Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of those epics that is hard to resist.  Classic book, classic film, and the rest is  pure enjoyment.   Note first that Jack Finney’s book was called The Body Snatchers, and not Invasion of the Body Snatchers but since movies rule the cultural roost, it’s not been possible to reprint it without the extended title coming into play.

The other thing about the book The Body Snacthers, is that while it is epic, it is not classic.  Few readers feel that The Body Snatchers is great, even classic. Some deny it is even good.  It's still in print and there are many exciting looking editions and monstrous liveries, because the story is always beckoning.  But it's one of those cases where the film is better than the book.  You know?

The 1956 film of Invasion of the Body Snacthers is significant enough to be a century-defining work of art, and that aren't that many of those.  The book is somewhat different and having set out the initial premise, Finney pretty much rushes to the end in formulaic style.  The seeds are there however, if I can put it like that, and what marks The Body Snatchers out from other fiction of its time is the fact that the invading aliens are represented more like a process than an actual physcial threat, and as such induce huge paranoia in the hero, Miles.  Increasingly, Miles and his girlfriend Becky are isolated, as the police and the telephone exchange are taken over, and although the film versions vary in quality, what is great is that each one is different, as opinion can remain totally open concerning what the pods represent.  While it's sometimes said the pods in the book represent communism, the film versions have tended to suggest that social conformity in general is the threat, or at least, mindless obedience to authority.

The kernel within the novel is still compelling, but it’s hard to resist reading more into it than is there. It’s possible for example that The Body Snatchers contains a critique of the ideas of Freud, which by the 1950s had dug their way rather uncomfortably into the American psyche. I think if the critique is there at all, it is lurking far back in Jack Finney's writing mind.  He maybe had more material than he realised.

body snatchersThese questions of identity then, which are prominent in the filmed versions of the story, may or may not exist in the novel, you have to judge for yourself. Finney doesn’t strike you as the sort of writer that would spend much energy on this kind of psychological study, and yet its’ there in the marrow of the book.

What's not in the book is very much up for debate but what is certain is that The Body Snatchers depicts a lot of paranoia. In brief The Body Snatchers is a tale of infiltration and possession in small town America. (Cast of the movie image from Wikimedia) In large it is paranoia, a ramped up and freaky fear of those around you.

The Body Snatchers has been adapted for the screen four times; 1956, 1978, 1993, and 2007. The last of these, starring Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman was particularly poor, although that’s neither of these actors’ faults.  The first two of these are particularly brilliant, holding as they do keys to the western political climates of their day.  You heard it here, on Epic Volumes.

Unlike two of the film adaptations, Jack Finney's novel contains an optimistic ending, with the aliens voluntarily vacating after deciding that they cannot tolerate the type of resistance they see in the main characters, who are in classic sci-fi mode, simply typical earthlings who just happen to have the responsibility of saving the planet thrust upon them.

Of course, Miles and his girlfriend Becky do their best, but this is similarly expected of normal humans. If they had been any more radical or non-conformist, they might have been too interesting to get involved in world-ending problems such as these.  Defence of America in the novel The Body Snatchers is a straight-up natural knee-jerk reaction to the invasion.

The Body Snatchers may not even trying to be operate as a statement about individuals resisting the pressures of conformity.  Most of this has been added by the filmed versions, and in fiction, it has been done so much better elsewhere.

Jack Finney is however clear about the question of reproduction.  The regenerative or sexual aspect of the aliens isn't that clear, though pretty gross in the filmed versions, but if you read The Body Snatchers the novel, you'll be surprised at the instant pathos of the aliens, who can’t reproduce.  The aliens of The Body Snatchers (book) are not Communists but merely loveless.  With no love or regeneration their only alternative is that they take over every person on earth, live in their replicated shells for five years, and move on leaving a planet sterile of humanity.

The loveless are pointless, the childless are loveless, says Jack Finney.  Finney seems to have fallen asleep just before the end of this composition, and actually resorts to quoting Winston Churchill in his closing lines: “We shall fight them in the fields, and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. True then for one people, it was true always for the whole human race, and now I felt that nothing in the whole vast universe could ever defeat us.”

The beginning of The Body Snatchers is however cracking, almost postmodern in its assertion that narrative is impossible, and that closure will not be reached. It is a masterful opening, and a real coup in which Jack Finney grabs the reader’s attention, almost telling him or her not the read the book at all. It’s brilliant and it secures The Body Snatcher's status as an Epiuc Volume:

quotation marks"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 ended; and I’ve been right in the thick of it. Now if you don’t like that kind of story, I’m sorry, and you’d better not read it. All I can do is tell you what I know."