chapter  11
16 Pages

Ecogothic Extinction Fiction

The Extermination of the Alaskan Mammoth
WithJennifer Schell

Between 1870 and 1901, Americans produced a wealth of woolly mammoth literature—scientific treatises, periodical articles, novels, stories, and poems—much of it set in Alaska. Fictional examples include Willis Boyd Allen’s The Mammoth Hunters (1895), which describes characters who unearth frozen mammoth remains, and Henry Tukeman’s “The Killing of the Mammoth” (1899), which describes the slaughter of the last surviving mammoth in Alaska. This chapter argues that such fictions are best characterized as ecogothic in that they adapt familiar tropes of gothic writing—its preoccupation with death, fear, excess, and monstrosity—to scientific and environmental contexts. I contend that late nineteenth-century mammoth fiction positions extinction as an especially excessive form of death and survival, as a particularly dangerous transgression of boundaries. Both serve as a source of horror/terror insofar as they create monsters and monstrosity in the form of massive frozen carcasses or living beasts. By depicting extinction and survival in this way, American mammoth texts ultimately represent ecogothic cautionary tales about the frightening effects of anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic extinction.