Exhibit / August 16, 2017
Object Name: Slither, Squelch, and Slime
Maker and Year: Hamlyn/John Halkin, 1980-1985
Object Type: Paperback books
Description: (Richard McKenna)
As Western society began to shift into its post-industrial phase, the flora and fauna that had once been at the heart of the British agrarian lifestyle, and which for the last several hundred years had been interred beneath factories, exterminated as an annoyance or simply ignored altogether, began to reassert their existence in strange new fictional forms. Driven by a growing counterculture-inspired interest in the environment and a burgeoning market for mass-market scares, a new wave of horror appeared that played on the contemporary zeitgeist in much the same way the mutated monsters featured in two films from 1954—Them and Godzilla—had made manifest the nuclear anxieties of a previous generation.
The ambivalence of the British towards the abandonment of the countryside wrought by rapid industrialization had been emerging at intervals since the beginning of the industrial revolution, most notably in the upsurge of middle-class interest in rural folklore and “tradition” marking the country’s cultural life over the second half of the nineteenth century. The theme of non-human nature reasserting its primacy found its way into the popular consciousness after the Second World War in John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids (1951), as well as and in a short story by Daphne du Maurier published the following year, the film adaptation of which—Hitchcock’s 1963 The Birds—was hugely successful.
The satirical 1964 Australian sci-fi novel The Year of the Angry Rabbit, filmed in 1972 as Night of the Lepus, had featured murderous giant mutant rabbits, but it was the 1974 US publication of two bestsellers—Peter Benchley’s Jaws and Arthur Herzog’s The Swarm—that popularized the theme once more and inspired the peculiarly grimy British iterations of the genre. The success of James Herbert’s The Rats in 1975, followed a year later by Guy N. Smith’s The Night of the Crabs, demonstrated the existence of an audience for a violent, sensationalist literature—a genre now sometimes known as eco-horror—that combined lurid covers with narratives featuring the natural world as antagonist, wreaking the bucolic past’s vengeance upon a technocratic civilization emerging from the industrial smog. Generally preying upon those in society with diminished agency—the old, the young, the weak, the drunk, the illicit—and behaving at once as atavistic avenger and moralistic predator, the aim of these creatures was clearly that of eliminating the natural world’s greatest foe: mankind.
Even after those animals that could reasonably be expected to mutate into flesh-eating threats had done so, the market continued to demand fresh, increasingly esoteric natural menaces. John Halkin, a producer and writer for BBC radio, exploited his knowledge of the nature of South-East Asia and Africa to produce the onomatopoeically-titled trilogy of Slither (1980), Slime (1984), and Squelch (1985)—featuring, respectively, worms, jellyfish, and caterpillars—for Britain’s Hamlyn Books, a publishing company that shared a proprietor with Music for Pleasure, the record company famed for its budget-priced LPs of popular music and soundalike albums.