Posts Tagged ‘Oryx and Crake’

Thoughts on Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake by way of wilderness and post-apocalyptic genre traditions
"Snowman wakes before dawn"

“Snowman wakes before dawn” – Oryx and Crake fan art by Jason Courtney
More images:

I gave a guest lecture yesterday on Oryx and Crake for a colleague’s 200-level Environmental Literature course.  My presentation was organized around the ways that the book participates in genres, challenges some of  their conventions, and updates the “classic” dystopia (WeBNW, 1984, et cetera) by moving the locus of power from the centralized state to a more nebulous net of corporations and their mercenaries.

Because nearly any lower-level survey of environmental literature will necessarily include readings drawn from the mostly-American, white male-dominated, wilderness tradition, my prep also involved looking for ways to connect what is going on in Oryx and Crake with those texts that students had recent familiarity with.  I’m not sure how well the lecture worked in setting this up, but the result was something that, in retrospect, seems quite obvious.  However, I hadn’t previously fleshed it out, which was kind of weird (I guess wilderness writing hasn’t been on my mind much recently).  My main take away point is this:  Post-apocalyptic protagonists share a number of traits with protagonists or narrators of the wilderness genre.  This has interesting implications for connecting a reading of Snowman in Oryx and Crake to both genres.


I’m fascinated with book cover art: how publishers, designers, and artists make choices to represent a book is kind of a cool possible subfield of lit. studies and way to remind students (and oneself) of the existence of a marketplace, book-as-commodity, and genre branding.

So, a couple years ago when I was teaching Oryx and Crake, the cover of the new edition the bulk of my students were using kept picking at my brain. It seemed so familiar, but I couldn’t immediately figure out why.  The original U.S. paperback used art from the left (Eden) panel of Hieronymous Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights: an extremely appropriate choice (and one I would use as a way to bring past visions of ideal social arrangements vis-a-vis Christian myth into contrast with the novel). The new edition featured more futuristic and less obviously-related art that sort-of derailed my lesson plan.  Here are the two editions.

Cover art for first U.S. edition paperback (2004)

Cover art for 2009 edition (Year of the Flood tie-in)