Aliens: The Anthropology of Science Fiction

By George E. Slusser; Eric S. Rabkin | Go to book overview

8
Cowboys and Telepaths/Formulas and Phenomena

Eric S. Rabkin

Do you remember reading Slan ( 1940)? I do. I was twelve when I first opened that book and suddenly shared the mind of little Jommy Cross. His telepathic unity with his noble mother was glorious; his anguished separation from her was all that a child could fear; his terror of the slan-hunting policemen was dreadful; and his explosion of grief when he lost mind contact with his mother at her death was indelible. I remember crouching with Jommy in some dark hole while a hate-filled, money-ravenous mob swirled within feet of his last island of solitary safety. And I remember that somehow he lived. There was a towering palace in which the world's rulers dwelt, and there was Jommy's long struggle to find others of his superior, noble, but feared and outlawed telepathic kind. And then at the end, he did find them! And it became clear that he and they someday would be the legitimate rulers of the Earth. The elation the book left within me flamed again when I reread Slan twenty-seven years later. Amazingly, over all those years, my recollections had remained accurate; perhaps equally amazing, except for the phallic image of the palace and the overpowering sense of seeking, all that had stayed with me so vividly occurred only in the first ten pages and the last two pages of the book. The complex host of details connecting problem and solution had long since faded from conscious memory. But something bigger than detail had not. It is that larger structure, the fundamental formula for the telepath story, that I want to expose here, to explore its social and psychological meanings. Then I believe it will be clear why telepath stories are so numerous and often so haunting.

The best-known study of formulas in popular literature is John Cawelti's Adventure, Mystery, and Romance ( 1976). He calls a for

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