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Extra-terrestials Extending The Definition

By Author: Timothy Gonzalez
Total Articles: 40

Extar-terrestrial beings offer enormous scope for writers, but they are more often cast as villains rather than angels. This is understandable, for our modern scientific minds see them as probably coming from space - from a star, planet or galaxy light-years away. Since we have only recently managed to send an active robot to Mars, their arrival implies technical superiority. The history of earth tells us that when a technically superior culture makes contact with a lesser one, the latter gets exploited. So the extra-terrestrial being probably inspires suspicion and fear. Those emotions are excellent material for story and film, so "Invasion of the body-snatchers" is fairly typical of what we are offered - dangerous enemies. There are exceptions of course, such as ET of the film about him, but not many.
Another limitation of the scientific approach is that less attention is given to the nature and background of the extra-terrestials themselves. Matters like where they come from, and how they came to be whatever they are now, and their motivation and their own inter-personal problems. There are areas to be explored and examples we can follow.
Less scientific generations assumed that extra-terrestials came from heaven or hell, with the appropriate motivation. They might be Gods in person - like the Greek pantheon based on Mount Olympus - or Angels or Devils sent as agents. Acceptance of the supernatural meant that there was no need to describe how they came or how they communicated with their base or anything about technology. They just appeared, like the Great Twin Brethren who fought on the Roman side at the battle of Lake Regilus. (Lord Macaulay). The Roman leader, was, quite suddenly, "aware of a princely pair who rode at his right hand". They were obviously extra-terrestials, for the poem goes on to describe the quality of their armour, which could not possible, says the poet, have been made by man.
The spiritual rather than the scientific as a source of ideas makes it easier for an extra-terrestrial to be human-friendly. The Bible has numerous instances, one of the very best coming from the Book of Tobit in the Apocrypha. Tobias was looking for a guide to accompany him on a journey and, "he found Raphael that was an angel". A few lines later Rahael says, 'I will go with thee, and I know the way well'." (Tobit Ch.5 v.4-6). Raphael has appeared in human guise and they make a long camel journey together. In the Tigris they catch a fish, and Raphal instructs Tobias to keep some parts of it because they have magical powers. They complete their journey and use these magical bits of flesh to save the heroine from a ghastly fate. Tobias duly marries her.
Having done their work, these extra-terrestials are likely to disappear without notice. Raphael does so, and so also do The Great Twin Brethren. This literary freedom also enlivens the modern story of The Shepherd by Frederick Forsyth in which the pilot of an aircraft - disoriented and short of fuel - is guided to his destination by a plane from a previous era appearing magically alongside.
Benevolent extra-terrestials also invite creative writing about how they think and feel and what they do and where they go when not interacting with us. It happens less when they are enemies and the main subjects of the story are ourselves, and how we suffer and how we finally rid ourselves of the intruders. With the benevolent type one can ask and answer a range of questions. Are they sent to us in visible or invisible form? If invisible, is there an observable consequence of their actions? Are they constantly at work (the Guardian Angel concept) or do they get assigned to one-off tasks? How is their success judged? Do they leave loved-ones behind them when sent on assignment? Do they get tired? Do they sometimes get furious with the stupidity of the humans they are sent to help? Are they ever undecided? Are they strictly briefed by God or Satan or do they have great discretion? Do they ever fail? A story has to have defined characters to love or hate, and extra-terrestials can be endowed with human and non-human attitudes and emotions. The former often arouse our sympathy: the latter could well be shocking. Both emotions contribute to a good story. Note how the Greek Gods squabble amongst themselves on Mount Olympus and choose favourites to support on earth.
There are books in which we get hints about emotions - though not enough. Mephistopheles in Malowes Dr. Faustus is clearly pleased when he drags Faustus off to hell. In The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber we meet an angel of the devil (The Todal) who is sent to "punish evil-doers for doing less evil than they should". One wonders how his level of success is judged and what excuses he offers if he is deemed to have failed.
Maybe an extra-terrestrial is an open-minded explorer. In our world exploration has become connected with colonisation, trade, power and the concept of personal or national gain. For the benevolent extra-terrestrial it may not be so. He (or She or It) may be here because 'home' has no facilities for skiing or surfing and the activity is then akin to tourism. Or possibly our art and music and literature are thought to be superior, offering progress. There is scope for a creative story about introducing Him (or Her or It) to the human concept of humour. Exactly why is it funny that a person should slip on a banana skin? How is this communicated to an alien intelligence?
Perhaps these ideas will inspire writers to exploit what I call the Angel Analogy and create new, entertaining characters and adventures.

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