Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  


Entry updated 17 January 2022. Tagged: Theme.

Icon made by Freepik from


This mildly controversial and frequently misrepresented technique of Psychology – also known in its early days as mesmerism – is generally depicted in sf as very much more rapid and reliable than any known medical hypnosis. An extreme case is Edgar Allan Poe's "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" (December 1845 American Whig Review), whose titular subject dies but remains conscious even in decay until the hypnotic compulsion is removed. Further examples of nineteenth-century fascination with mesmerism include Grant Allen's Kalee's Shrine (1886; vt The Indian Mystery 1897) with May Cotes, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance (1852), Lord Lytton's The Haunted and the Haunters, or The House and the Brain (August 1859 Blackwood's Magazine; 1905 chap) and – most famous of all, in its day – George du Maurier's Trilby (1894), the name of whose mesmerist Svengali entered the English language, and which was a direct inspiration for Guy Boothby's Dr Nikola.

Various characters like Dr Mabuse in Dr Mabuse, der Spieler (1922) achieve quasi-hypnotic affects through sheer charisma. More typically in sf, hypnosis is elevated to the status of an irresistible Psi Power (which see), as in the partly rationalized but nevertheless impossibly fast-acting hypnotic gestures of Mandrake the Magician, who debuted in 1934; another Comics treatment was "Hip Knox, Super Hypnotist" in Hugo Gernsback's 1940 Superworld Comics. The Shadow, in the radio incarnation launched in 1937, is famed for his hypnotic ability to "cloud men's minds" and so walk unseen. Dr D'eath in Roy Meyers's The Man They Couldn't Kill (1944) can actually induce hypnotic trances at a distance. Another hypnotic mind-controller, with aspirations toward world domination, is the eponym of T H White's The Master (1957). More in the vein of Satire, irresistible hypnotists employed by big business in Lloyd Biggle Jr's "... On the Dotted Line" (June 1957 If) force unwanted products on consumers without need for Advertising or salesmanship skills.

A doctor in Robert A Heinlein's Double Star (February-April 1956 Astounding; 1956) cures the protagonist's racial phobia about Martians in one quick hypnotic session; another, in Jack Vance's Ports of Call (1998), responds to scepticism about his techniques by hypnotically persuading an entire spaceship crew of the social necessity to paint their noses blue before dining, a compulsion which endures for some time. For stories of rapid hypnotic education though "hypnopaedia" or sleep-learning, see Education in SF. Medical use of hypnosis to recover lost or suppressed memories (see Amnesia; Memory Edit) has been criticized on the basis that doctors motivated to find evidence for child abuse, Reincarnation or UFO experiences – as in The UFO Incident (1975) – may, perhaps inadvertently, implant or reinforce the impressions they seek. Hypnotic unearthing of ancestral memories features in Some Other Place. The Right Place (1973) by Donald Harington.

Often nonhumans are credited with hypnotic ability, from the titular Alien in James Corbett's Devil-Man from Mars (1935) to the faux-alien Gorgo (a biologically transformed human) in Ian Watson's Converts (1984). A hypnotically powerful ant Hive Mind features in Alfred Gordon Bennett's The Demigods (1939). Eric Frank Russell makes "hypnos" a recognized class of psi-gifted Mutants in Sentinels from Space (November 1951 Startling as "The Star Watchers"; exp 1953; vt Sentinels of Space 1954 dos), and introduces Aliens with the hypnotic power to appear as anything they wish (or not at all) in "Mesmerica" (in Men, Martians and Machines, coll of linked stories 1955). Further examples abound. Biological rationalizations of hypnotic mind-control powers include symbiotic "midi-chlorians" in the Star Wars universe, irresistible pheromones in John Brunner's Children of the Thunder (1989) and others, and airborne virus particles in Jessica Jones (2015-2019).

Mechanical hypnotic devices (see Psionics) also appear regularly in sf; examples include the mind-controlling crystals used by the hero of A E van Vogt's Slan (September-December 1940 Astounding; 1946; rev 1951). The same author's The War Against the Rull (stories April 1940-February 1950 Astounding; fixup 1959) features "nerve lines", simple-seeming patterns that force dangerous hypnotic commands upon the viewer (see Basilisks). A more elaborate gadget cinematically implants false memories (see Memory Edit) in Eric Frank Russell's With a Strange Device (June 1956 Famous Detective Stories as "Run, Little Men!"; 1964; vt The Mindwarpers 1965). Hypnotic teaching devices are frequently mentioned in passing; the technique is central to the Prisoner episode titled "The General" (3 November 1967). One of the many functions of the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is that of a hypnotic educator.

Self-hypnosis is the key to Time Travel in several stories including Jack Finney's Time and Again (1970) and Richard Matheson's Bid Time Return (1975; vt Somewhere in Time 1980); the latter was filmed as Somewhere in Time (1980).

One oddity of Cinema is The She Creature (1956), in which the notion of hypnotic regression to earlier states of one's personality is extended beyond past lives to past Evolutionary forms (the accessibility of such memories being an incidental tenet of Scientology) and even physical reversion to prehistoric Monster shape; this anticipates the weird Pseudoscience of Altered States (1980). A film which extends hypnotic control into a kind of Telepathic link allowing vicarious experience of the subject's sensations is The Sorcerers (1967). [DRL]

see also: Percy Brebner; Clichés; Dr. M; Identity Exchange; Fritz Lang; Lie Detectors; Looker; Hume Nisbet; Fitz-James O'Brien; Peter Redgrove; Andrey Sinyavsky; William Stanley; Subliminal.

further reading


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies