There are many genres of reading material out there for your enjoyment. Mysteries have that intrigue that many people desire. A good action novel sends a charge into the hearts of many. Some people enjoy a classic literary tale based on a historical period. Some folks go for a non-fiction book. Yet others seek their enjoyment and escape in a romantic tale. Then there are those who find their thrills in a good old tale of horror, filled with blood and gore. It is very interesting just how powerful fear can be. Terrorists have built an industry out of it. Evil dictators use it to control their masses. Ancient Egyptians and others used it to motivate their slaves to do their bidding. The fact that torture has been used by governments throughout history is no mere coincidence. Fear, and particularly the fear presented by physical pain, can get people to say and do almost anything. Fear is one very powerful force. It is certainly powerful enough to sell books, and our book today uses fear of the unknown, unseen, uncontrollable forces of nature to wrap you up and send you running to the next page very neatly.
Jaws was a little book written by Peter Benchley in 1974, published by Ballantine Books, that caused a craze along the coasts of America upon its release. Now, truth be told, Stephen Spielbergâ€™s adaptation of the book into a feature length film probably caused the craze to really come to life, but all good movies have a script, and some of them are based on a lesser known novel brought to life. Jaws was just such a book, and the hysteria that it caused was widespread, and as real as the nose on your face.
The tale begins in a sleepy little town, on a summer destination island similar to Block Island, Nantucket or Marthaâ€™s Vineyard called Amity Island. And as the mayor of the town notes, Amity means friendship. Well this friendly little island has a summer guest that was not invited to dinner, but decided to make these feeding grounds his own anyhow. Sharks, especially Great White sharks, are a special kind of animal that hold a great mysterious allure and revulsion in our world. They are rarely seen, and little is known about them in the wild. They are rouge animals that travel alone and eat just about anything in their paths. They eat and make little sharks. That is all they do. They can grow to be tremendous in size, some twenty-five feet or more, and they are vicious when they need to feed. They also stick around in an area if the food supply remains constant. Amity Island had ferry loads of people coming in every day to bask in the sun and cool off in the ocean. Perfect dinner bell chiming!
There are some tremendous real life video clips out there of Great White sharks slamming up out of the water under unsuspecting seals, and sending them flying many feet into the air, and snapping them into their powerful, teeth laden jaws as they descend back down. Surfers on many coasts around the world have been attacked because a surfer on a board looks strikingly like a seal from underneath. Sharks will generally spit a surfer and their foam board out because they realize they are not a juicy snack upon first bite. Many times, that first bite is more than enough to do fatal damage, of course. Sharks have been known to attack in very shallow water, very close to shore, at places like the local beach for instance. Sharks have knocked into many a small boat along their way. There are true tales of shark attacks well back into the early 1900s along the eastern seaboard that are real, and frightening. All of this neat trivia sent Peter Benchley scurrying for his pen and paper, and he wrote Jaws to send a little fear into the summer crowds that year, and sell a few books. Little did he know what would happen next!
I spoke with a friend of mine who was a lifeguard in 1974 here in the northeast, and he told me definitively that people refused to go anywhere near the water once they got a whiff of Jaws the book or movie. They were scared out of their wits. They had much less knowledge in the 1970s about sharks in general than we do now, and those people were having none of it when it came to being some giant predatorâ€™s Sunday snack. They did not let their children go swimming. They did not let their dogs go swimming. They went boating a whole lot less. Membership at all the local pool clubs jumped through the roof. This tale changed the tourist industry radically. It also sold a lot of books and movie tickets.
If you are the kind of person who enjoys a little light horror reading as you bask away in the sun on the beach, warming up just to cool off in the refreshing ocean surf, go out and grab a copy of Jaws right away at your local bookstore or online. It is a good read that will leave you thinking a little bit about nature and the unseen forces it possesses. The movie is also a must for anyone who wants a good scare. The two stories diverge at times, but both have their proper dose of summer in New England, and the way it could go terribly wrong! Enjoy and read on!
Kerry Wholey is a freelance writer from Narragansett.