Date01 April 2004
Published date01 April 2004
AuthorLenora Ledwon
Lenora Ledwon
The law-oriented short stories and novels of lawyer/English professor John
William Corrington are receiving increasing attention from legal scholars.
However, no one has analyzed the science fiction screenplays he co-wrote
with his wife, Joyce, from a legal perspective. This article analyzes two such
screenplays and concludes that they are “Socratic” texts whose narrative
structures and epistemological processeswork in much the same way that the
traditional participatory exchange works in law school.My analysis explores
the links between law, allegoryand science fiction as intersecting methods to
imagine the possibilities for the future.
I have a mythological mind. My first real sally into the world of rationality was law school,
which I found exceedingly easy because all that was required was mere rationality and any fool
can do that. John William Corrington (Parrill, 1994, p. 193).
Studies in Law, Politics, and Society
Studies in Law, Politics, and Society,Volume 32, 79–120
© 2004 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
ISSN: 1059-4337/doi:10.1016/S1059-4337(03)32003-4
Law, allegory and science fiction intersect at two critical points: (1) the problem
of representation; and (2) the systemic (and paradoxical) preference for controlled
meaning. Each enterprise relies on interpretive protocols which, at the most fun-
damental level, evoke a powerstruggle to impose meaning on the text/world. The
screenplays for The Omega Man and Battle for the Planet of the Apes, co-authored
by John William (“Bill”) and Joyce Corrington, employ these intersections to
create a juridical and numinous world animated by a Socratic spirit.
The Corringtons between them had an astounding breadth of knowledge, as
evidenced by their screenplays. In addition to their prolific careers as writers for
films and television, Joyce had been a Chemistry professor and Bill had been a
lawyer, English professor, and lawyer. Bill had his own wry comments on his
Hollywood writing career:
I never wanted to do it, I don’tpresently want to do it, and next year I will not want to do it. But
I can make more money on one crummy piece of TV than I can on five books. I did a lecture in
Shreveport last year, and I said: you must understand the spiritual confusion of a man who has
seen the best work he ever did go for peanuts, and the most banal crap his mind could conceive
of paid for at the rate of $200,000 to $300,000 a year. But maybe I’m mistaken. Eliot said that
Dante after all was an indifferent critic of Dante. It seems we’re talking about a non-culture
called America, but perhaps I’m part of that, and it’s the films and TV – not the writing that’s
worthwhile (Parrill, 1994, p. 192).
The reference to Dante is no accident. Dante, too, was an allegorist. He too,
spun tales of marvelous journeys to strange worlds. And Dante, too, was at home
in high as well as popular culture. While Bill’s very literary short stories and
novels (several of the novels co-written with his wife, Joyce) are exceptional
and compelling works, easily fitting within the realm of “high” culture, clearly
something in the science fiction screenplays touched a chord in mass culture. I
would like to suggest that what resonated with a mass audience had much to do
with the allegorical imagination. While Dante’s works today occupy the space of
“high culture,” many of the same allegorical techniques Dante used are evidentin
contemporary popular culture such as the science fiction screenplays written by
the Corringtons.
Bill Corrington’s law-oriented writings are receiving increasing attention from
legal scholars, particularly his superb short stories featuring lawyers and judges
as protagonists.1However, for this article I chose to focus on the Corringtons’
science fiction screenplays, notwithstanding Bill’s well-known feelings about
Hollywood. I had two reasons I wanted to work on the science fiction screenplays.
First, I delight in popular culture. (By “popular culture,” I mean generally what
Herbert Gans has discussed as mass culture, a type of “cultural democracy,” a
culture that “reflects and expresses the aesthetic and other wants of many people”
(Gans, 1974, p. vii).) The Corringtons had continuing ties with popular culture
The Socratic Screenplay 81
throughout their careers, and they wrote the screenplays for The Omega Man and
Battle for the Planet of the Apes, two fine examples of popular culture (Corrington,
J. W.& Corrington, J. H., 1970, 1973). Second, and more important, while reading
Bill Corrington’s law-oriented short stories, I had been struck by his compelling
use of allegory and thus was doubly intrigued to note that allegory also was a
critical component in both screenplays. Reviewing the videos of the two films,
it is impossible not to notice the use of allegory. (For example, what are we to
make of a world where talking apes are in charge? Or a world where the last man
on earth gives his blood in order to save humanity?) Even starting from the most
general definition of “allegory” as an extended metaphor, both of the films are
highly allegorical. I wanted to explore some connections I saw between allegory
and law in the films, connections that resonate with overtones of the Socratic
Method. The fact that Bill was a law student when he and Joyce wrote Battle for
the Planet of the Apes solidified the connections between law,allegory and science
fiction for me.
Traditionally, the Socratic Method in law school has been considered the
pedagogical process whereby a law student learns to “think like a lawyer” through
engaging in critical dialogue/conversation with the professor concerning a case.
Bill was familiar with the law school versionof the Socratic Method as exemplified
by the dreaded Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase. Its relative merits as a
pedagogical tool have been hotly debated by many, and famously criticized by
Lani Guinier (Guinier et al., 1997).2The screenplays do sometimes employ a
question and answer sequence, but they are Socratic in a deeper sense. By calling
the Corringtons’ screenplays “Socratic,” I am referring to several foundational
similarities with the Socratic Method, including: the foregrounding of uncertainty;
an emphasis on critical questioning/thinking; and the constant testing of “fit” (an
attitude of sceptical scrutiny). Like the Socratic Method, allegory possesses a
capacity for rhetorical play and multi-leveled meaning that stimulates the same
kind of cognitive engagement we hope to encourage in law school classes. The
same kind of “pleasures of the text” are present in allegorical science fiction and in
the Socratic Method, particularly when we consider Augustine’s admonition that
meanings that are difficult to understand are more pleasurably found.3The Omega
Man and Battle for the Planet of the Apes provide occasion to explore the problem
of representation, the paradox of controlled meaning, and the engagement in a
Socratic exchange that marks the mind of the lawyer.
To facilitate this inquiry, I will first define “allegory” (particularly its double
existence as both genre and mode of thought). Second, I will describe the
relationships between allegory and law in the two science fiction screenplays,
The Omega Man and Battle for the Planet of the Apes, exploring the problem of
representation and the paradox of controlled meaning in each film. Finally, I will

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