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Literature / Frozen Hell

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Frozen Hell is a Science Fiction novel written in 1938 by John W. Campbell. It's best known as the origin of The Thing franchise.

It's 1939 and the Garry Expedition, headed by the eponymous Commander Garry, is in the Antarctic studying a variety of phenomena from the weather to geology to biology from their central base, Big Magnet, so named because of its proximity to the Earth's southern magnetic pole.

One day, a team led by meteorologist McReady and physicist Norris heads out to find what they think is a meteorite whose magnetic properties have been futzing with their instruments, only do discover a crashed, frozen UFO beneath the ice, along with the equally frozen body of one of its occupants, a blue-skinned, wormy-haired humanoid with three blazing red eyes which the group takes to calling "the Thing." Efforts to melt the ice around the spaceship only result in its accidental destruction, but McReady's team nevertheless manages to make it back to Big Magnet with the Thing in a block of ice.

Most of the staff take an intense dislike to the Thing, especially McReady, who begins having what he fears are prophetic nightmares that the creature not only isn't dead, but possesses abilities none of them can even begin to fathom. Biologist Blair dismisses this as nonsense, and insists they chip the alien out of the ice and thaw it out for study. Garry sides with him, and so that night, as everyone else is asleep, physicist Jerry Connant finds himself on guard duty in the room with the thawing Thing, freed from the ice, when he suddenly hears a floorboard creaking ominously behind him...

Campbell never published the book, but instead shortened it into a novella, publishing it in Astounding Science Fiction under the title "Who Goes There?" The original version would've remained unseen forever had author Alec Nevalla-Lee, while researching Campbell, not stumbled across the original manuscript Campbell had sent among some other papers and documents to Harvard. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, the book has at last seen the light of day.

Its history and eventual publication are similar to Go Set a Watchman, albeit without the attendant controversy. Nevertheless, Nevalla-Lee in his introduction does wonder what Campbell would've thought of them publishing the book, and whether he would've wanted it done.

In 2020, a remake of The Thing was announced by Universal and Blumhouse. Rather than to just remake Who Goes There? again, the creators of the project are opting it to base it on Frozen Hell. As of 2023, nothing has happened yet.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Inverted, since this was written before "Who Goes There?", but Frozen Hell features a full three chapters concerning McReady's expedition away from Big Magnet where they find the crashed UFO. In "Who Goes There?", this is told by McReady to the other characters in the first chapter, after the expedition has already returned.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Inverted with Clark, as it was written before "Who Goes There?", as Dwight is the one to murder Kinner rather than him, and he is confirmed not to be a Thing.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: Whenever someone is outed as a Thing.
  • Alien Hair: The Thing has a head full of wriggling, wormlike appendages.
  • As You Know: Avoided pretty much entirely because the book begins with the expedition finding the UFO, so there's no need for McReady's recap.
  • Asshole Victim: Dwight turns out to have been assimilated by the Thing at some point in the story.
  • The Assimilator: Par for the course for a Thing story, the alien, once unfrozen, proves capable of this.
  • Ax-Crazy: Blair becomes this after his Sanity Slippage.
  • Body Horror: It wouldn't be a Thing without a load of Body Horror. All of the forms the Thing takes on are exceptionally gruesome, complete with tentacles sprouting out and claws. And then there is the Thing's botched attempt to assimilate Barclay, which he only survives thanks to McReady's intervention.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Connant is so rattled that he may be a Thing and is, that at one point, he isn't even aware he already has a cigarette in hand when he lights another.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Dutton is beaten to death by all of the men except Barclay and McReady after being revealed to be a Thing.
  • Cry Laughing: Connant and Kinner both break down in tears after their laughing like mad men.
  • Demoted to Extra:
    • Clark, whose role in the story is given to Dwight.
    • Norris as well, who is pretty much just an interchangeable extra.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: McReady and Blair both have a nightmare that the Thing is capable of absorbing and imitating lifeforms. In "Who Goes There?", Norris is the one who has this dream. Justified as the Thing is telepathic and it's implied they are picking up its dreams.
  • Expy: Something of an inversion, since it was written before "Who Goes There?", but Dwight is pretty much the counterpart to the novella’s version of Clark.
  • For Science!: Blair's whole motivation for bringing the alien back to the main camp.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: McReady has to slap Kinner a couple of times to snap him out of his Laughing Mad spell.
  • God-Created Canon Foreigner: Macy the pilot and his autogyro only exist in this version. Also Dwight, the one who kills Kinner. And lastly McReady's immediate superior, the chief meteorologist Stan Powell. They do not appear in the abridged version originally published in the magazine.
  • Immune to Bullets: The Thing. All getting shot by a .45 does to it is knock it back a step.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: McReady declares Dwight to be human after he stabs Kinner, thinking Ape Shall Not Kill Ape is in effect. Dwight winds up being one of the first to be revealed as a Thing.
  • Jerkass: Dwight is a hostile, confrontational, and murderous dick.
  • Laughing Mad: Blair, once he realizes what the alien is capable of, then Kinner when he thinks the first set of blood tests work, and later Copper when he realizes he may be a Thing.
  • Made of Explodium: The UFO. When the team tries thawing it using thermite, it promptly explodes. Norris theorizes afterwards that the Things used a magnesium alloy which is why it went up so quickly.
  • Mauve Shirt: Bennings and Dutton get very little characterization other than accompanying and aiding McReady throughout the novel. Bennings survives, but Dutton is not as lucky.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Connant is given the first name Jerry in this version.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: Although written in 1938, it's set the next year in 1939.
  • Non Sequitur, *Thud*: Copper, who has been drugged up to calm him down because he was almost ready to go down the same road as Blair, wakes up long enough to babble something incoherent than go back to sleep.
  • Re-Cut: An inversion. Frozen Hell represents the first draft of "Who Goes There?", which is the Re-Cut of it. It's unknown if Campbell ever intended for Frozen Hell to see the light of day, but fans pretty much demanded to see it, so it was published.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Commander Garry or not, as he turns out to be a Thing.
  • Red Shirt: Several characters but Jerry Connant in particular. He sits up with the thawing Thing to guard it and is the first person it kills and assimilates.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The Thing has three bright red "hateful" eyes.
  • Sanity Slippage: Blair has a nervous breakdown after the Thing comes to life, caused by his guilt and paranoia. After destroying the base’s means of communication and transport, he descends even further into madness and becomes convinced that the rest of the base has been assimilated and decides to murder everyone at the base.
    • Kinner goes nuts too, after realizing the cows he had just milked were Things and that the blood test didn't work, first rushes out into the frozen wasteland in just his skivvies, then when he's brought back, starts screaming prayers to God for hours on end. He was a Thing the whole time he was freaking out.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: The staff of Big Magnet as soon as the Thing is thawed and awakens.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The characters react pretty calmly to both the frozen alien and the spaceship. Even Barclay, the first to actually see the Thing in the ice, is rather detached and calm when refusing to dig any further. Granted, they are all scientists, but it's still unusual to see them be so ho-hum about such a monumental discovery.