Invasion of the Body Snatchersby Jack Finney, George Wilson Published 01 Jan 1999
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Originally published in 1955, Jack Finney's sinister SF tale has outgrown the initial debate about whether it satirized Communism or the conformity of US society at the time, to become a classic of paranoia; an examination of our fear of 'the other'. Most people know the story from seeing THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, the classic 1978 remake (one of the few Hollywood remakes said to better than the original, made in 1956) starring Donald Sutherland. Here's your chance to read the original source; a story that has resonated with readers and viewers for more than 50 years.
"Invasion of the Body Snatchers" Reviews
The Body Snatchers - What a extraordinary reading experience. Much of the fascination in turning the pages derives from the reader knowing this is a novel of science fiction - watching as the men and women eventually discover the body snatchers are aliens from outer space, hardly a give away as even the movie and more recent publications of the book carry the title Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
The eerie atmosphere is established within the very first pages when the narrator, Dr. Miles Bennell, shares his recent encounters with a number of patients all living in the small town of Mill Valley, California. First, there's Becky Driscoll who tells him her Cousin Wilma thinks her Uncle Ira is an impostor. Becky persuades Miles to investigate immediately and they both drive to the house of Ira Lentz in Miles' 1973 Mercedes two-seater (Jack Finney's novel was published in 1955, thus The Body Snatchers is near-future sf).
Miles pulls up and sees Uncle Ira out on his lawn, the same Mr. Lentz he has known since delivering papers as a kid. After exchanging a few words, Miles reflects: "Hell, it was Uncle Ira, every hair, every line of his face, every word, movement, and thought, and I felt like a fool."
Although Wilma acknowledges Uncle Ira looks and speaks like Ira, has all the memories and observations of Ira, she KNOWS he's not her Uncle Ira. Miles asks if she has spoken to her Aunt Aleda, since, after all, Aleda would certainly detect any difference in her husband. Wilma shakes her head 'no' and says between tears, almost on the point of hysteria: "Because - Miles - she's not my Aunt Aleda, either!"
Miles admits that all this is well beyond his professional capacity as a general practitioner of medicine and recommends Wilma see a psychiatrist he knows and thereafter takes his leave. Alarming to be sure since, after all, Wilma is an otherwise levelheaded woman. And over the course of the next week, even more reason for alarm: more patients report a variation of Wilma's story.
Then it happens: Miles' friend Jack Belicec, a writer of fiction, grabs Miles on evening as the doctor and Becky are watching a film at the local movie house. Jack tells Miles he has something to show him back at his house, something much more interesting than any film. They drive out and walk down to Jack's basement. They don't have to walk far before they all peer down. And there it is. Now the alarm bells really start ringing.
What makes The Body Snatchers such a riveting story is Miles’ every single step, his every encounter and exchange is charged with suspense, make that supercharged with suspense. Psychological theories are expounded, newspaper reports consulted, telephone calls made, but, damn it, there comes a point where reason can go just so far. What the hell is going on here?
Jack Finney's novel is also a snapshot of 1950s small town American - many are the allusions made to the times when Miles was growing up, visiting the local library, dating Becky in high school, seeing all the familiar faces around town. But, now, as Miles and Becky walk down Mill Valley's main street, they can see the entire town is altered, nearly dead - rarely do they see anybody outside and all the trash and litter scattered about makes for one dirty, grubby Mill Valley.
The lack of warmth Miles feels from people reminds him of one particular poignant memory, back years ago when he overheard the always friendly Billy the shoeshine boy: ""That's all I want, Colonel, just to handle people's shoes. Le'me kiss 'em! Please le'me kiss your feet." The pent-up bitterness of years tainted every word and syllable he spoke. And them, for a full minute perhaps, standing there on the sidewalk of the slum he lived in, Billy went on with this quietly hysterical parody of himself." No doubt about it, Miles broods, all the warmth he might feel from these Mill Valley people here and now is nothing but a façade.
As we discover toward the end of the book, The Body Snatchers is also a tale of the hero’s journey, a journey requiring great courage and wits. Fortunately for Dr. Miles Bennell, he has his once old flame, now new flame, beautiful, resourceful Becky right by his side. An outstanding, highly original novel not to be missed.
American author Jack Finney, 1911-1995
“Relationship building at a distance, through the filter of a computer, is ultimately ineffective for the sincere friend seeker, but it is ideally suited to the sociopath whose powers of manipulation are enhanced when he can operate not merely behind his usual masks but behind an electronic mask as well.”
― Jack Finney, The Body Snatchers
If there are any aliens reading this who are looking for a body to take over, hmu. Living is hard and I am ready to hand over that responsibility to some other life form. I will not (repeat: NOT) attempt to save the world through any self-destructive means necessary like these buffoons.
Just let me know.
Anyway this book was mildly entertaining but had a really awful boring female character (read: love interest) who almost never did anything except to cling to Our Hero's elbow and, like, make him carry her and cry into his chest and dumb damsel sh*t like that. Hated it.
She came up with a plan once, and it was referred to as "Becky's flimsy notion" and honestly even if that wasn't the way it was handled one plan is not enough for 206 pages of full-on DAMSELING, BECKY.
Bottom line: No thank you, 1950s gender roles!!!!!!! I'm not interested bye!!!! (But to the aliens: I definitely am interested still please message me for my contact info my inbox is open kthanksbye.)
THE BODY SNATCHERS (the longer title came later) first appeared as a serial in the general-interest magazine COLLIER'S in 1954, then was published as a novel the year later. In 1956 the movie version appeared, the first of several. As a book, BODY SNATCHERS is more influential than outstanding in its prose and composition. When it first appeared, the mysterious "invading force" was seen as a metaphor for the depersonalization of Soviet Communism; two decades later for gentrification, as in the 1978 movie remake set in San Francisco. It appears that our fears of losing our souls, our friendly neighbors and our communities are still easily invoked by Jack Finney's novel and easily transferred to whatever's going on in the world.
In construction, the book's a tad clunky: the physician protagonist does not notice how his hometown Mill Valley's business district and through streets have been deteriorating until it is too late -- a process which would take probably a year in that climate, not a few weeks as in the novel. Inevitably, and routinely, a "professor" type (actually a lecturer in Botany) shows up to explain how pod-peopling could work. The 1956 movie is one of the rare adaptations that surpasses the print original, possibly because an off-screen narrator is a less intrusive technique than the first-person-limited perspective coming from the book's town doctor. Nonetheless I urge the reading of this novel for anyone who's interested. It's a quick but highly influential read.
A pretty sinister book, this, containing some really creepy moments. It also happens to be written quite well, so, it goes without saying that I enjoyed it. Another forerunner of modern horror, The Body Snatchers, along with I Am Legend, pretty much set the stage for modern paranormal horror a la King, Koontz and co. Both of these books happen to be in the Science Fiction Masterworks series, as well.
There is some oddball science in here, but come on! It was written in the fifties, and still carries a hefty punch. A commentary on 50s politics? Who cares - it entertained me and scared the pants off me, so I just have to recommend it.
Oh, and check out that scene with the skeletons...
This is a real blast from the past & held up very well over the years. Sure, there are a few real liberties taken with science, but the doctor making house calls was more jarring to me. That was pretty much gone by the 1970's when this futuristic story was to take place, but otherwise it wasn't too dated. There were a few science elements that really strained my suspension of belief, but I found it easy enough to roll with them for the story's sake.
I've read this before, but it's been decades & most of my memories are of my favorite film version, the 1978 remake with Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, & Veronica Cartwright, although it's been done 4 times. The 1956 version starred Kevin McCarthy & Dana Wynter. For all the movies they were in, this might have been their best roles. The 1993 version was just called "Body Snatchers". I don't think I ever watched it, but plan to see the latest remake called "Invaders" done in 2007 with Daniel Craig & Nicole Kidman. Veronica Cartwright is also in it which is pretty cool. She was in the 1978 one & "Alien" too, I think.
[Update: I tried to watch "Invaders", but it was shot from a car cam & I got bored. Never saw Daniel Craig.]
All the movies varied from the book, more or less. The earlier two don't end well for humanity, while I've read that the 1993 version is ambiguous & the 2007 is upbeat. The novel's ending [spoilers removed]
Possible spoilers below to those of you who aren't familiar with this SF classic. I don't know how anyone could be, but just in case...
The obvious horror element that people seem to remember, the movies & critics concentrate on is that pods can so perfectly duplicate people that almost no one can tell them from the real one, but they're lacking the vital spark that makes them human, so are a dead end. They will duplicate any living or once living thing, but only last about 5 years before falling to dust. Eventually, the Earth will be as dead as Mars & Luna. That's what the pods do & a point is made, by the pods, that we do, too.
The real horror element is the struggle to believe in the threat, though. The Doctor tells this story in the first person past & his description of his struggle is very believable. The way our minds work in familiar grooves, seeing what they expect, & the everyday logic is what everyone struggles against the most. It's what makes the take over possible. The very idea that pod people could replace someone so exactly is ludicrous & even after seeing proof of it, he is argued around again & again. His senses & interpretation must be wrong, not the world.
It's this struggle that most don't seem to acknowledge which undercuts a lot of the criticisms leveled against the book, IMO. It's worth the suspension of belief to follow this theme through the struggle. Many other unexplained phenomena (St. Vitus' Dance, rains of toads, human spontaneous combustion, UFO's) are mentioned in support of our ability to ignore what doesn't fit. It's probably a scam, lie, or something, so we briefly acknowledge it and move on with our lives smug & safe in our world view. What else are we missing?
The reader did a great job considering he was completely miscast. He had a deep, scratchy, old man voice & the Doctor is only 28 years old, so it just didn't fit, but was still good. Great way to re-read this classic. Highly recommended.
“Grey-haired Miss Wyandotte, who twenty years ago had loaned me the first copy of Huckleberry Finn I ever read, looked at me, her face going wooden and blank, with an utterly cold and pitiless alienness. There was nothing there now, in that gaze, nothing in common with me; a fish in the sea had more kinship with me than this staring thing before me.”
*Shivers* Just the thing for Halloween! For my month of spooky reading, it is nice to be able to include a sci-fi horror title among the supernatural shenanigans. Off the top of my head, I can think of very few sci-fi horror books, the recent Bird Box, I Am Legend, Watchers, The Tommyknockers (and several other Stephen King titles), that is about it, please feel free to add more in the comments. The best example of this subgenre is probably Alien which a novelization of Ridley Scott’s movie. The movie adaptations of Invasion of the Body Snatchers are better known than the source material by Jack Finney. More on them later.
First published in 1955 (as “The Body Snatchers”), Invasion of the Body Snatchers is set in a fictional town called Santa Mira, California. One day Dr. Miles Bennell has a visit from Wilma, a lady friend who reckons her Uncle Ira is no longer her Uncle Ira, he has gone all weird. The doctor goes to visit Uncle Ira and finds nothing unusual and prescribe a good night sleep for Wilma (or something along that line). Soon, however, multiple patients come in with the same complaint, their wife/father/daughter etc. are not who they are supposed to be. Then a weird blank-faced body with no fingerprints is found at his friend Jack’s house. The next day oozy pods containing what looks like work in progress bodies show up at the doctor’s house. WTF?
If I have not seen three movie versions of this book before it I would probably have rated it 5 stars in spite of a couple of issues. The story is just fantastic, eerie, well-paced and thrilling. The idea of people you have known all your life suddenly becoming emotionless weirdoes is all too easy to imagine. The description of the still developing, incomplete pod people is also effectively vivid. The distribution of the pods by the townspeople is also an oddly disquieting scene. Unfortunately, these excellent features are a little offset by a few issues. The writing is unexceptional and even becomes clunky at times, the characterization is rather bland, and the female characters generally have no agency to speak of (except in one scene where Dr. Bennell’s girlfriend uncharacteristically becomes a badass out of the blue). The ending reminds me of The War of The Worlds, one of the greatest sci-fi books ever, almost ruined by a “cop-out” ending. Without going into details Invasion of the Body Snatchers has a similarly disappointing denouement, a bit of a damp squib after all the preceding thrills. Still, if you are unfamiliar with the story I absolutely recommend this book for its vastly entertaining thrills and creepy atmosphere. If you are a fan of some of the (four) movie adaptations you may find that there is no surprise left and that the moviemakers have unusually improved on the story. Even so, I would still recommend it with the reservations I have mentioned so far.
• I absolutely love the 1978 movie version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It has a great cast and some startling visuals. Better still, it hugely improves on the book’s ending by going into a darker – and more believable - direction.
Nimoy, Sutherland and Goldblum. What’s not to love?
Not to mention this "dog":
• The 1956 adaptation, released just one year after the book’s initial publication, is generally considered a classic. I have seen this on TV a few times and it is indeed excellent and even somewhat scary, but I still like the 1978 remake better.
The movie is actually in black & white.
• I have not seen the 1993 version so I cannot say anything about it. The 2007 version stars Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, and still manages to be crap. OK, guys, you can stop adapting this book now.
• It has been said that Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an allegory for “the dangers facing America for turning a blind eye to McCarthyism”. Make of that what you will, unfortunately, what I know about McCarthyism can be written on a UK postage stamp and still leave the queen’s head unblemished.
• Thank you, Cecily, for reminding me of another classic sci-fi horror The Thing, three adaptations made (from the novella Who Goes There?), again the second version (directed by John Carpenter) is the best.
“I warn you that what you're starting to read is full of loose ends and unanswered questions. It will not be neatly tied up at the end, everything resolved and satisfactorily explained. Not by me it won't, anyway. Because I can't say I really know exactly what happened, or why, or just how it began, how it ended, or if it has ended; and I've been right in the thick of it.”
“There was — always — a special look in his eyes that meant he was remembering the wonderful quality of those days for him. Miles, that look, way in back of the eyes, is gone. With this — this Uncle Ira, or whoever or whatever he is, I have the feeling, the absolutely certain knowledge, Miles, that he's talking by rote.”
“We're trapped by our own conceptions, Doctor, our necessarily limited notions of what life can be. Actually, we can't really conceive of anything very much different from ourselves, and whatever other life exists on this one little planet. Prove it yourself; what do imaginary men from Mars, in our comic strips and fiction, resemble? Think about it. They resemble grotesque versions of ourselves — we can't imagine anything different! Oh, they may have six legs, three arms, and antennae sprouting from their heads" — he smiled — "like insects we're familiar with. But they are nothing fundamentally different from what we know.”