Don't Mess with Mother Nature

 I spent the weekend the way I imagine most of the rest of the country spent it—watching or reading about the horror unfolding in Houston and other parts of Texas hit by Hurricane Harvey. Unprecedented flooding, hundreds of highways closed, cutting off escape, untold numbers of people trapped or displaced, billions of dollars in damage. Images and stories of destruction reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina. Nature kicking humankind in the ass, reminding us it’s more powerful than our built environment, telling us our high-tech gizmos can’t save us. Forcing us to rely on human ingenuity and grit. Nature as antagonist is a common theme in stories. Movies like Volcano and Twister tell viewers upfront who—or what—the hero will have to overcome to save herself, her friends, the neighborhood, the planet. Every good story gives the hero a worthy antagonist is the mantra you learn in writing workshops and guidebooks. But an antagonist—the force that opposes the protagonist, the obstacle between the hero and her goal—doesn’t have to be human. Wo/man can face opposition from technology, society, animals, surroundings, weather. The force of weather can turn an otherwise mundane, familiar, bucolic setting into a strange, terrifying, menacing hell. Greater Los Angeles becomes a volcanic fit. The Great Plains become a tornado factory. New York City becomes a frozen wasteland. California becomes an earthquake-ravaged pile of rubble. Houston, Texas, the nation’s fourth largest city, becomes a swamp. On one level, the hero’s struggle against nature may serve as a metaphor for struggles against the self or as a cautionary tale against human arrogance, greed, and carelessness. On another, they serve as thrilling tales of the fight for survival against an opponent that acts without fear or mercy or discrimination or human limitation. Several human vs. nature stories, fiction and non-fiction, come to mind as I write this: The Perfect Storm, Into Thin Air, San Andreas, Dante’s Peak, To Build a Fire What are some of your favorite stories that feature nature as the “bad guy”? Donate to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts: https://www.redcross.org/donate/donation 

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