Chernobyl is the ur-example of a real Blighted Land. There is an 18 mile exclusion zone around the melted reactor that is deemed not fit for human habitation (this is of course ignored by animals, which appear to be thriving, but that is another point). I can think of two examples of fiction off the top of my head where human meddling has absolutely destroyed a locale, and both were written after Chernobyl. I'm curious if, in much the same way that death was first personified during the European plague, the concept of a blighted/destroyed land has been crystallized and given a form and appearance by the public awareness of Chernobyl.

Star Trek Voyager: In "The Omega Directive" it is revealed that a Federation scientist is working with the "omega molecule" which destroys subspace in a large area, making it impossible to use a warp drive in this area, effectively keeping all planets inside in a slower-than-light state for eternity

Dominic Deegan: In the Orc wars the kingdom of Callan employed "Informancers" which where humans bound to demons. The effect of so many demonic entities concentrated in one place eventually led to a condition in which the Orc plains were blasted by sandstorms for months, destroying all civilization, and forcing the Orcs to become nomads at best, and refugees at worst.

While the cause of the blight could be variable, I'm looking for in general the Irradiated level of blight - e.g., there is nothing we can do about it for millennia (or ever), we just have to wait it out.

  • are you looking for magic, non magic, salted feilds level, or like irradiated level – Himarm Apr 26 '16 at 14:35
  • Interestingly, there are some 150+ people living in and around Chernobyl, quite happily ignoring the exclusion zone. – Valorum Apr 26 '16 at 14:52
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    Good question! My first thought was of Jadis and the Deplorable Word killing every living thing in Charn, but that’s from The Magician’s Nephew (from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis), which was finished in 1954, so two years later than the one in sabbahillel’s answer. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 26 '16 at 15:42
  • @JanusBahsJacquet That'd would have been an excellent answer, that I hadn't even considered. – Sidney Apr 26 '16 at 15:53
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    i always thought the land around mordor to be a blasted lands of sorts – Himarm Apr 26 '16 at 16:12

The story of the sleeping beauty may come from as early as 1528, according to Wikipedia. In at least one variation, the whole kingdom where the princess lived was put to sleep for a whole century or more. And to prevent intrusion from the outside:

The fairy also summons a forest of trees, brambles and thorns that spring up around the castle, shielding it from the outside world and preventing anyone from disturbing the Princess.

Although not the kind of blight where there is death and decay, this caused an otherwise civilized place to spend a long time - more than the regular life span of a person - without any noticeable human activity. If you allow substituting magic for radiation, this is a candidate work of fiction.


1930: Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future, a novel by Olaf Stapledon, available at Project Gutenberg Australia, has a Wikipedia page. At the end of Chapter V, most of the planet is sterilized by an accident in Patagonia:

A petty dispute had occurred in one of the new mines. The management refused to allow miners to teach their trade to their sons; for vocational education, it was said, should be carried on professionally. Indignation against this interference with parental authority caused a sudden flash of the old rage. A power unit was seized, and after a bout of insane monkeying with the machinery, the mischief-makers inadvertently got things into such a state that at last the awful djin of physical energy was able to wrench off his fetters and rage over the planet. The first explosion was enough to blow up the mountain range above the mine. In those mountains were huge tracts of the critical element, and these were detonated by rays from the initial explosion. This sufficed to set in action still more remote tracts of the elements. An incandescent hurricane spread over the whole of Patagonia, reinforcing itself with fresh atomic fury wherever it went, It raged along the line of the Andes and the Rockies, scorching both continents with its heat. It undermined and blew up the Behring Straits, spread like a brood of gigantic fiery serpents into Asia, Europe and Africa. Martians, already watching the earth as a cat a bird beyond its spring, noted that the brilliance of the neighbour planet was suddenly enhanced. Presently the oceans began to boil here and there with submarine commotion. Tidal waves mangled the coasts and floundered up the valleys. But in time the general sea level sank considerably through evaporation and the opening of chasms in the ocean floor. All volcanic regions became fantastically active. The polar caps began to melt, but prevented the arctic regions from being calcined like the rest of the planet. The atmosphere was a continuous dense cloud of moisture, fumes and dust, churned in ceaseless hurricanes. As the fury of the electromagnetic collapse proceeded, the surface temperature of the planet steadily increased, till only in the Arctic and a few favoured corners of the sub-Arctic could life persist.

Patagonia's death agony was brief. In Africa and Europe a few remote settlements escaped the actual track of the eruptions, but succumbed in a few weeks to the hurricanes of steam. Of the two hundred million members of the human race, all were burnt or roasted or suffocated within three months--all but thirty-five, who happened to be in the neighbourhood of the North Pole.


"Solution Unsatisfactory" (1941)

This story describes the development and use of a poisonous, radioactive dust.

I tried to snap my fingers, which was impossible because of the lead mittens. "That accounts for it, Colonel!"

"Accounts for what?"

"Accounts for those accusing notes we've been getting from the Bureau of Fisheries. This poisonous dust is being carried out into Chesapeake Bay and is killing the fish."

Manning turned to Karst. "Do you think that possible, Doctor?"

The dust is dropped on Berlin, and appears to linger for a while, including in the air:

But, so far as I am concerned, I left what soul I had in that projection room and I have not had one since. The two pilots who made the pictures eventually died—systemic, cumulative infection, dust in the air over Berlin. With precautions it need not have happened, but the English did not believe, as yet, that our extreme precautions were necessary.


Once an area was dusted there was nothing that could be done about it until the radioactivity had fallen off to the point where it was no longer harmful. The dust could not be cleaned out; it was everywhere. There was no possible way to counteract it—burn it, combine it chemically; the radioactive isotope was still there, still radioactive, still deadly. Once used on a stretch of land, for a predetermined length of time that piece of earth would not tolerate life.

That certainly sounds blighted.


The "blasted land" concept was used well before Chernobyl which occurred in 1986. People used this in fiction about post nuclear war Earth since the atomic bomb became known.

Andre Norton used the"Blasted Land" concept in a number of her novels. For example, her first science fiction novel, Daybreak 2250 A.D. (aka Star Man's Son 2250 AD or just Star Man's Son) from around 1952. She also used it in novels such as Plague Ship in which a section of the Earth was blasted during a nuclear war and the radiation makes it uninhabitable (besides all the mutant monsters that flourish there).

Many stories used the idea as a background in which a past nuclear war has created an area that cannot be resettled because of the level of radiation and the monsters (or "human" mutants) that survive there.

  • @anaranjada I think I've fixed that paragraph, unless if misread it too. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 26 '16 at 15:56
  • @JanusBahsJacquet thanks for fixing my typo. – sabbahillel Apr 26 '16 at 23:06

1937: "The Place of the Gods" aka "By the Waters of Babylon", a postapocalyptic short story by Stephen Vincent Benét; first published in the July 31, 1937 issue of the Saturday Evening Post; has a Wikipedia page. You can listen to the Mind Webs reading of this story at the Internet Archive. The beginning of the story:

The north and the west and the south are good hunting ground, but it is forbidden to go east. It is forbidden to go to any of the Dead Places except to search for metal, and then he who touches the metal must be a priest or the son of a priest. Afterward, both the man and the metal must be purified. These are the rules and the laws; they are well made. It is forbidden to cross the great river and look upon the place that was the Place of the Gods; this is most strictly forbidden. We do not even say its name, though we know its name. It is there that spirits live, and demons; it is there that there are the ashes of the Great Burning. These things are forbidden; they have been forbidden since the beginning of time.

The story tells of the narrator's visit to "the Place of the Gods" aka "Newyork". Apparently no longer deadly by the time of the story, it was poisoned for many years as a result of atomic or more likely chemical weapons. Sleeping in Newyork, the narrator has a dream or a vision about the gods:

Were they happy? What is happiness to the gods? They were great, they were mighty, they were wonderful and terrible. As I looked upon them and their magic, I felt like a child; but a little more, it seemed to me, and they would lay their hands upon the stars. I saw them with wisdom beyond wisdom and knowledge beyond knowledge. And yet not all they did was well done, and yet their wisdom could not but grow until all was peace.

Then I saw their fate come upon them, and that was terrible past speech. It came upon them as they walked the streets of their city. I have been in the fights with the Forest People; I have seen men die. But this was not like that. When gods war with gods, they use weapons we do not know. It was fire falling out of the sky and a mist that poisoned. It was the time of the Great Burning and the Destruction. They ran about like ants in the streets—poor gods, poor gods! Then the towers began to fall. A few escaped—yes, a few. The legends tell it. But even after the city had become a Dead Place, for many years the poison was still in the ground. I saw it happen; I saw the last of them die. It was darkness over the broken city and I wept.


Timeaus and Critias 360 BC.

Here are a few I remember:

Author, title, and dates forgotten: A series of stories in which southeastern Pennsylvania was devastated by an accident at a nuclear power plant. Probably after Three Mile Island (1979) and before Chernobyl (1986).

James Blish's Earthman Come Home (1953, 1955) has the Blasted Heath on a distant planet caused by dropping a city on another city.

Isaac Asimov first depicted a mostly radioactive Earth in Pebble in the Sky (1950). This is before Andre Norton's Starman's Son in 1952.

In Fantasy J.R.R. Tolkien had the Withered Heath, where the great Dragons breed, and the Desolation of the Dragon around Erebor, in The Hobbit (1937).

"The Blasted Heath" appears in H.P. Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space" Amazing Stories September, 1927. This is a famous story that appeared in a science fiction magazine before "Solution Unsatisfactory", "The Place of the Gods", or Last and First Men.

But the concept of a region devastated by human or supernatural forces probably goes back to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the old testament and Plato's story of the sinking of Atlantis.

So I will suggest Plato's dialogues Timaeus and Critias, both in 360 BC, as the first science fiction or fantasy depictions of a "blasted land". This is certainly a much earlier fantasy example than "Sleeping Beauty".


1856 : A historical fiction short story by Jókai depicts an event during the conquests of Pizarro, where the Incas, as a last desperate move, set a huge underground sulfur deposit on fire, destroying their whole country and making it uninhabitable for many centuries, maybe millennia. At the end of the story, in modern times (1850's), nothing can survive in the entire region, not even the most simple forms of flora and fauna.

  • What is the title of the story? Is the text online? – user14111 Feb 12 '17 at 22:01

There are ancient (1000 BC) tales of conquerors of a city sowing salt in the surrounding lands to make them infertile on a long-term basis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salting_the_earth . (This wouldn't actually work given the amount of salt available, but the stories still sprung up, and conquerors evidently did actually do it symbolically, to curse the land.)

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