Leiningen versus the Ants (Review)

Leiningen versus the Ants (Review)

Short story this time – the magnificent tale of a planter who refuses, against man and nature and the very gods, to abandon his scientifically-run plantation to a sweeping wave of ants.

Written by Carl Stephenson for Esquire in 1938, it carries all sorts of themes across its short length. We have the white man’s burden (that is, the blunt Leiningen boosting, rallying, even threatening his squealing fearful natives to hold the line against this formicidaen army). We have the application of science to solve all problems, from the initial success of the the orderly, modern plantation to its defense (with moats and pumps and gasoline sprayers). And all this is wrapped around the granddaddy classification: man vs. nature. And this time, nature is represented by a column of voracious thumb-sized ants ten miles long and two wide.

It’s fun to read these old stories, where science solves all problems and introduces none, where social inequity is simply a matter of course and not a plot point, and where the marketing drive of modern publishing is absent (i.e. no single ant limps away from the flaming destruction, vowing in its tiny antish brain that it will return with a vengeance). No, this is just raw storytelling from a more determined age, harking back to King Solomon’s Mines and other two-fisted fare.

It’s worth looking this gem up and giving it a read – me, I’ve a copy of it in my old Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural. It’s worth it, if only for the moment when the last defense is failing, the ants are massing, the plantation seems doomed, and then Leiningen knows what he’ll have to do – it involves a protective suit coated with gasoline, a hand-sprayer for each hand, and a very long run. Through the ants…