Speculative Fiction Tropes: Judgment Day
Today continues the April A-Z Challenge. This month, I'll be blogging (almost) daily about a different speculative fiction trope, one for each letter of the alphabet. Today's entry is on Judgment Day. The Apocalypse. The end of the world as we know it.
A famous film example of humanity struggling in the face of an alien apocalypse is the 1996 Roland Emmerich explosion-fest, Independence Day. A fleet of warships roll in, blackening the skies of major cities across the world. An Apple Powerbook-wielding Jeff Goldblum discovers a countdown signal the aliens are using to coordinate, and when the timer expires: boom.
Of course, the concept permeates not only fiction, but some of the core cultural forces of our world. Most of our prevalent religions have an "end of days" prophecy, to the extent that some adherents anticipate its arrival with an intense fervor, convinced the day of reckoning is at hand. The very title of this entry comes from the eschatological worldview of the Abrahamic faiths, in which it is believed that God will ultimately judge the nations of the earth, saving his true followers and condemning the rest.
The popular mold for this version of Judgment Day was cast by J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, which saw corrupt demigod Sauron grasping for dominance of the world his predecessor Morgoth had sought to destroy.
My own work has yet to feature any world-ending events, though I do have a story or two that take place in a post-apocalyptic setting, which is a trope all to its own. Many works of fiction depict a world that has already ended, the story taking place long after, in the devastation that's left behind. Often the writer will set up these kinds of tales by depicting the event itself. Or, they may let the reader decipher the cause of the unseen destruction by trailing breadcrumbs throughout the story.
I don't know if our real-life world is headed to its end. A lot of people seem convinced of it. Humanity has obviously shown itself capable of unsettling levels of self-destruction in the past, and continues to show grim potential in its darkest moments. But I'm fairly optimistic that the world and its inhabitants will keep chugging along on the path of progress, and hopefully I won't see any Great Judgments in my lifetime.
After all, as much as I like post-apocalyptic stories, I really can't be bothered to star in one.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams
The End of the Beginning by Ray Bradbury
Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind