Monday, October 22, 2012

Influence webs

In 1997, both the book Reliquary and the movie Mimic were released. By coincidence, I read Reliquary just two weeks after I saw Mimic. Both stories involve murderous creatures living far beneath the New York city streets. Now this isn't the first time the New York subterranean world made a splash in pop culture. I was first introduced to that realm in Diane Duane's So You Want to Be A Wizard (1982), and I loved the original Beauty and the Beast tv show. Plus, I know I'll never forget the abandoned subway scenes in 1989's Ghostbusters 2. The old City Hall station was amazing!

But something struck me while I was reading Reliquary. There were two phrases in the book that I'd just heard in Mimic: "mole people" and "track bunny." Mole people meant people who live underground, homeless people taking advantage of New York's many underground structures. Track bunnies meant rats. I thought it was funny that two works could use these exact phrases, and I have a hunch that Reliquary's authors (Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child) might have explained a lot when in the acknowledgements of Reliquary they mentioned the book The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City, by Jennifer Toth.

There's a lot of doubt about the veracity of this book, but it came out in 1993 and was a huge splash. Did it influence the people working on Mimic? I bet it did. Does it matter that the book might be more fictional than the author claimed? Not really. The things Toth said inflamed the imagination.

I love to see the way literature weaves its way into popular culture, leaving ripple effects across our mental landscapes. There are lots of famous books we can think of that transformed our culture with great ideas: The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin; The Interpretation of Dreams, by Sigmund Freud; The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx. But smaller texts (and movies count as a kind of text) still change our culture. People skipped out on their beach vacations because of Jaws. Wizards became normalized after Harry Potter. And of course, none of these works actually stand on their own. They were spun from thousands upon thousands of texts that created their authors' frames of reference. Some influences just stand out more than others.

The story of the mole people continues threading its way through our culture. You might recognize it if you pick up Guillermo del Toro's The Strain series.

PS: If you are interested in the New York underground, subway enthusiast Joseph Brennan has a fantastic site packed with diagrams and photos, as does

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