot of Middle-earth land. And Anne Shirley’s keen appreciation of nature is one of the endearing elements in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.
Also, the shrinking of the American wilderness is a poignant backdrop in James Fenimore Cooper’s five “Leatherstocking” novels (The Last of the Mohicans, etc.). Heck, protagonist Natty Bumppo is more comfortable with the eco-friendlier ways of Native Americans (such as his close friend Chingachgook) than he is with the eco-destructive ways of his fellow whites.
Of course, sci-fi, speculative fiction, dystopian novels, and post-apocalypse books often address environmental issues in direct or indirect fashion — as when they show the Earth abused by corporations and humankind in general. Examples include Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and various other books. There are also the death throes of Earth at the end of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.
In the children’s-book area, The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is considered a fable about how corporate greed does a number on nature.
What are some of your favorite fictional works that touch on environmental issues?
Here’s a review of, and a video interview about, my new literary-trivia book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time — which earned a “Best Seller” tag on Amazon for a time this weekend.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com, which covers Montclair, N.J., and nearby towns. The latest weekly column is here.