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Heroic Myth to Little Green Men
Tales of Outer Space

Heroic Myth to Little Green Men
  • Lucian's True History (by )
  • The Thousand and One Nights, A New Tr. B... (by )
  • The Warlord of Mars (by )
  • Flash Gordon : 1968 Annual (by )
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Ancient astronomers discerned patterns of stars, constellations anchored by particularly bright points of light, and named them. The Western world knows these constellations mainly by their Greek names and through Greek myth: Cassiopeia, Orion, Pegasus, etc. Other cultures grouped constellations differently and assigned them different names in accordance to their mythologies and heroic traditions. From Lucian’s second century True History to 10th century Japan’s The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter to the Middle East’s medieval One Thousand and One Arabian Nights and throughout the millennia to the modern age, mankind’s fascination with the “Great Beyond” never ceases.

Stories regarding beings from other realms beyond human ken, especially beings who meddled in the affairs of humans, attribute supernatural powers, superior knowledge, uncommon beauty, super strength, and other attributes to those beings, as well as a full complement of human failings: greed, envy, jealousy, anger, lust, infidelity, discontent, gluttony. Humans being what they are, lust tops the list of troublesome traits and spawns a good part of those cultures’ heroic traditions.

From gods to fairies to little green men from outer space, extraterrestrial beings (mostly male) who fall prey to the allure of humanity (mostly women) and mingle with them produce the world’s most exciting heroes to crowd the world’s literary traditions. Few instances occur of a human man ensnared by the infatuation of an immortal female.

Alien invasions range from crash landings to ominous attempts to rule Earth to romanticized hunts for fertile mates. The militaristic aspect appears more prominently in times of political tension and reflect fears of invasion by enemy nations. Others take a more congenial look at the meeting of human and alien, such as the moves The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).

Evolving beyond mythology into popular literature, the possibility of life on other planets spawned a new genre in literature in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: science fiction. Joining such pioneers as H. G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs (check out The Warlord of Mars), and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (yes, he wrote more than the famous Sherlock Holmes stories), authors expanded their imaginations to encompass fantastic stories, futuristic technology, and interspecies relations. Enter Golden Age authors such as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Jack Chalker, Robert A. Heinlein, and Ursula K. LeGuin. Collections of short stories entered the market alongside novels, soon to be accompanied by comic books, movies, and television shows. Aliens, humanoid and not, abound in The Twilight Zone, Flash Gordon, Star Trek, Stargate SG-1, and other titles.

Today, the concept of intelligent life on other planets doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Whether those aliens have supernatural powers, want to conquer Earth and/or eat its inhabitants, facilitate an exchange of technology, or expand their dwindling populations, authors and readers remain willing to speculate on the possibilities.

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