"The Strange Sleep" was a story printed in the sixth issue of The Twilight Zone comic published by Gold Key.
Cast of characters
Story summaryFranz Mesmer was an Austrian doctor in the late 18th century who became famous from a revolutionary medical technique that claimed to cure all ills. The treatment involved placing the patients in a room near a vat producng a strange vapor and as the fog surrounded them, Mesmer would walk about the room. As he went from one person to the next, he would curiously wave his hand about them and piercingly stare into their eyes. After a short time of this behavior he would advance on the next ill person, leaving the previous one in some sort of trance. While under this spell, the patients seemed to be relieved of their symptoms.
The seemingly miraculous feat of medicine made the doctor very popular. Before long, he was a rage in Paris and overwhelmed with appointments. The public gave the bizarre, new technique the name Mesmerism, after the doctor behind the innovation. Some believed there was something supernatural at work in Mesmer's actions, but the Austrian explained that he was only making use of an already present, yet invisible, force within all humans. He called this force, "Animal magnetism," because of its primal nature. He said it originated from the celestial bodies of the universe, such as the sun and the moon and that these bodies had a great physical effect on us all.
While this explanation satisfied some, the medical establishment remained skeptical. With the support of King Louis XVI of France, an investigation was launched to evaluate Mesmer's claims. The group included such reknowned thinkers as the American innovator Benjamin Franklin and the French experimenter Lavoisier. In the end, the commission found that Mesmer's claims were indeed too good to be true. Mesmerism was labeled a fraud.
The scientific establishment probably assumed that the conclusion would settle the issue and put Mesmer and his act out of business permanently. They underestimated, however, the talent for belief in the general public. A number of people swore that Mesmer's odd treatment had actually healed them and that Mesmerism had improved their health just as Mesmer said it would.
While most professionals frowned on the technique, the public was largely less skeptical. Yet over time even some professionals in fields such as psychology would experiment again with applying the technique under the new name of hypnosis. Doctors have used posthypnotic suggestion to command people in a trance to feel no pain as a surgery is being performed and under its influence the patient will not react to the cut of a surgical blade. Despite more acceptance because of such experiments, the technique still was not generally accepted by mainstream science. In the 20th century, it was most frequently used for entertainment, hypnotizing people to follow humorous commands such as, "Cluck like a chicken."
Not every use of hypnosis is so benign, however. In 1951, a Danish citizen named Palle Hardrupp was arrested for having committed a bank robbery in which he had killed two men. His defense was that he was not responsible because at the time of the crime, he had been in a trance! Witnesses at the scene admitted the man's eyes were glassy and he often muttered to himself as he carried out the robbery. It was claimed that Hardrupp was actually an unwitting dupe under the hypnotic control of a man named Nielsen and that Nielsen was the true culprit. He had convinced Hardrupp that the money that was stolen would be used to combat Denmark's enemies and under hypnosis, Hardrupp agreed to do the deed.
This was an important part of the case, because it had been said that no one under a hypnotic trance will perform a suggested act if the act is something that the person would not ordinarily do, such as murder another person. Experiments, however, had shown that people would follow hypnotic commands to commit murder or other crimes if they were convinced that the deed was for a worthy purpose or that they were in danger. As a result, a famous Danish psychiatrist testified that "it was perfectly possible to hypnotize a man into committing such a crime."
The defense worked—in a sense. Under tough scrutiny, Nielsen confessed that he had been behind the robbery all along. He had made the plans and had coerced Hardrupp into playing it out through the use of hypnotic suggestion. Nielsen was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Response and analysis
Notes and annotations
- Hardrupp was given a considerably lighter sentence, being sent to a mental asylum with eligibility for release after two years.
- Paul Reiter was presumably the "famed Danish psychiatrist" mentioned in the account. He was the former governor of the Denmark insane asylum and testified that Hardrupp had been "clinically insane" at the time the crime was committed because he had been deprived of his free will by Neilsen's repeated application of hypnosis. He also attested that Hardrupp had been convinced to carry out the otherwise unlikely act of murder—given his natural disposition—because he was told the robbery's proceeds would be used to fight communism, which he deemed a worthy purpose.
- Mel Crawford - Penciler, Inker
- machine - Letterer
- Originally published in color
- Printed on newsprint, 1 page
- Text story (factual); illustrated
- This story is technically a historic account rather than a fictional narrative.
Notes and references
- Bob Klein and Mike Tiefenbacher. "The Twilight Zone no 6 (1962 series)." Grand Comics Database. Retrieved: June 29, 2009.