Knitting through the Apocalypse
You know how sometimes you’re reading along in that post-apocalyptic novel and you find yourself thinking “This is a pretty good description of the rapid rise and extreme control of a political/religious organization in the power vaccum left after that plague/nuclear/environmental disaster, but there should really be more knitting.” Yeah, me too.
It’s not that post-apocalyptic novels are completely devoid of knitting, but in my experience, the main focus often falls elsewhere. And this is a bit strange. Partly because, if industrial manufacturing is severely limited, people who craft cozy things should be an extremely valuable resources. But mainly, of course, because in the bleakest of times one turns to comforting, meditative things one loves, like knitting.
Preferably knitting in fuzzy mohair or bright colours.
A brief summary, from a knitting perspective, of some of the post-apocalyptic stories I have read:
- Earth Abides: the struggle of a small group of people to preserve information when they can barely survive day-to-day. At first I thought there was no knitting in this book; a big part of the story is that very few people have useful skills in the new world in which they find themselves and, not only that, they generally don’t have much desire to learn them. However, Google books tells me there is a mention of Ish spending a night reading by the fire while Em knits beside him. Whether she does this for comfort or practical reasons, I can’t recall.
- A Canticle for Leibowitz: also the struggle to preserve information, this time headed up by some future version of a Catholic monastery. No knitting that I can recall, although it’s been ages since I read it and the book must be at my parents’ place since I can’t turn it up at home.
- The Handmaid’s Tale: weird political organization that claims to be religious creates a class system based around women’s reproductive ability1. This book has several knitting scenes, perhaps unsurprising since Atwood herself is a knitter. But weirdly the knitting is not done by any likeable characters; rather it’s used as a creepy way for the privileged to pretend to show how compassionate and supportive they are of the lower classes. And at one point knitting is used for violence.
- Y: The Last Man: the decay of political organizations altogether and descent into anarchy, although the whole women’s rights business sort of becomes a moot point. Enjoyably, Agent 355 knits and this seems to be the only example where it’s explicitly stated that the character knits because they find the action relaxing or comforting (“to keep [her] hands busy”). She says her grandmother taught her. She also notes that needles can be used as weapons in a pinch. Note: I’m only a few volumes into this, so I could be a bit off here.
(Mistakes? Other examples? Help me out fellow
nerds sci-fi fans.)
So, on balance, there’s actually a fair bit of knitting going on as the world ends2, but if this still isn’t enough for you, GOOD NEWS. Writer and friend-of-fibre-enthusiasts Hugh Howey has put out a series of short stories/novellas with a knitting theme called Wool. The first book does not contain any knitting references, but the second one has a main character who knits:
This was her favorite part, casting on. She liked beginnings. The first row. Out of nothing came something.
I’m only just starting the third one3 and it seems like there will be less actual knitting in this one, but each book’s title is related to some part of the knitting process and the atmosphere of the book is sort of metaphorically related to that knitting action I guess.
So, yes. Wool. Knitting sci-fi-type people should check it out. You never know when disaster could strike. Grab your needles and be prepared.
1. Noted without further comment: the wiki page, imdb page and SparkNotes page all have higher Google rankings than the Amazon link to the actual book. Return to post
2. Aside: two of the most memorable scenes from the above novels (hopefully this isn’t too spoiler-y. I won’t say which ones), involve really disturbing descriptions of people killing cats and how that’s symbolic of what desperation brings out in humanity. Is this a thing, that in really bleak futures we will spend a great deal of time thinking about cats? Wait, is Cat’s Cradle literally about cats? No, don’t tell me. I will get to it eventually. Maybe it just says more about me that those are the scenes that have stuck with me all these years. Return to post
3. I thought I heard somewhere that the series was only available on Kindle, but I seem to see a paperback on Amazon. Anyway, if you have the Kindle app on something, which can include your computer if you don’t mind reading off a laptop/desktop, the first couple of books are pretty short and only 99 cents each, which is a decent way to find out if that’ll work for you. Return to post
Via: First heard about the series on Metafilter, which has more details about it being self-published and how it’s risen in popularity, which is also a pretty interesting story.