Extraordinary Delusions and The Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay (Part 7)

The Magnetisers

Oh, the great healing power of magnets! Whether it’s true or not, the idea of magnetism as a healing factor is an age-old belief. It comes round again and again through history and as such someone is always making a fortune.

In the writing game, the miracle cure for what ails you, your city, a country, the world, is and has always been a top selling idea. Begin with one of the oldest tales, the Arthurian saga. The grail quest, while actually more of a relic story, is about a miracle cure for the king (which in turn will renew the land). Modern variants include stories about global pandemics, but you could easily find a hundred popular stories about quack medical theories and cures if you peruse the backwaters of history. Phrenology anyone?

On God, War, and Fiction

Whether we like to admit it or not, religion has played a major role in popular fiction. One cannot ignore the impact of such stories. After all, the Bible is still the bestselling work of fiction of all time and is likely to remain so for the next few hundred years. The same thing goes for War. Why wasn’t it just a few years ago that Troy graced the screen again?

Hair and Beard

This section of the book deals with the influence of politics and religion on “the hair and the beard”. I’m not sure what cutting your hair has to do with themes in fiction, but I can see how a character’s grooming habits could influence a reader’s perception.

The Crusades

Like every great and terrible war, the Crusades has (and continues) to spawn bestselling works of fiction. This chapter on the Crusades is really fascinating. Mackay dives into the mechanics of wide-scale conflict, how it changes society and patterns of belief. He also talks about the grand stories that flow from the battlefield, the mythology that springs up time and again.

I think of smaller, lesser wars, like Vietnam, and I see all of the same characteristics evinced by the Crusades. The war in Iraq is no different. Nor WWI or WWII. Conflict sells and conflict backed by political and religious fervor sells even better.

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