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In the MYTHOLOGY of the Old Testament the Messiah is the deliverer of prophecy, destined to lead the Jews to their salvation; the New Testament claims that Jesus was the Messiah. The term is applied by analogy to any saviour or champion whose arrival is anticipated, hoped for or desperately needed. Because Christian images of the future have always been associated with ideas of the Millennium and the Apocalypse, a preoccupation with messiahs in the futuristic fiction of Western culture is only to be expected. Many HEROES in sf play quasimessianic roles, but there is a more-or-less distinct category of stories which deals specifically with this aspect of Judaeo-Christian religion.
Early sf featured numerous messianic political fantasies, including H.G. WELLS's When the Sleeper Wakes (1899) and Victor ROUSSEAU's The Messiah of the Cylinder (1917); the most literal of these is M.P. SHIEL's Lord of the Sea (1901). Earnest futuristic religious fantasies of the same period featuring messianic figures include Guy THORNE's And it Came to Pass (1915) and Upton SINCLAIR's They Call me Carpenter (1922). William Hope HODGSON's "The Baumoff Explosion" (1919; vt "Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani") strikes a more sceptical note in describing a re-enactment of the crucifixion which goes hideously wrong. There is little or no trace of messianic mythology in the sf PULP MAGAZINES until the 1940s, when it became possible for a SUPERMAN to play a quasimessianic role, as in DARKER THAN YOU THINK (1940; 1948) by Jack WILLIAMSON. What Dreams May Come (1941) by J.D. BERESFORD likewise features a superhuman messiah, although The Gift (1946) by Beresford and Esme Wynne-Tyson is a more straightforward religious fantasy. L. Ron HUBBARD's Final Blackout (1940 ASF; 1948) has an inordinately charismatic hero who may qualify as a messiah. Ordinary men sometimes take on similarly charismatic roles when they are transplanted into PARALLEL WORLDS, as in Henry KUTTNER's The Dark World (1946 Startling Stories; 1965) and James BLISH's The Warriors of Day (1953).
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