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Episode Studies by Clayton Barr

at popapostle-dot-com
Who Goes There? "Who Goes There?"
Written by John W. Campbell, Jr. (as Don A. Stuart)
First appeared in Astounding Stories, August 1938

Discovering a magnetic anomaly in the Antarctic near a U.S. scientific research outpost, a group of unwary scientists dig up from the ice an ancient spaceship and a frozen being from outer space.


Read the complete story at


Didja Know?


This short story first appeared in Astounding Stories, August 1938, and is the inspiration for the 1951 film The Thing from Another World and 1982's The Thing. The 1982 version is much more faithful to the short story, though there are differences, as discussed below. 


Didja Notice?


(Unless otherwise noted, references to "the film" are intended as references to 1982's The Thing.)


Chapter 1


Blair is described as short and bald, as he is in the film.


In the story, there are 37 members at the Antarctic outpost (seemingly all male, though we don't meet them all). In the film, there are only 12 men.


The expedition that leaves the main U.S. base to investigate a magnetic anomaly (and discovers the ship and creature in the ice) is called the Secondary Pole Expedition (and also the Secondary Magnetic Expedition). The temporary camp the expedition sets up at the crash site is called the Secondary Camp. In the film, it is a Norwegian expedition that discovers the ancient crash site.


In the story, the main protagonist is called McReady as opposed to MacReady in the film script. He is the second-in command of the outpost (after Garry) and is a meteorologist (not a pilot as in the film; a character called Van Wall is lead pilot here, and MacReady's character in the film seems to be a fusion of the McReady and Van Wall of this story). He is described as 6'4" and bronze-skinned, with a red-bronze beard.


The outpost is located directly on top of the South Magnetic Pole and it seems the men are there mainly to study the magnetic pole in various manners.


The crash site of the alien ship is a magnetic anomaly, located 80 miles southwest of the outpost.


The ship is buried in only 100 feet of ice. It appears to be quite a bit more in the film.


In the story, McReady mentions the Antarctic Ocean. Nowadays, this is more commonly called the Southern Ocean and considered the portion of the global ocean existing south of 60 degrees south latitude.


McReady estimates the ship and the creature have been frozen for 20 million years (as opposed to just 100,000 years in the film).


McReady guesses that the alien ship got tangled in Earth's magnetic field, causing it to crash.


The characters in the story frequently refer to the alien as a thing, inspiring the titles of the filmed versions of the story.


This story takes place during the spring season in Antarctica rather than winter as in the film.


The cook is named Kinner (rather than Nauls as in the film).


The story comments that during a storm in Antarctica, it is easy to get lost in just ten paces.


The story mentions both decanite and thermite charges. As mentioned in the movie study, thermite is a metallic powder that can generate an extremely hot burst of heat when combined with a catalyst, but I have not been able to find any real world reference to what decanite might be. Seemingly, scriptwriter Bill Lancaster got the term "decanite" from this story.


While burning the ice away from the buried ship with thermite, the expedition sees three other dark blobs in the ice that may have been other passengers besides the one found, before the ice tumbles down against the remains of the ship.


Chapter 2


The outpost is referred to as Big Magnet.


McReady compares the frozen Thing they've found to the frozen mammoths that have been found in Siberia. Siberia covers most of northern Asia and has a largely subarctic climate; frozen mammoth carcasses have indeed been found there, with estimated millions more still buried.


The story reveals that Norris' first name is Vance.


It is suggested that the thawing and recovering Thing has a degree of telepathic power which is causing many members of the outpost to have dreams and nightmares about it.


Blair mentions the enzyme-molecule theory of viruses, but I have not been able to find another reference to a theory by that name in the real world.


The story describes what may be the "natural" form of the Thing, which is similar to that depicted in Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials (1979) by Wayne Barlowe; Barlowe's artwork of the Thing in ice and partially imitating a dog can be viewed at


Chapter 3


Kinner mentions Boeing. Boeing is an American aerospace company. In this story, it is likely referring to airplanes used by the outpost rather than helicopters as seen in the film; although invented in 1936, helicopters were not in full-scale production until 1942 (the story was written, and presumably takes place, in 1938).


Blair mentions the Ross Sea. This is a deep ocean bay in Antarctica.


Chapter 5


The Thing-creature thawed out of the ice is described as being about four feet tall.


The dog kennels are referred to as Dogtown as they are in the film script.


The story describes the Thing as susceptible to flame and electricity, as it is in the film.


Chapter 6


One of the dogs is named Charnauk. Another is named Chinook (which is also a breed of sled dog).


Blair mentions the possibility of the Thing imitating a skua gull. The character also does so in the film script (though it did not appear in the film). Skuas are large, predatory seabirds known to inhabit both temperate and arctic (and Antarctic) climates.


Blair smashes all of the outpost's magnetos. This is the source of Lancaster's "missing magneto" in the film script. A magneto is a type of electrical generator that produces alternating current via two rotating magnets.


Blair also goes into a fit of fear and paranoia during which he smashes the base's transportation so the Thing cannot escape in disguise, just as in the film.


Chapter 7


In the story, Dr. Copper goes into more detail of how a blood serum test would work to detect who was a Thing and who wasn't, though I'm not sure if it would really work the way he describes or not.


Benning (instead of Bennings as in the film) is an aviation mechanic instead of a meteorologist as in the film.


In the story, it is Copper, rather than McReady, who has the idea that even small pieces of the Thing could be self-sufficient.


The group wonders why the Thing doesn't just become a bird and fly away in order to escape the Antarctic and infect the rest of the world. Copper speculates that the creature may not have previously visited worlds which had a sufficient atmosphere to have flying life forms which it could imitate.


In commenting on the Thing's possible telepathic abilities, Copper mentions that a Dr. Rhine at Duke University has proven that telepathy exists. This is a reference to the real world Dr. Joseph Rhine, a botanist who developed an interest in parapsychology and began scientific studies of it at Duke University and founded the Journal of Parapsychology and the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (now known as the Rhine Research Center).


In the story, it is Blair's idea to let the creature thaw out of the ice and it is possible he received the idea telepathically from the creature in ice.


Garry mentions Byrd and Ellsworth. These are references to Admiral Richard Byrd (1888-1957), who was one of the major early explorers of the South Pole, and Lincoln Ellsworth (1880-1951), who explored both the arctic and Antarctic.


Chapter 8


The narrative mentions the Magnet Range. I have not been able to find a real world reference to a "Magnet Range" in Antarctica, though there is a mountain range by that name on the island of Tasmania off the southern coast of Australia.


Copper points out that he believes the imitations are so perfect that they would continue to behave just as the original person would.


Chapter 9


As in the film, Garry comes under suspicion and McReady takes command of the outpost. Here, Garry does turn out to be a Thing, unlike in the film. Clark is also a Thing, again unlike in the film. On the other hand, Norris remains human throughout the story, whereas in the film he is revealed as a Thing.


McReady almost became an M.D. before switching his studies to meteorology. He actually graduated from medical school but never started his required internship, having diverted into meteorology.


The story uses the term "morphia" for the drug morphine. "Morphia" was simply an earlier term for the drug, still in use in 1938 when the story was written.


Chapter 10


The crewmembers are depicted playing chess and poker, similar to the film.


Van Wall comments that the majority of the crewmembers must still be human or the Things would gang up on the minority of humans left. This is similar to MacReady's statement in the film that he knows some of the remaining crewmembers must still be human or they'd all just attack him now.


The crewmembers decide to watch some movies as a diversion and a man named Caldwell says, "Goody, goody--a moom pitcher show." As far as I can tell "moom pitcher" is slang of the time for "moving picture".


Discussing the film reels they have available in the outpost, McReady mentions "Popeye and trick ducks". Popeye, of course, is a character who has been around since 1929 in comic strips and in cartoons since 1933. I presume that "tricky ducks" is a reference to Donald Duck and Daffy Duck, who have populated cartoons since 1934 and 1937 respectively.


Instead of watching films, Caldwell suggests they play Classifications, also known as Guggenheim. This is a simple real world game as described here.


Chapter 11


When Kinner is killed, his partial transformation into a Thing-creature leaves him with deformed hands featuring three-inch long talons. This is similar to Bennings' hands when he is killed in the film.


Van Wall comments on the Thing's blood, saying, "The blood will live--and try to crawl away from a hot needle, say!" This is very similar to dialog spoken by MacReady in the film.


Before applying the hot needle test to his own blood, McReady says, "...I'll try to show you what I already know." This is similar to dialog he also speaks in the film.


Chapter 12


In the story, Norris is the one who carries a gun on him, rather than Garry as in the film.


Instead of building a ship, Blair is found to have been building an anti-gravity harness. 


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