Erich von Däniken Introduction

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Erich von Däniken 1935–

(Also transliterated as Daeniken) Swiss nonfiction writer.

Von Däniken is known for his controversial Erinnerungen an die Zukunft (1968; Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past) and its companion volumes in which he concludes that extraterrestrial beings visited Earth in ancient times. Von Däniken speculates that these beings were worshipped as gods and that they may have advanced the evolution of human beings by mating with them. Although von Däniken's unconventional theories are dismissed by religious and scientific authorities, his work has attracted wide interest among the general public and was the basis for several television documentaries.

As a student in a Catholic boys' school in Switzerland, von Däniken began to doubt his religious teachings. While reading the Old Testament, he found references which suggested a multitude of gods rather than one. In his studies of other religions and cultures, he also found evidence of multiple deities. Von Däniken's worldwide travels to ancient ruins and to such archaeological enigmas as the stone monoliths on Easter Island helped confirm his hypothesis that visitors from outer space may have been the gods of past civilizations.

In reviews of Chariots of the Gods? and his other writings, critics have contended that von Däniken's research methods are unscientific and that his theories are based on misleading documentation. His technique of presenting evidence by asking rhetorical questions has been called deceptive and his premise racist. His work has been described as fantasy and as "science fiction in reverse." However, von Däniken comments that scientists "are doing yesterday's thinking. I try to see with tomorrow's eyes."

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 37-40, rev. ed.)