When the Muse strikes: Inspiration from the inhumane

 

Warning: the videos included and discussed below are graphic in nature.

 

Inspiration can strike like a lightning bolt—sudden and intense—or come on like a slow simmer, gradually erupting into a something of an idea. Greater writers than I have addressed the subject of ideas and inspiration. (A particular favorite of mine is Neil Gaiman’s 1997 essay “Where do you get your ideas?”) But everyone has a different process with the Muse, so I will explore where I found inspiration for some of my recent stories: “Dead Meat Running” and “The Hunt.”

In “Dead Meat Running,” the unnamed youth talks at length about a video he watched in which a baboon devoured a gazelle alive and how he once thought that was the most evil thing he would ever see. Inspiration for this moment came in part from my own viewing of the video:

To be eaten alive: what a horror. This video encapsulates some of the greatest brutality I have witnessed in the animal kingdom. There are almost no words to fully encapsulate my feelings about this video. (And, to be honest, I have only watched it once. Even in preparation for writing this post, I could not bring myself to watch it again.)

There is something that separates man from animal, and a part of that is the ability to recognize the utter wrongness of this moment. This animal acts on its hunger, unaware of the manner in which it satisfies that hunger. There is a reason that if this video were of a man devouring a gazelle in the same manner, it would be deemed “inhumane.”

According to the Oxford-English Dictionary, the first usage of “inhumane” in 1599 was synonymous with “inhuman,” or not human. This definition now obsolete, the more modern usage means “not humane; destitute of compassion for misery or suffering in men or animals.” So, to be human is to be compassionate, capable of feeling and empathizing with the misery of both man and animal. This word, as shown by its original meaning, comes from our belief that there is an essential quality to being “human,” and one of the virtues of being human is we believe we are something more, something greater than other animals.

In “Dead Meat Running,” I explored the concept of the inhumane/inhuman versus the humane/human with monstrous beings hunting man for no known reason and how man reacts to being hunted. And in “The Hunt” I continue to explore it through the story of Malcolm, a man accompanying an alien hunting party as an observer. For “The Hunt” I drew upon this video for inspiration, specifically the elephant hunt at 2:30:

First, let us put aside the dramatic music. It is the same music that would be played in an old horror film when a beloved character is threatened or brutally killed by an evil force. It is obviously included to provoke an emotional reaction from the viewer, and its inclusion in a film about native Africans perpetuates a negative portrayal of native peoples.

The music aside, the depicted killing of the elephant was still troubling for me. This is because unlike the other animals, which are only able to flee from the hunters’ weapons, the elephant struggles against the weapons used against it. With its prehensile trunk, it can remove the weapons and fling them aside. Its death is inevitable, but still it does “not go gentle into that good night.” This intense struggle for life—coupled with the knowledge that elephants are one of the world’s most intelligent creatures—sparked in me a deep sadness. This hunt by man is one truly “inhumane.”

Reflecting on elephant hunting, I wondered what it would be like for a human to be confronted with this kind of hunting on an alien world. Would he enjoy the hunt? Or be saddened? Disgusted? When one is part of a culture or—for science-fiction—a species, one can easily accept the way things are, but as an outside observer, one tends to see things in a different light. That train of thought led to “The Hunt.”

Whew, those videos were pretty intense. Let’s finish up with some friendly fighting:

Fluffy kittens play fighting gif

You can find both “Dead Meat Running” and “The Hunt” on Amazon.

Are you a writer? Artist? What’s an example of where you get inspiration from?

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