In Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror historian W. Scott Poole argues that the traumas of the First World War still echo through our culture 100 years later. From the The Walking Dead’s zombie hordes to the faceless killing machines of the Halloween and Friday the 13th franchises, the monsters of our collective imagination were born from the world’s first truly modern war ... Poole sees not only the shadows of a war lost to living memory but a whole new set of cultural anxieties.
If nothing else, Wasteland... is fully attuned to the conflict’s devastating psychological impact ... Much of what follows is highly persuasive ... On the other hand, the further that Mr. Poole casts his net—when it is flung over modernist literature, for example—the less convincing some of his thesis becomes ... Surrealism, Dada, André Breton, Salvador Dalí, Fritz Lang . . . there is scarcely an artform, an artist or an artifact that isn’t somehow grist to Mr. Poole’s conceptualizing mill, and the fact that, for example, there were plenty of [similar works from before the war] goes unrecorded ... When Mr. Poole is good, he is very good... But his diffuseness rather lessens the book’s overall effect. So, too, does the curious hybridization of the style ... Still, Mr. Poole’s general conclusions about World War I’s transformation into art, and the process of psychological displacement that accompanied it, are incontestable.
... W. Scott Poole... provides an alternative—or, perhaps, in keeping with this book, uncanny—analysis of the artistic and cultural legacy of the War to End All Wars ... And yet, while Poole's thesis is persuasive and his prose sharp, perhaps the origin of modern horror is more complicated [than portrayed in the book]. In the rapidly accumulating examples and analyses, the study suffers from a familiar cultural history problem: single-mindedness. The Great War is Poole's Theory of Everything ... Still, the book's wide-ranging erudition, strong prose, and clear love and fascination with both history and horror—this review barely scratches the surface of all of the topics and texts covered—will appeal to a variety of readers, but only those who can persevere without losing heart.