Book review: Rod Serling's 'The Twilight Zone' as life coach
February 26, 2017 12:00 AM
Author Mark Dawidziak
"Everything I Need to Know I Learned From The Twilight Zone" by Mark Dawidziak
By Wendeline O. Wright
Submitted for your approval: a thoughtful treatise on kindness, generosity and humility, co-existing with an incisive look at how a writer’s moral code can give his work a consistent sense of right and wrong without preaching to his audience. The writer in question is Rod Serling, creator of “The Twilight Zone,” and in television critic Mark Dawidziak’s new book “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone,” readers are given a comprehensive tour of Mr. Serling’s creations and their ethical relevance to modern life, even as we close in on 60 years since the first episode aired. The author suggests that beyond science fiction lies a dimension of morality applicable to fans of all ages and backgrounds: the Twilight Zone.
"EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN THE TWILIGHT ZONE"
By Mark Dawidziak Thomas Dunne Books ($26.99).
Mr. Dawidziak’s admiration for Mr. Serling and his work as writer and producer of “The Twilight Zone” is readily apparent. The book opens with a quick biography of Mr. Serling’s life, both before and after his famous creation, and his moral growth throughout. This lends credence to Mr. Dawidziak’s argument — namely, that Mr. Serling himself had a progressive code of ethics and that this code is imbued into the teleplays of “The Twilight Zone.” As such, moral lessons can be drawn from each episode — fables disguised as fantasy, in other words. The author also quotes entertainment industry figures such as “The Sopranos” creator David Chase and sci-fi legend Ray Bradbury and the lessons they learned from “The Twilight Zone,” giving the book an extra dimension of interest that stops it from feeling like one fan’s manifesto about his favorite show.
Although Mr. Serling may not have written every single episode of “The Twilight Zone,” which ran from 1959 to 1964, he did write well more than half of the show’s 156 episodes, and with creative control over the show he was able to assemble a team of writers — including genre heavyweights Richard Matheson (“I Am Legend”) and George Clayton Johnson (“Logan’s Run”) — who aligned with his personal ethics. As a result, Mr. Dawidziak contends, the created universe(s) of “The Twilight Zone” present opportunities for protagonists to test their altruistic tendencies. Those who react with grace and kindness usually have a happy ending; those who refuse to “play nice,” of course, can expect a nasty surprise as punishment.
“Everything I Need to Know” is not intended as a complete episode guide. Instead, the author identifies 50 life lessons from the show and selects one or more episodes that illustrate each lesson.
The lessons themselves vary by theme. Some are the kind we learn as children, such as “share with others.” Others are the kind we learn as adults, such as “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Mr. Dawidziak keeps each lesson compelling yet easy to understand, and he chooses excellent examples for each — “You’re only truly old when you decide you’re old,” a lesson many of us don’t learn until it’s too late, is illustrated by the famous episode “Kick the Can” and is a touching reminder to readers that time is short — make the most of it.
For “The Twilight Zone” fans, “Everything I Need to Know” is an absolute treasure trove of bite-sized analyses of favorite episodes and situations. Those readers who are only familiar with the show in passing, however, may find themselves drawn in by Mr. Dawidziak’s reverent looks at the lesser-known episodes, or even compelled to watch some of those episodes themselves (the entire run of the show is available on Netflix). Even if readers don’t end up binging the show, they’ll at least be reminded of the simple ways we can be kinder to ourselves and to each other — and in a politically polarized era, one can’t help but think these lessons might be more important than ever. Rod Serling would be proud.
Wendy Wright is a freelance writer and editor living in Pittsburgh.
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