A Brief Introduction to HG Wells

Image result for hg wellsToday it is 150 years since the birth of HG Wells. Although his work covers many genres, he is best known as the ‘father of science fiction’, alongside Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback. Wells was nominated for the Nobel prize in Literature four times!!!

Herbert George Wells was born in Kent on the 21st of September 1866 as the fourth and last child of Joseph Wells and Sarah Neal. When 8 year old Herbert had an accident in which he broke his leg, he was forced to stay in bed. To pass the time he started reading books his father brought to him from the local library. These gave him access to other worlds and lives, giving him the desire to start writing himself.

After Herbert’s father fractured his thigh, ending his career as a cricketer. The shop the family was running did not make enough profit and the family was unable to support themselves financially. Herbert began an apprenticeship as a draper. His mother started to work as a lady’s maid, and was not permitted to have living space for her husband and children. Herbert’s parents, who already having a turbulent marriage, lived separate lives from then on, although they did not divorce and remained faithful to each other. This, however, had its consequences on Herbert, who therefore failed as a draper and later as a chemist’s assistant. He did, on the other hand, make great use of the magnificent library the house his mother worked at had.

His mother arranged for Herbert to become a pupil-teacher in Somerset, a senior pupil who acted as a teacher of younger children. Not long after this he won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in London, to study biology. He studied here until 1887. He later helped to set up the Royal College of Science Association, of which he became the first president in 1909. During his study he entered the Debating Society of the school, beginning his interest in a possible reformation of society. He also founded The Science School Journal, in which he published a precursor to his novel The Time Machine, called The Chronic Argonauts. In 1890 Wells earned a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology, while he had a teaching position at Henley House School, where he taught A.A. Milne (the author of Winnie the Pooh). Not later he published his first work, a text-book of Biology.

After leaving the Normal School of Science, his aunt Mary (his father’s sister-in-law) invited Wells to stay with her for a while, solving his problem of accommodation.In 1891 Herbert married Mary’s daughter, Isabel. They divorced 3 years later when Herbert fell in love with one of his students, Jane, whom he married the year after. Because of his poor health they were forced to move to Sandgate, where he constructed a large family home. With Jane he had two sons: George and Frank. With Jane’s consent, Wells had several affairs. With one of these women he had a daughter in 1909, and with another he had a son in 1914.

Some of his early novels invented several themes now classic in science fiction. These were works as The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, When the Sleeper Wakes and The First Men in the Moon. He also wrote realistic novels and several short stories and novellas, such as The Flowering of the Strange Orchid, which helped to bring the full impact of Darwin’s ideas to a wider public.

One of the biggest contribution Wells made to the science fiction genre was his approach, referred to as his ‘new system of ideas’. Even though invisibility and time travel were not new in fiction, Wells added a sense of realism to the concept. According to “Wells’s Law”, a science fiction story should contain only a single extraordinary assumption.

As soon as the magic trick has been done the whole business of the fantasy writer is to keep everything else human and real. Touches of prosaic detail are imperative and a rigorous adherence to the hypothesis. Any extra fantasy outside the cardinal assumption immediately gives a touch of irresponsible silliness to the invention.

Well’s first nonfiction bestseller was Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human life and Thought (1901), in which he anticipated what the world would be like in the year 2000. He predicted that trains and cars would result in the dispersion of populations from cities to suburbs; moral restriction declining as men and women seek greater sexual freedom; the defeat of German militarism; and the existence of a European Union. He also did not expect successful aircrafts before 1950 and wrote that ‘my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocate its crew and founder at sea’. His bestselling The Outline of History (1920) made Wells a rich man. He also wrote several Utopian novels, seeking for a better way to organize society. He was regarded as an enormously influential figure. “By the time he was forty, his influence was wider than any other living English writer”.

By 1933 Wells’s books (before that time widely read in Germany) were banned from libraries and bookstores and burned by the Nazi youth in Berlin’s Opernplatz, after attracting the attention of German officials because of his criticism of the political situation in Germany. Near the end of World War II, Allied forces discovered that Wells was included in the list the SS had compiled of people slated for immediate arrest during the invasion of Britain in the abandoned Operation Sea Lion.

Wells’s literary reputation declined during his later years. He was described by George Orwell as ‘too sane to understand the modern world’. Wells had diabetes, and in 1934 was co-founder of The Diabetic Association (now Diabetes UK). Herbert Wells died of unspecified causes on 13 august 1946, at the age of 79, at his home at 13 Hanover Terrace in London. He was cremated three days later and his ashes were scattered at sea near Old Harry Rocks. a commemorative blue plaque was installed at his home in Regent’s Park.

The time machine

In The Time Machine (1985) Wells sends his brave explorer to face a future burdened with our greatest hopes…and our darkest fears. A pull of the Time Machine’s lever propels him to the age of a slowly dying Earth.  There he discovers two bizarre races—the ethereal Eloi and the subterranean Morlocks—who not only symbolize the duality of human nature, but offer a terrifying portrait of the men of tomorrow as well. 

This story is not easy to get into, but it starts to gain some speed I flew through it (also because this book is only just over 100 pages long). The story is build up from some scientific background, not leaving things unexplained. Wells stays true to the time travel adventure story, which i appreciated a lot. He created a fascinating and memorable version of the future Earth. And then there is the quite sad ending.

There are two different ‘adaptations’ I would like to address.

Image result for the time machine 2002

Although the 2002 movie version is clearly based on this book, it is quite different. First of all there is a whole tragic love story added to the plot. When the time traveler arrives in the future the focus shifts. Where the main character in the book mainly acts as an observer, concluding that a society or even a single life without strain or struggle creates a life of complacency and eventually stagnancy. The Morlock evolved into a much more capable society and were eventually able to turn the tables because of the many difficulties they had to overcome. The traveler in the movie however gets involved and wants to change things, eventually having to choose between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ side of him, while he learns to enjoy life. So although the movie is definitely enjoyable on its own, it is not very true to the book.

The Map of Time by Félix J. Palma is the first book of a trilogy around HG Wells’s work. This book focuses on the effects the publication of The Time Machine had on society, in a story intertwining real and imagined characters. Appearances are made by Jack the Ripper, the Elephant Man and Bram Stoker, among others. The story tells about a young man who wants to travel through time to stop the murder of the woman he loves. It tells about Murray’s Time Travel, in which people can ‘actually’ travel through time. And it tells about the time traveling investigators. HG Wells is the main character in this all, connecting the three stories. I adored this book. It had a bit of everything… romance, mystery, science-fiction, fantasy and biography.

The island of dr moreau

The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) may be my favorite work of HG Wells. This tells the story of a shipwrecked gentleman named Edward Prendick, stranded on a Pacific island lorded over by the notorious Dr. Moreau, confronts dark secrets, strange creatures, and a reason to run for his life. The doctor attempts to change animals into humans by ways of vivisection, and then live according to rules that will according to him suppress their beastial natures. The animal-men are for example not allowed to eat meat. Although this book is less well known than some of HG Wells’s other books, it definitely deserves a read. It is very intelligently written, is scary and unsetteling. The story raises questions about the ethics of the things science makes or could make possible. It is a quite gory read, and includes severe animal cruelty, so trigger warning if you are sensitive to that.

madman's daughter

I have only come across one adaptation of The Island of Dr Moreau so far, which was The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd. I thought it was okay. It takes the original story, and gives the doctor a daughter. Although this book stays quite close to the original, and manages to keep the uncomfortable and creepy feel, it adds a love triangle to it. I am not a fan of romance, especially when it is done in the way it is done in this book. It becomes the main focus of the story, almost distracting from the horror. I wrote a full review of this book, so feel free to check that out.

The invisible man

The Invisible Man (1897) is the fascinating story of Griffin, a scientist who creates a serum to render himself invisible, and his descent into madness that follows. Griffin is quite an interesting anti-hero. You secretly want to root for him as he terrorizes the English countryside. Even though this book is under 200 pages, it tells a complete and satisfying story. Like Wells does well with all his stories, the science (invisibility) is explained and even makes some sort of sense.

Griffin is part of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a comic book series written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Kevin O’Neill. I found these books quite enjoyable. It brings together some great characters from literature and sends them on an adventure. The art style is decent but not great. It is very sexist and racist, which is something I could handle in the first volume but got too much and too weird in the second volume for my taste.

war of the worlds

In The War of the Worlds (1898) the whole of human civilization is under threat, as powerful Martians build gigantic killing machines, destroy all in their path with black gas and burning rays, and feast on the warm blood of trapped, still-living human prey. The forces of the Earth, however, may prove harder to beat than they at first appear. I feel this book definitely lives up to the hype. In this story the aliens are truly alien, with crazy technology and ideas. The vivid depictions made this story thrilling. Because of the lack of things like cellphones, the narrator, as well as the reader, has no idea of what is going on in the world or with loved ones. The ending may be a bit anti-climatic, but is so incredibly clever.

As first adaptation I have to of course mention the radio drama by Orson Welles in 1938. Many people believed it to be real, and the invasion of the martians caused mass panic. Pretty impressive I would say.

Image result for war of the worlds 2005

The 2005 movie adaptation of War of the Worlds, by Stephen Spielberg with Tom Cruise gives a modern twist to the story and adds a family drama to it. Even though this is the case, it still stays quite true to the original story. We still do not know what is going on in the world, many of the original characters make their appearance (even saying some lines directly from the book), the ending is anti-climatic and has the same ‘and now what?’ feeling to it. What can I say, I enjoyed it.

I highly recommend giving Jeff Wayne’s musical version a go. This is a retelling of the original story released in 1976, and it stays incredibly true to the original story. It has won numerous awards and broke several records. I was fortunate enough to be able to watch a live theater performance 2 years ago (with Liam Neeson and Carrie Hope Fletcher) and I absolutely loved it. But for those who could not witness this, the 1976 version can also be found on Youtube. Beware, the music will not leave your head for days…

When it comes to book adaptations, I again recommend picking up the trilogy by Félix J Palma. The second book, The Map of the Sky, revolves around the publication of The War of Worlds. Without giving away any spoilers, several characters from the first book make their appearance in this story as well. And it is even better…

This has become quite a long post, I’m sorry. I am slightly obsessed with Wells and his creations. If you have not picked up his books yet, please give them a go. As classics they are available for free both as ebooks as well as audiobooks. All the four books I discussed are fairly short, between 100-200 pages. They are all beautifully written and very intelligent, especially considering they were written over a hundred years ago.

If you liked this post, I have written ‘A Brief Introduction’ on Arthur Conan Doyle  and on Mary Shelley.

I hope you all are having a lovely day,

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