The Greek, as seen above, can be translated (by Google Translate), “Dystopia, the opposite of a utopia. Where the future is worse than the present.” This was the thought of many people when the use of dystopia began in the 1800s. It was the imagination of darker times ahead versus the good times that the utopian literature focused on.
To the writer of The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, dystopia can be defined as world that is “too bad to be practical” (Claeys 16). Or at least that is what he argued John Stuart Mill believed in his speech in 1868; it was the opposite of utopia. To understand dystopia, we need to understand utopia. The definition Claeys presents is that a utopia “is seen as a matter of attitude, as a kind of reaction to an undesirable present and an aspiration to overcome all difficulties by the imagination of possible alternatives” (Claeys 7). The key difference seen between a utopia and dystopia is the hope and aspiration of a better future; Claeys believed that the root of a utopia is the energy of hope (Claeys 7).
Now that we know what a dystopia is, we need to dig a little deeper before we compare dystopia and horror. The reason I included the Greek text as the title was because when dystopia is broken down into its root words, one finds that dys comes from the Greek word dus, and means “bad, abnormal, diseased” (Claeys 16). The great thing about the Greek language is its ability to add more meaning to English words.
When thinking dystopia and its definition and what other genres are similar to it, I immediately think of horror. My English 1101 class was focused on horror and how the abnormality found in movies and books is what creates horror. This is directly tied to the definition of dystopia; as seen by Claeys, a dystopia can be defined as an abnormal world. That is what a horror film or book does to the audience; the producers and authors take what a society shuns or finds weird and makes that strangeness the horrifying element of a story. This dynamic parallel between weirdness and horror is what captivates audiences into believing that the undesirable element of the story is horrifying.
In the end, the understanding of a dystopia from its Greek lineage can help illustrate the connection between the dystopian genre and its relative, the horror genre.
Claeys, Gregory. The Cambridge companion to utopian literature. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Freaks. Dir. Tod Browning. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1932. Film. Web. 18 July 2016.