Not long ago, I read J.R.R. Tolkien's mythopoeia masterpiece, The Silmarillion (his creation myth for the world of The Lord of the Rings). Upon finishing it, I immediately picked up Sparks of Life, a history of the spontaneous generation debates. As I was trying to wrap my head around the different theories of spontaneous generation, I felt like I was reading the same kind of book as The Silmarillion.

This was a surprise, because the structure and content of the books were radically different. The best that I can understand it is to consider the mental gymnastics involved in making sense of a worldview that is radically different from our own. Tolkien spelled out an intricate creation myth, tying together into one coherent narrative the history of angels and demons, elves and orcs, giant eagles and dragons, and how mankind fits into all of this. In a similarly radical manner, the advocates of spontaneous generation saw life blooming from every mud-puddle, with implications for both evolutionary theory and theories of divine creation. Thinking about this world, I had the same sense of wonder as when I thought about a pre-Newtonian world where it would be impossible to put a man on the moon.

Have any of you had similar feelings when reading fantasy or the history of science?

p.s. For more discussion of spontaneous generation (and how it would affect evolutionary theory), check out my Scientific Blogging contest entry on the topic...and if you like it, vote once per day.