As we come to the close of the year, 2011 saw not one but two films concerned with attitudes to our ancestors - Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Project Nim. Fiction, as well as legislation, has a long history of interest in interspecies relations and the Library contains some classic examples, including The Island of Dr Moreau and Tarzan. Many of these works show the influence of Charles Darwin's notion of evolution and importantly its antithesis - devolution or degeneration.
If humans had developed from apes could some of us occasionally revert to our primitive former selves? This theme lies behind such titles as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (see previous post) and The Time Machine. More recently, films of the 20th century continued to refer to the idea of reverting to a more bestial type (atavism), including Cat People which I have to confess, is one of my favourite movies. The original, by Jacques Tourneur, features a quote in its opening sequence from 'The Anatomy of Atavism' by Dr L. Judd:
Even as fog continues to lie in the valleys, so does ancient sin cling to the low places, the depressions in the world consciousness.
Alas, any search for this intriguing tome will prove fruitless as it, like Dr Judd, the psychiatrist in the film, never existed. Judd, played by Tom Conway lives on in film history because with his pipe, cigarettes and urbane charm he is a great example of early filmic portrayals of this profession. Here are two film clips: one from Cat People in which Judd archly smokes at a wedding party, and this trailer for the sequel Curse of the Cat People which has a Christmas theme (albeit one with threats of infanticide).
Film fans may appreciate our new e-book Icons of Grief (available to registered readers) which examines the work of Val Lewton, writer of both Cat People and the equally wonderful 'I Walked with a Zombie' (a re-working of Jane Eyre set on a tropical island). Lewton was a Russian emigree and the nephew of Hollywood star Alla Nazimova who allegedly coined the term 'sewing circle' to describe the clandestine affairs of tinsel town's bisexual and lesbian actresses.
For books that do exist concerning current legislation readers can see Marie Fox's chapter 'Legislating Interspecies Embryos' inside our new acquisition The Legal, Medical and Cultural Regulation of the Body. Fox highlights how tricky it is coining the right term to express what many consider a contestable area of research: mixing the cells or gametes of human and non-human animals. Terms like 'chimera' and 'hybrid' are often used by journalists and authors as they sound more dramatic.
Illustrations: Fantasy - human-fish hybrid. Fantasy artwork of swimming chimeras with fish heads with human legs. Credit: Diane Harris, 2002 Wellcome Images B0004399
'Monkeyana' satirical cartoon from Punch, 18 May 1861, p.206 Wellcome Images L0031419
A group of cats dressed as gentry dining in a restaurant. Watercolour. Wellcome Images V0021521