Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University
An Educated and Informed Citizenry is One of the Hallmarks of a Successful Democracy
An important component of a successful democracy is to have an informed and educated citizenry. If citizens do not have access to reliable knowledge and the ability to differentiate between valid and invalid information our democracy is destined to fail. It is indeed our ability to read and write and gain information about current issues in society that empowers us. In order for us to make wise choices about our candidates for public office or to make choices about what issues to vote for we must do our research and our “homework.” Along these same lines, as a university professor, I am always encouraging my students to read more. Further, I even tell them that if they do not like to read it is likely because they have not found anything that they find interesting. If they find a topic or genre that interests them they would enjoy reading more. There are many literary genres and categories to choose from including non-fiction, biographies, graphic novels, westerns, mystery novels, historical fiction, science fiction and apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction. As a child who went to an inner city elementary school, I did not always understand the value of literacy and education. However, I had teachers that introduced me to historical fiction and post-apocalyptic fiction. It was from reading novels such as My Brother Sam is Dead By James and Christopher Collier and George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) that I fell in love with reading and education. It is in that spirit I would like to offer some resources and material that students can grab that are related to the COVID19 virus pandemic.
Apocalyptic and Post-apocalyptic Fiction and Media Related to Coronavirus
There is a genre of books called apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction that has always fascinated me. A sub-genre of apocalyptic literature that is related to the current pandemic is dystopian literature. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction defines dystopian works as depicting a negative view of “the way the world is supposedly going in order to provide urgent propaganda for a change in direction.” In the current times in which we are living, my mind has gone back to some of the literature I have read and even films I have seen that try to speak to what life might be like in the not-so-distant future, if some disease or nuclear fall-out scenario gets the best of us. Some people even use biblical language and say some of the content from this genre can be prophetic. Reminiscent of the genre of religious texts known as apocalyptic literature. That is, the scenarios that are playing out in our world today (I.e. the rapid advancement of disease spread throughout the world) are eerily similar to what has been stated or even predicted in some of the ancient literature, as well as modern books and films about the end of days.
Thus, in this article I thought it would be fun to provide resources within the apocalyptic genre that deal with a wide range of subjects and predictions about what the end of days will be like. This post is not meant to scare folks but is an excuse to get us reading more and reflecting more upon our world and our society while many folks around the world are on lock down. What will be our “new normal”? What adjustments will we have to make as Americans? What comforts will we have to give up? What will our lives be like in this new world post pandemic? Will it be similar to scenarios that play out in literature and films? But on a lighter note, what better time to start reading and checking out some classic texts and films than now?
Resources and Lesson Plans
Below I am offering some online resources and lesson materials that teachers can use in language arts, social studies and science classes to help them teach about dystopian concepts, human adaptation to struggle and the rapid spread of diseases in society and people’s reaction to them. Many of the resources below are free (Including full movies in some cases), clickable links that will take the reader right to the material. These are great resources that can keep students engaged, in light of many of them being suddenly home-schooled.
The Stand, by Stephen King (1978)
We chose this book first because there is a surprising similarity between the pandemic in The Stand and the coronavirus outbreak. Some might argue that King is prophetic as this fiction novel seems more realistic today than ever before. However, there are some more sinister differences between the scenario that plays out in King’s novel and today’s reality with COVID19. In The Stand there is a strain of influenza that the government has modified for biological warfare. However, the virus has been accidentally released, which causes a pandemic that wipes out most of the world’s population. We hope and pray that this won’t be the fate of our world today, but this is Stephen King at his finest. He has an uncanny knack for tapping into our deepest fears as humans.
Pale Horse, by Katherine Anne Porter (1939)
Pale Horse is somewhat of a historical novel that is similar to The Stand and the times that we are living in because it also deals with a flu pandemic. The notion of the pale horse is a reference to apocalyptic writings from Revelations 6:8 in the bible. The novel is centered around an actual historic event, namely the Spanish flu pandemic that took the lives of 40-50 million people in 1918. The author Katherine Porter had contracted the flu during the pandemic in her youth and nearly died, which likely influenced her to write the book. The book revolves around romance between the characters Adam and Miranda during the pandemic. Miranda contracts the disease and is cared for by her lover. However, unfortunately, Adam dies from the disease while Miranda survives.
Severance, by Ling Ma (2018)
The novel Severance seems very prophetic as it was written very recently, as in two years ago. The author is a Chinese American and was perhaps inspired by the recent pandemics that have taken place in China as of late. In her book a plague called Shen Fever rapidly spreads and the main character (Candace) who is in the early stages of pregnancy is one of the last survivors to escape the city. She is rescued by a group of survivors led by a tyrannical leader, who live underground. This is a familiar trope and story line, that to me never gets old.
Another novel from the early twentieth century is entitled The Plague, by Albert Camus (1947). Camus’ article is great for social studies and language arts classes as it deals with some larger themes revolving around the best and worst of humanity. The novel centers around a plague that sweeps through the French Algerian city of Oran, and is thought to be based on the cholera epidemic that decimated Oran in 1849. The novel is written in the existentialist tradition. Existentialist literature focuses on human autonomy and a quest to make meaning out of a meaningless world. The novel studies “the human condition and the effects a pandemic of this scale has on a populace.” This text can be really useful in an advanced language arts or social studies classroom, and would be a very timely read in light of the COVID19 epidemic.
And just for fun, for you horror or Walking Dead fans, The Strain trilogy by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro (2009-2011) offers a fresh new take on the vampire myth. The book is about a virus that is carried by silver capillary worms and spreads quickly turning its victims into vampires. The protagonist is an epidemiologist named Dr. Ephraim Goodweather who is bent on finding a cure for the disease, which is spreading like wildfire throughout the world.
Lesson Plans and Resources Using Dystopian Literature
A Dystopian Future- Lesson Plan
Here are some Hunger Game lessons
Hunger Games Lesson Plans
Hunger Games Unit Plan
The Hunger Games Exploring Choice; Fear; Animalistic Instincts; Conformity How do these characteristics change who you are or how you make decisions?
Fahrenheit 451 in Social Studies- Lesson Plan
The Giver- Lesson Plan
Dystopian Literature Unit Plan
Books about epidemic and pandemic diseases
7 chilling fictional books about virus outbreaks you should take a sniff at
Although it is a non-fiction text Outbreak!: 50 Tales of Epidemics that Terrorized the World is a very timely resource in light of the COVID19 pandemic.
I Am Legend (1954)
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985)
Journal of the Plague Years by Norman Spinrad (1988)
The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman (1989)
Ammonite by Nicola Griffith (1992)
Beauty Salon by Mario Bellatin (1994)
Blindness by José Saramago (1995)
The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson (2002)
Pandemics: An Essential Reading List
List of dystopian literature
Two Notable Books Within the Dystopian Genre
Brave New World (1931), by Aldous Huxley
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), by George Orwell
Apocalyptic and Post-apocalyptic Films.
Here is a List of apocalyptic films.
Contagion (2011) Official Exclusive
The Omega Man- 1971- Full Movie
The Omega Man -Trailer
I am Legend
The Book of Eli
The Time Machine By H.G. Wells (Full Movie)
Time Machine (Trailer)
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) – Movie Trailer
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)- Full Movie
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)- Trailer
The Maze Runner
War of the Worlds (1953) Classic
“The War Of The Worlds”  HD Stereo Sampler
The Last Man on Earth (1964)
Night of the Living Dead (1964)- Full Movie
Night of the Living Dead- Trailer
As I stated earlier, this article is not to invoke fear in people, but books and material like what we have discussed can give us insight into the human experience and perhaps give us some directives on how to respond to tragedies such the coronavirus pandemic and other human struggles that will come our way in the future on both a micro and macro level.
1. What are themes from the literature and films that speak to the current COVID19 pandemic?
2. Discuss ways you might be able to use select dystopian films or literature in your social studies and language arts courses in a meaningful way?
3. If you have used some of this material in your class or even encountered the resources in your middle or high school experience how did you engage the material? As a teacher how did you use the material?