Tuesday, September 07, 2010

What work of classic literature was Gene Roddenberry's inspiration for Star Trek? (Hint: It wasn't "Wagon Train")

Star Trek motivational poster courtesy Echosphere.netA mere 44 years ago this week -- Sept. 8, 1966 -- the first episode of Star Trek aired on CBS. The debut of "The Man Trap" was the culmination of six years of work for series creator Gene Roddenberry, who had been developing and shopping his show concept since 1960.

Like all Hollywood pitches, Roddenberry had to relate his show premise to an already successful franchise in order to interest production studios. Thus, Star Trek was floated to TV houses as "Wagon Train in space" -- a description that many fans consider inaccurate, and perhaps even condescending.

In truth, Roddenberry was only citing the episodic, random-encounter-with-the-unknown aspect of Wagon Train. His inspiration for Star Trek, as he would later claim, was actually one of the most famous works of classic literature ever written.

What work of classic literature was Gene Roddenberry's self-professed inspiration for
Star Trek?

According to Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek wasn't really Wagon Train in space -- Star Trek was the sci-fi version of Johnathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels.

Specifically, Star Trek was designed to depict a surface adventure each week but with an explicit allegorical subtext underneath that commented on modern society. The original Gulliver's Travels was both a parody of the "traveler's tales" genre of 18th century popular English literature and a scathing indictment of 18th century English society. While Star Trek was not quite so dour or pessimistic about the human condition as Swift's work, it did seek to use fantastical allegories to comment on modern issues.

Whether Roddenberry consciously modeled Star Trek on Gulliver's Travels is up for debate, but the comparison is certainly apt, and undoubted worthy of a mention in the annals of the Truly Trivial.
Enhanced by Zemanta