Earhart Mania


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“We are running North and South.”
- last recorded words of Amelia Earhart

From a creative standpoint, I feel like I always arrive in the middle of the party. By the time I get to an idea, it’s usually been around for awhile. I haven’t invented any subgenres (like Brian Wood and his hipster Vikings in Northlanders) or given birth to any pop cultural trends (like Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta masks, which have become ubiquitous at protests worldwide). So allow me a minor moment of zeitgeistly pride when I say I totally called the Amelia Earhart fever that is sweeping the globe.

Okay, maybe sweeping the globe is an exaggeration, but it’s been a big year for the lost aviatrix, in comics, in film and in the news. In December of 2008, she made her first appearance in Air. The following May, Amy Adams stole the show as a reanimated Amelia in Night at the Museum 2. This past July, new DNA evidence from a remote Pacific island reopened the investigation into Earhart’s disappearance. A bio-graphic novel illustrated by Eisner-nominated cartoonist Ben Towle is in the works at Hyperion. And in October, acclaimed film director Mira Nair will bring Amelia’s story to the big screen, with Hilary Swank in the title role.

When I was conceptualizing Air a couple of years ago, Amelia was an obvious choice to fill the role of the wise mystical sage who appears out of nowhere to guide a somewhat klutzy hero. (Or heroine, in this case.) As I researched her life and disappearance, I wondered why she wasn’t a bigger presence in pop culture, since her story is like something out of the mind of a talented novelist.


Apparently, a lot of other people were wondering the same thing around the same time. Chandra Prasad, who is working on a novel about the Earhart mystery, remarked on this coincidence when asked about Mira Nair’s film: “Two women with Indian roots working on two different Amelia projects the same year. Isn’t it interesting?”

It is interesting. Zeitgeist is a mystery of the collective unconscious. Who knows why we like what we like when we like it. One year it’s boy wizards, the next it’s pirates, a year after that, teenage vampires who sparkle but are quite straight. What makes the Amelia craze different is that she really lived, and instead of flying off into the sunset accompanied by soaring music, she met an ambiguously tragic end.

Maybe the recent rise to power of several ambitious and controversial women—Hillary Clinton, Sonia Sotomayor, Sarah Palin—has finally opened up a market for Byronic female heroes. Maybe we’re ready to root for women torn between idealism, the messy reality of power, and the intoxication of fame; existential crises once considered exclusively male. Amelia was all those things, making her truly a woman ahead of her time.

Whatever the reason, speculative Earhart fiction is officially en vogue, and no one is happier about it than me. Mine might be a shade more speculative than most, but that’s all right. Someone’s got to go to the totally crazy place.

In real life, I tend to subscribe to the Gardner Island theory: lost over the South Pacific, Amelia ditches near a small tidal island; strong currents sink and destroy her plane; after living briefly as a castaway, she dies. But perhaps it’s a good thing that we may never know for sure. This way, Amelia is not a victim of bad navigating, but a hero living on in occultation, forever beyond the reach of history.

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  • Steve Kanaras

    Steve Kanaras Sep 14, 2009 at 5:12pm

    here's to hoping that Earhart's popularity marks an invigoration of the human spirit of accomplishment. The election of Obama had that feel, especially with the slogan "Yes we can," and it would be lovely if that infection has spread. Exploration and feats of adventure and such were popular themes in the Depression, so maybe a tense economic climate brings this feeling out. Earhart was an extraordinary person, and a great subject for history and fiction.

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Sep 15, 2009 at 4:08am

    We are not alone in Ideaspace ...

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