We are, in fact, constantly at risk, a heartbeat away from losing control, vulnerable to an encounter that could threaten our well-being, our comfort, or our very lives. It’s a threat that has taken the lives of countless people over the course of history. And while some have made it their lives’ work to study it, most have been woefully unprepared for just how insidious it could be. We’ll never see it coming, but the effects have the potential to be absolutely devastating.
In “Uninvited Guest,” the latest episode of the hit podcast Lore, host Aaron Mahnke reveals the horrors of the invisible world. He subjects his audience to parasites, beginning with an intriguing discussion of the origin of the term/concept in ancient Greece (referring to acolytes who “metaphorically ate at from another’s table in order to support themselves”). From there, Mahnke proceeds to test listeners’ intestinal fortitude, detailing a series of extreme experiments (including one by a freaky Japanese physician who willingly consumed thousands of roundworm eggs in the interest of scientific research!). There are images of body horror conveyed here that could make David Cronenberg squirm, and the names given to some of the infectious diseases treated (e.g. “The Creeping Eruption”) sound like they were ripped from a Lovecraft effort in the pulp pages of Weird Tales.
Devoted Lore listeners won’t be surprised to find that Mahnke ranges worldwide and throughout history when sharing his apropos anecdotes in episode 121. From an American Gothic perspective, the story about a terrible outbreak of hookworm (“the American Killer”) at the Civil War prison camp in Andersonville, Georgia, proves especially intriguing. Mahnke also manages to tap into American pop culture and convey a sense of futuristic ickiness when describing a certain barnacle (that can latch onto a crab and take over its brain and reproductive system) as “the natural world’s version of the Alien from the Ridley Scott film franchise.”
Infinitesimal yet capable of massive impact, parasites, says Mahnke, “have the power to change lives, destroy communities, and transform cultures, and given the right circumstances, they can even alter the course of history.” He supplies a prime example in the Livingstone-searching journalist/explorer Henry Stanley, who formed the vanguard of a (literally disease-spreading) colonialist scourge that ravaged settlements across Africa. The harmful effect of Stanley and his contingent on the continent is proof that “not all parasites are microscopic.”
The samples I’ve handed out here are just a few from this absolutely bountiful episode. While not for the weak of stomach, “Uninvited Guest” is a welcomed addition to the Lore table of contents.