There are stories out there that have legacies that transcend their origins. Everyone has heard of Sweeney Todd, but very few could say that he first appeared in a penny dreadful called The String of Pearls. Werewolves changing with the full moon is common knowledge, but we forget that this concept was first properly grounded in the public consciousness by the 1943 film Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man. So many stories have had those they influence outlast their humble beginnings. And so is perhaps true with ‘The Fog Horn’, a short story published by science-fiction writer, Ray Bradbury.
Bradbury is perhaps best known now for his novel Fahrenheit 451, one of the staples of mid-twentieth-century dystopian fiction, featuring a society which has prohibited the possession of books, with the fire department now in charge of creating fires, not extinguishing them, to rid the world of the paperback devils. His other publications include Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles, and The Illustrated Man, and are also very well regarded. He is, therefore, a damn good writer.
In 1951, Bradbury published a short story called The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. In this story, two lighthouse attendants witness a great creature rising up from the depths. This creature is big, with great eyes that reflect the light of the lighthouse, with a great neck, and a massive, hulking body. The last of a species of dinosaur, it is speculated. It has come here once a year for the past few years now, and the sound of the lighthouse’s fog horn is almost exactly the same as the monster’s, to the lighthouse on the rock, which is described as similarly looking like a long neck on a great body emerging from the sea. The monster attacks the lighthouse, destroying it and trapping the two keepers in the rubble. Having destroyed the thing it believes to be another of its own kind, the monster howls in lamentation and sorrow, before departing into the seas, never to be seen again.
When this story was published, a small monster movie about a monster awakened from the depths of the sea thanks to atomic testing, was in development. The working title for this film was apparently to be called Monster from Beneath The Sea. Upon seeing the story, the producers bought the rights to the story and changed their script around a bit to capitalize on Bradbury’s up-and-coming success. They included a scene where their dinosaur, a Rhedosaurus (completely made up for the film), appears in silhouette, and attacks and destroys a lighthouse, before going on its rampage through Manhattan. The film itself is actually good fun, with some great stop-motion monster effects by the legendary Ray Harryhausen, and it finishes off with a nice sequence utilizing Coney Island to have its finale. Meanwhile, the original story, when it is anthologised in The Golden Apples Of The Sun, has its name changed to ‘The Fog Horn,’ and has been called so ever since.
The story, however, does not end there with this little B-movie. When The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was released, the poster depicted it breathing smoke and fire. The Rhedosaurus doesn’t breathe any such smoke or flame in the film because of budget and other practical reasons, but since when do posters tell the objective truth of a film? This poster attracted the attention of Japanese film producers, who decided to make a similar film. They brought in Ishiro Honda, interwove their own, very recent atomic age fears and memories into the narrative (remember that Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren’t even a decade past), and created their own beast from the depths of the sea. Thus was born Gojira, or, to western audiences, Godzilla.
So we have a little short story about a dinosaur and a lighthouse to thank for the biggest monster of them all, the cementation of the kaiju as an international force of nature, and thousands of action figures and t-shirts worldwide. And if anyone is an old-school Pokemon fan, go back and watch the episode ‘Mystery At The Lighthouse’, an episode which you probably forgot about completely and yet will instantly remember as soon as you’ve read this. A massive dinosaur-like pokemon with shining eyes emerges from the sea to the summons of a fog-shrouded lighthouse, it’s one of the most haunting images of many people’s childhoods at a certain age. Coincidence?
And then let’s wonder if other lighthouse-based stories have been influenced by this classic short. It’s been stated by Leonard Nimoy that an episode of Star Trek was inspired by the story, but could we also include 2019’s The Lighthouse as having been influenced in some way by Bradbury? Two male lighthouse keepers trapped far away from civilization, seeing ancient things rising out of the depths? Seems familiar. And what about the 1977 serial of Doctor Who, ‘The Horror at Fang Rock’, where again, a lighthouse shrouded by the mists comes under attack from a strange, monstrous presence? How far does Bradbury’s tale’s influence go?
Far beyond what he intended, that’s for sure. The little lighthouse that could, it seems to have a great legacy in the world of horror, science-fiction, and fantasy; one that has left it forever changed.
-Article by Kieran Judge