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Monday, November 12, 2012

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

Book Review
The Twelve  (Passage Trilogy 2)
by Justin Cronin

Brad Pitt in World War Z

    As I was finishing The Twelve, news about another Zombie Apocalypse property- World War Z made a splash on the internet.  Seems they released the trailer of the Brad Pitt starring film adaptation of the book- published in 2006.  The trailer makes World War Z, the movie, look like zombie Battleship- but starring Brad Pitt.  It's well known that the film rights to Cronin's Passage Trilogy were sold prior to the publication of the first installment.  No word yet  on weather Colson Whitehead's Zone One has been optioned, but it wouldn't surprise me.

  I noticed in the press for The Twelve, they went out of their way to emphasize that the monsters in the Passage Trilogy are, in fact, Vampires.  I've read interviews where Cronin discusses the fact with a reticence that it is the artistic equivalent of an Actress saying she'll only do nudity when the script demands it.

  Despite what can only be seen as a bold faced attempt to sell Kindle books to people who buy movie tickets to the Twilight franchise and worship at the altar of Harry Potter: presumably under the theory that vampires are an easier sell then the apocalypse.

  But it's clear to me, two volumes into the Trilogy that the Passage Trilogy is less of a vampire story and more of a zombie apocalypse story.  While the monsters themselves can accurately be described as possessing vampiric qualities (they drink blood, don't like direct sunlight) the plot is firmly rooted in the apocalypse literature of Cormac McCarthy's the road.  Vampires always exist inside human society- they do not end it.   The Vampire is a romantic invention of the late 19th century- Bram Stoker's late 19th century novel was actually inspired by a literary fragment written by Lord Byron around the same time Mary Shelly penned Frankenstein.   Unlike the Romantic era elaboration of the Vampire story, Apocalypse literature extends all the way back to the beginning of Christianity.  A large percentage of what we would call "midevial popular culture" revolved around the elaboration of ideas about the Apocalypse.

Albrecht Dürer The Four Horsemen Apocalypse- Wood cut

   In the middle ages we were talking children's songs and wood block engravings, today we get pre packaged Zombie/Vampire cross-over trilogies.

  The key to understanding the distinction between Vampire stories and Zombie stories lies in understanding the relationship of Frankenstein to Dracula.  First of all, Frankenstein was first by about half a century.  Bram Stroker's Dracula was actually a late elaboration of an idea that had been kicking around Europe since before Frankenstein was published.  The primary theme of Frankenstein is the relationship of man to technology, and how technology can destroy man.  The primary theme of Dracula is the relationship of the outsider to society.  Looking at Zombie- it's easy to see that they are a monster derived from the fear of technology destroying man that was first described in Frankenstein.

 Cronin's "Virals" or "Dracs" were created in a government laboratory, in a conscious attempt to cheat nature by using science.   The main Vampires ("The Twelve") all of whom were created in this government laboratory, control their minions who are less powerful and more mechanical than the main Vampires.  Most importantly, the Virals in Cronin's Passage Trilogy utterly destroy society- putting the milleu of The Twelve firmly in the tradition of apocalypse literature.  Neither Frankenstein nor Dracula were apocalyptic in any sense.

  Cronin- who is clearly a savvy operator who knows what strings he is pulling- succeeds in pushing the ball down the field but it's hard to find any kind of specific artistic inspiration in The Twelve- which makes sense if you consider that the two books together are well over a thousand pages.  That's... a lot of apocalypse to get through.   The workmanlike style of large portions of The Twelve make it clear that Cronin is walking on the side of genre fiction rather then "serious" literature- classic status is more likely to come as a result of a succesful film adaptation by Ridley Scott then via the literary merits of Cronin's futuristic vampire zombie infested apocalyptic wasteland.


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