The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Fear concerns the efforts of Professor James Lowry, an ethnologist at a small college, to discover what happened during four hours for which he cannot account. After returning from one of his many field trips from the Yucatán with a recurring case of malaria, Lowry learns that he is to be fired. The cause of his dismissal is a newspaper article in which he discounted the existence of devils and demons, and thereby Christianity, calling them fabrications of witch doctors who wanted both to instill fear in their followers and to control them. Shortly after his return, he realizes that he cannot account for four hours of his life.

Tension is maintained throughout the story by the question of what caused the loss of the four hours. It may have been the shock of losing his job, coupled with his tendency to suffer malarial relapses; alternatively, devils and demons may have extracted payment for his hubris in scientifically discounting them. Both his wife and his best friend attempt to calm Lowry and ease his troubled spirit, but dark phantasms of the mind embroil Lowry in ever deepening eddies of paranoia that eventually incorporate others.

As Lowry’s relationship to reality becomes more tenuous, his belief in devils and demons undergoes a significant reversal. He lectures his college class about the inability of science to answer some of the human races more important questions. This almost religious conversion, which leads him into a...

(The entire section is 514 words.)