A Change in Humanity
George R. R. Martin’s short story, “Dark, Dark Were The Tunnels,” is one of the pieces included in John Joseph Adams compilation of apocalyptic short stories titled Wastelands: stories of the apocalypse. This story is not a traditional story of the apocalypse; it is not about humanity’s struggle to survive immediately after an apocalyptic event, in a changed environment. Nor is it a story about how humans are affected emotionally and struggle to live day to day.
Instead this is a story about how humanity has already passed its struggle and has adapted to its new world so that people may easily live and build a civilization in their changed environment. Greel, the protagonist for the first half of this story, is a member of a portion of the human population that burrowed underground in order to escape the apocalyptic wasteland of the surface of the earth. There is, however, another group of humans who escaped to a place called Luna in order to survive the apocalypse.
When two men from Luna venture in to the tunnels to look for any sign of survivors, they see Greel. The people of Luna are virtually unchanged by the apocalypse. However, the tunnel people have adapted to their new environment, with large photosensitive eyes, pale skin, long limbs and telepathic abilities. The explorers are shocked and disgusted by Greel’s appearance because he no longer looks like they do; in their eyes he is no longer a human being. “The creature in the pool of light was small, barely over four feet. Small and sickening. There was something vaguely manlike about it, but the proportions of the limbs were all wrong, and the hands and feet were grotesquely malformed. And the skin, the skin was a sickly, maggoty white.” (Adams 97).
The theme of this story is the how differences between two groups of people can result in problems between the two groups. This story’s strengths are first that you get to see the same event from the point of view of two different characters. First you come to understand Greel, a member of the new underground species of humans; then you see the same events from the point of view of the people who escaped into space. This gives you an interesting understanding of how much humans have been changed by their apocalypse becoming he two types of humans are now so different that they cannot communicate with each other. The second strength of the story is the way that Greel is introduced to the reader. If the story had started with a description of Greel than the reader might not have been able to sympathize with him. However by having his point of view first it makes the reader take Greels side and sympathize with him despite how he looks. The weakness of this story was that it did not contain many background details. It did not explain how the humans who escaped the apocalypse by going into space managed to do this. Also the details that it did give about Greels civilization were confusing because they were not explained in detail, only talking briefly about fighting through the bad levels and climbing up through tunnels. However, a lack of detail is common in short stories because it is difficult to fit in a lot of background information while still keeping the story interesting and short. The importance of this story is that it shows the long-term effects of an apocalyptic event on humanity. Humans have been completely changed by an apocalyptic event, so much so that the people who did not experience this event are shocked and horrified by what the changed group of humanity has become. They no longer consider each other a part of the same species; they are now too different from each other. This is a unique story in the collection of apocalypse stories because it shows how a ‘normal person,’ someone unaffected by the apocalypse, reacts to a person who has been changed by the apocalypse.
This story shows how the two types of people can no longer understand each other. “Dark, Dark Were The Tunnels” does not talk about the original struggles of the people who burrowed into the earth to escape the apocalypse, such as an inability to find food and the emotional impact of being trapped underground, instead it talks about how the people who have adapted to their new situation have created an entirely new civilization in their new environment. They are no longer the same group that fled underground; they have changed almost entirely. This is a story of these new people, people who were irrevocably changed by the apocalypse, meeting people who were not changed at all. The interaction between them does not end well for either party. They no longer speak the same language so they cannot communicate, they do not look the same physically, and both think that the other has a limited intelligence. The humans from Luna believe that Greel is stunted from his time underground and Greel does not understand why he cannot form a connection with the minds of the men from Luna, something that only happens with animals. Neither side understands the other and this results in Greel killing the humans from Luna because they killed his hunting rat, wrongly thinking that it was dangerous. Overall this story was a successful. It does belong in Wastelands because it tells the story of the aftermath of an apocalyptic event. It was made clear that there had been an apocalypse, saying that there had been a war; making the surface of the planet unlivable for a long time. This apocalypse is what led to the change in the human population that burrowed underground. The story is not a about the immediate effects of the apocalypse, it is a story about the aftereffects of an apocalypse.
Adams, John Joseph. Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse. San Francisco: Nightshade Book, 2008. Print.