Backwards for "nowhere". A name I use to mean "some non-specific fictitious place". Popularized by Samuel Butler
in his 1872
novel of the same name; also used by Lin Carter
in a couple of his popcorn fantasy
novels. The name shows up in John Woo
's film, Face/Off
On the Utopia/Dystopia scale, Erewhon is firmly in the dystopic end, but by no greater degree than Butler's own Victorian England. Rather than pointing out perils, like 1984
or Brave New World
; rather than imagining an ideal society, like Ecotopia
or Walden Two
, Butler simply satirizes Western society by reversing the respective social treatments of misfortune and moral failure.
Health and success are accorded all the status of moral virtue, while misfortune and illness are harshly punished in Erewhonian courts of law. This gives various reversals and substitutions in common dramas: one woman feigns dipsomania as a cover for her chronic illness, a fraud victim is fined for misplaced trust. I have to wonder what the Erewhonian parallel to The War on Some Drugs would look like... Zero Tolerance For Pimples In Schools, maybe.
Butler plays "mad doctor" with complex ideals (virtue, beauty, progress, fortune, society, piety, economy, etc.) all in a way that ridicules our own common prejudices and facades. Bound up with a ribbon of romance, the result is a fun, illuminating work well worth rereading.