Friday, 7 September 2012

The First Men in the Moon

H.G. Wells The First Men in the Moon (1901)
Aside from a few things at school, it took me a while to get around to H.G. and when I did it was The Time Machine which, against  expectation, left me somewhat ambivalent towards this author. I now realise why, and how I mistakenly took what I believed Wells to have been saying from what he actually said, or more probably, what he purposefully didn't say.

My error was in presuming Wells' narrative to be in essence a  precursor to the modern science-fiction novel, not - as is immediately apparent from The First Men in the Moon - the more recent expression of a much older literary tradition. I seem to recall a filmed version of this tale from the 1960s: bumbling good natured professors beating at lunar monstrosities with umbrellas as they climb back into their capsule and return to Earth just in time for the closing credits. The novel offers nothing quite so tidy or cosy, leaving one of its characters stranded on the moon, presumably to die following the last few forlorn chapters of his message beamed back to Earth that we may have an account of Selenite society unencumbered by the more bumptious opinions of Bedford, our narrator. The point of the story is not the deliverance of its characters up to a typically happy ending far, far away from the weird sublunar caverns of the insectlike Selenites, rather - like previous lunar excursion narratives dating all the way back to Lucian of Samosata's True History, written some time between the years 125 and 180AD - rather this story is wholly a commentary upon the society of its time.

Wells feared a mechanised culture run along utilitarian lines, so  his characters tend towards views through which we examine the subject - alternately scientific and authoritarian in this case - and which may not necessarily be the views of the author, hence The Time Machine leaving me with the erroneous impression that Herbert George was probably a bit of a tosser. Rather than editorialising, as a contemporary equivalent of this narrative might do, Wells presents a detailed vision of the Selenite hive dynamics of specially adapted worker drones and lets his reader decide whether it seems a desirable model, and what it may say about ourselves. It's effective, subtle and a refreshing change from the heavy-handed parables of later, lesser authors.

Additionally and possibly of no relevance whatsoever, it's annoying that something of such sly elegance could be mistaken for a boffo yarn about handlebar moustaches and nuclear-powered penny farthings by the larger unwashed herd of point-missing steampunk buffoons, but anyway...

The First Men in the Moon is justifiably regarded as classic literature, and now I see why Wells endures with such a reputation.


  1. Film screen play by Nigel Kneale so as faithful an adaption as we were ever going to get. Kneale was a massive fan of Wells. Now this I have seen again in the last couple of months and Cavor stays on the moon with the Selenites to learn from them. Bedford and Screen Totty (Kate) escape, though the film starts in modern day 1964 with Bedford an old man and the first Moon landing discovering it's the second. A lot of charm.... and now I realise I must read the book. Odd that I haven't as I've read The TimeMachine, The War of the World and The History of Mr Polly all twice - and there's not too many authors who's books are worth going over repeatedly

  2. Hmmm. Interesting. For some reason The First Men in the Moon is one of those films I only seem to have seen in bits when changing channel on a Saturday afternoon. That sounds worth having a look out for.