When Nature Attacks
My favorite classical mode of conflict is Man vs. Nature. Perhaps, it’s my favorite because it melds my two passions: Fiction and Environmental Science. The most well read of all Man vs. Nature stories is likely Jack London’s “To Build a Fire,” the story of an arrogant and over confidante character known only as “the man” to the reader. The man lacks the required instinct necessary to deal with the intense cold of the Yukon, and he was too arrogant to accept the passed down wisdom of the old man. Thus, the man dies: Man 0 Nature 1. No other fiction story so pits the dispassionate and unpersonified character of Nature against a Human Character, which is why I prefer Nature, my idea of Nature, to have a name.
Nature is too supernatural, possessing all the necessary qualities of the divine. Nature is everywhere – omnipresent – and if not for Nature’s complete lack of interest in an individual species, Nature could be said to be omniscient – a collective consciousness of all living things. To struggle against Nature is to partake in the ultimate of all tragedies. All living creatures, man included, are borne to death – the ultimate and utterly escapable cycle. Then why is it enjoyable to read or write such conflicts? Personally, I believe that it is the fight, the battles, the small and meaningless victories that make the struggle entertaining, especially, when Nature sends forth a named minion to terrorize not just one man, but also an entire community, such as in Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws.
It is unfortunate that most people only know Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws as a movie. The movie, while entertaining, was based on about thirty to forty pages of a 311-page novel. What is left out of the movie is a transformation of Man vs. Nature. In the novel, the Long Island resort town of Amity is held hostage and forced to die a slow death when confronted with the Nature’s great white minion, Jaws. Amity is like most resort towns and makes its living off tourism and tourist dollars. That money is made quickly during the summer months; so when the town’s business owners are confronted with Nature’s ultimate test, they toss caution to the wind and force Police Chief Martin Brody to keep the beaches open.
The movie truly focuses on the wrong aspect of the book. Yes, Jaws is exciting and practically all-powerful, choosing who will die and when. However, Jaws also foils a sickness that has infected the town. Jaws is the monster in the water that Nature has sent to plague the city in order to root out a greater evil hiding within it mayor’s office. Just as the Theban plague was sent by Apollo to root out Oedipus, to remove the tyrant form the Theban thrown, so too was Jaws sent by Nature to remove the corrupt Mayor from office. For if Jaws would never have terrorized the beaches of Amity, Police Chief Martin Brody would never have had reason to poke around in the Mayor’s personal finances and discover there connection to the New York Mob. The discovery of those connections reveals the true pressure on Amity to keeps its beaches open.
When writing Man vs. Nature stories, it is best to remember that only small victories can be won against Nature. Yes, Jaws is defeated, but in the larger game of chess, Jaws was a mere pawn used to overthrow the mayor. Somehow, Nature knew Amity to be infected and sent an unlikely remedy. I have not had such success writing stories long or short stories in which the human drama is as keenly pushed forward as in Benchley’s novel Jaws. Perhaps, it is because my Nature is too like London’s Nature, unnamed, all-powerful, and victorious. The next time I sit down to write, I too will remember Benchley’s lesson: Nature’s Pawn – which is defeatable – vs. Man is much more interesting.
Benchley, Peter. “Jaws.”
London, Jack. “To Build a Fire.”
Aaron M. Wilson is the author of the forthcoming collection of short stories The Many Lives of Inez Wick. He earned his M.F.A in Writing from Hamline University located in St.Paul, MN. He was born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska and now lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
He writes about books, stories, movies, and his experiences as an adjunct instructor of English, Literature, and Environmental Science on his blog: Soulless Machine. He also regularly updates Twitter @SoullessMachine.
His fiction has appeared in eFiction Magazine: The Premier Internet Fiction Magazine, Evolve Journal, Pow Fast Flash Fiction, The Hive Mind, Eclectic Flash, Twin Cities: Cifiscape Vol. I, Girls with Guns Anthology, and The Last Man Anthology – also featuring stories from Barry N. Malzberg, C.J Cherryh, and Ray Bradbury.