Essays

Aldous Huxley and Hunter S. Thompson: From Loathing and Fear to Fear and Loathing

What do Aldous Huxley and Hunter S. Thompson have in common? Both were great writers, of course. Both had a fondness for hallucinogens and wrote important books about mind-bending drugs. Both were astute social commentators. However, beyond that there’s not a great deal to link these men, who were very different characters.

But here’s an odd connection between them:

In 1928, Aldous Huxley, then famous for his socially satirical novels – which could hardly be further from Gonzo prose – wrote a letter to a friend:

What a strange hatred for the truth most human beings have! Or rather not for the truth, because it doesn’t exist, but for reality. A loathing and fear.

It was a peculiar phrase in an obscure letter from an author who at that point was only famous in his own country; yet reversed, it would become internationally renowned as a trademark phrase for Gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson, and spread into even more common use after the 1998 movie by the same name, starring Johnny Depp.

Is this combination of words coincidence? Of course, it would certainly seem like that. Though not a particularly common phrase, it is not impossible to think of those words uttered together. It was not even the only time Huxley used them in a sentence. In an early novel, Crome Yellow, he settled the words closer to Thompson’s use, albeit separated by a comma:

The eccentricities of the artist and the new-fangled thinker don’t inspire it with that fear, loathing, and disgust which the burgesses instinctively feel towards them.

But where then did Hunter S. Thompson first come to use “fear and loathing”?

The first time Hunter ever typed out those words – which he would come to use over and over again during his life – was on November 22nd, 1962. He had just heard that John F. Kennedy has been assassinated:

There is no human being within 500 miles to whom I can communicate anything – much less the fear and loathing that is on me after today’s murder.

Had it not been for the assassination of the President of the United States, the news junkie might have heard word of another death that day: Aldous Huxley.

What was it that William S. Burroughs said? “There is no such thing as coincidence.”

David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the founder and editor of Beatdom literary journal and the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs the Weird Cult and World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. His next book, High White Notes: The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism comes out in November, 2021.

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