On Fringe

In Search of Fringe's Literary Ancestors

By Amy H. Sturgis

On the night of September 9, 2008, I joined millions of other viewers in watching the premiere episode of Fringe. My first thought then remains my conviction now: Fringe is a show with unusually deep science-fiction roots. As a scholar as well as a fan of the genre, I find continual delight in watching Fringe. It’s certainly a compelling series in its own right, but as many fans have discovered, it also can serve as a kind of “cultural literacy test” about the classic works that inform it.

The characters and dual universes in Fringe boast their own rich backstories, of course, but the show as a whole has a backstory, too: it builds on a centuries-deep foundation of science-fiction writings, most notably the literary traditions of the irresponsible scientist and the paranormal investigator. Some aspects of the series offer loud and loving tributes to the texts that obviously inspired them, while other allusions remain more subtle, tucked quietly between the lines of individual episodes. The identity of a few of the genre giants on whose shoulders Fringe stands might even surprise the show’s producers and writers.

One thing is certain: Dr. Walter Bishop, Peter Bishop, FBI Agent Olivia Dunham, and FBI Junior Agent Astrid Farnsworth are characters with impressive literary (and, for that matter, television) ancestries. Fringe may be a cutting-edge series in many ways, but its grounding in the science-fiction tradition marks it as the most recent voice in a long and ongoing dialogue about what is possible, what is  …

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