Saturday, July 26, 2014

"The Man with the Axe Slew the Novelist"

By H. G. Wells (1866-1946).
William Heinemann.
1895. 151 pages.
Filmed several times, including 1960 (IMDb) and 2002 (IMDb).
Online HERE and HERE.
In 1931 Random House reissued H. G. Wells's THE TIME MACHINE, which prompted a brief assessment of its author that many would still agree with:
[Excerpt] Though in the new preface which Mr. Wells has written for this story, he remarks that "it seems a very undergraduate performance to its now mature writer," this reviewer wouldn't trade it for all the heavy and frequently tiresome volumes Mr. Wells has written since he gave up story writing and took to saving the world. For there were two men in Mr. Wells—a good novelist and a very tiresome person with an axe to grind, and the man with the axe slew the novelist.  . . . — Walter R. Brooks, "This Week's Reading," THE OUTLOOK (January 6, 1932)
For an assessment of the book's physical production (as distinct from the story itself), go HERE.

Frank N. Magill characterizes THE TIME MACHINE on this wise:
. . . This speculative chronicle of a space-time concept and a picture of life in the world of the future is so exciting, however, that it may be read merely as an adventure story. The book is a mixture of fantasy and pseudo-scientific romance. — Frank N. Magill, "Review: The Time Machine," MASTERPLOTS (1949) (Volume Eleven, page 6542)
Magill adds:
. . . Many nineteenth century people believed more than anything else—with a depth of conviction now unimaginable—in Progress. Wells was himself a devotee of the idea. Ironically, one of the reasons for contemporary skepticism about Progress is the existence of The Time Machine. — Magill, op. cit. (go to page 6544, bottom)
By H. G. Wells (1866-1946).
Edward Arnold.
1897. 279 pages.
Filmed in 1933 (IMDb), as well as many other adaptations.
Online HERE and HERE.
When THE INVISIBLE MAN was first published, it's interesting that two admiring reviewers should be moved to very similar philosophical reactions:
[Excerpts] . . . There is little reason to suppose, for example, that Mr. Wells, had he made science his life-work, would have come off better than any one of a dozen smart young men turned out by the Science and Art Department annually. We probably lost a quite indifferent man of science to gain the really able author of "The Time Machine" and "The Invisible Man."  . . . he gives us a fairy tale with a plausible scientific justification. The imagination is everything, the science is nothing . . . [These two books] make capital reading, and one is the complement of the other.  . . .
. . . Mr. Wells's future [in The Time Machine] is a world in which men have harked back to cannibalism and intellectual life is dead. Similar pessimism follows Mr. Wells into his new book [The Invisible Man]. Scientific experiment never makes the world any better or happier.  . . . Scientific research is indeed vanity if we are to accept Mr. Wells as a guide. That is only one interpretation of his book. The important thing to note is that the author has conceived of his creation with a splendid mastery of detail.  . . .
But to write all this is perhaps to treat the matter too seriously. The story, which is bound to be popular, has not a suspicion of preaching about it, and in a quite unpretentious way will help to pass an amusing hour or so. I have not been so fascinated by a new book for many a day. —Clement Shorter, "The Invisible Man," THE BOOKMAN [UK] (October 1, 1897)
[Excerpts] I am very glad to see that there is now a chance of Mr. H. G. Wells acquiring the popular vogue and celebrity to which he is entitled. He has for some time been known as a remarkable and ingenious artist . . . In The Invisible Man, and still more in The War of the Worlds, now being published in the Cosmopolitanhe has written books which should be read eagerly and generally.  . . .
The Invisible Man is not so good a book as it might have been and ought to have been, but it is decidedly striking and original, and what is rare in such books, it is also provocative of thought.  . . .
. . . The story is slight, and might be passed as a curiosity, but it suggests something of the limits of invention.  . . . We seem always to be on the verge of some invention that will really alter the moods and complexions of human life, but an invisible hand seems to stay us, and we remain in the old circle of experiences.  . . . — Claudius Clear, "The Fantastic Fiction; or, 'The Invisible Man'," THE BOOKMAN (November 1897)
By H. G. Wells (1866-1946).
William Heinemann & Harper & Bros.
1898. 303 pages [UK]; 290 pages [US].
Filmed several times, including 1953 (IMDb) and 2005 (IMDb).
Online HERE and HERE.
With the publication of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, one critic admitted to yawning in "certain small numbers" of places and faulted Wells for his pessimism, while another felt he went overboard with "one long banquet of horrors":
[Excerpts] . . . That is one of the most striking points about Mr. Wells's work, that he always kindles the imagination. The thief who behind every hedge sees a constable is in a better plight than the average reader of The War of the Worlds, who, in every thunderstorm or convulsion of nature, will, for long years to come, think of those grim and impressive creatures from another world.  . . .
. . . Mr. Wells has set our minds agog. I do not say he has done it with that perfection of sanity which so great a subject might have called forth. A war of the worlds, if it really came, would bring us face to face with noble aspects of heroism, with infinite depths of terror, with a mingling of exquisite pathos, and—in spite of the horrors afforded—of grim humour, of a kind which do not come into the ken of Mr. Wells. I do not even deny that in The War of the Worlds there are certain small numbers of pages over which many readers may be excused for yawning, whereas to thoroughly convince us of so dire a catastrophe of nature as is here presented an inferior writer, equipped with some of Mr. Wells's material, would have prevented our interest from waning for a moment.  . . .
. . . Mr. Wells, the first novelist to turn to account for purposes of fiction the great revival of science . . . has painted, and continues to paint, developments where life is more full of pitfalls than in our own time, and where great convulsions of nature find us morally not one whit better prepared than the eruption of Vesuvius found the people of Pompeii nearly two thousand years ago. None the less do I count the work of Mr. Wells as one of the most distinctly individual achievements of our time, on a lower literary plane, it may be, but as distinctly an individual achievement as the work of Swift in the eighteenth century, with which it has much in common.  . . . [I wish] to reiterate the conviction that among the younger writers of the day Mr. Wells is the most distinctly original, and the least indebted to predecessors. The War of the Worlds is a very strong and a very powerful book. — Clement Shorter, "Mr. Wells's 'War of the Worlds'," THE BOOKMAN [UK] (March 1898), reprinted in THE BOOKMAN (May 1898)
[SPOILERS IN REVIEW] As is well known, the scientifically gruesome is Mr. Wells's forte. In his 'Thirty Strange Stories' we supped on thirty kinds of horror, each course a brief one. But in the 'War of the Worlds,' which is a novel, we are sated with one long banquet of horrors.
The usual miseries of war are not enough; a hundred new ones are invented to suit the invented inhabitants of another and a more highly civilized world. The men of "vast, cool, and unsympathetic intellects," who are all brain and hand, smiting with heat-rays, and choking out life with tubes of liquid black smoke, make mere powder and shell household pets by comparison.
To read this story of the emptying of London and the wasting of Surrey by the loathsome Martians—for they are repulsive as well as fearful—is to quake by day and sink into nightmare after.
Such tribute as this is certainly not to be denied it. The whole conception is highly ingenious, and the [SPOILER], although a fresh horror in itself, is unexpected cheer [SPOILERS DELETED] [and] is an untying worthy of Mr. Wells's genius. Under his accustomed skill of treatment the whole is entirely convincing, but we acknowledge that we prefer terror in smaller prescriptions.  . . . — "More Novels," THE NATION (June 9, 1898; go to page 447, middle)
Magill's judgment of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS reinforces the anonymous NATION reviewer's emphasis on the terror aspects of the book while pointing to the social satire in the novel that THE BOOKMAN's reviewer seems to have completely missed:
. . . The novel contains little character study, and the plot is a bare narrative of a few days of horror.  . . . So concrete was Wells' vision that he wrote a virtual documentary history of the Martian invasion . . .
. . . But The War of the Worlds is much more than a classic thriller; it develops a disturbing theory about evolution, attacks the complacency of bourgeois civilization, and raises a serious question about the effects of prolonged world peace.
. . . Wells satirizes the inability of Englishmen to grasp the enormity of the disaster. He points to the numbing, softening effects of industrial routine, bureaucracy, and separation from nature.  . . . Further, Wells intimates that combat may be man's natural state, and his narrator welcomes the onset of "the war-fever."  . . . — Frank N. Magill, "The War of the Worlds," MASTER-PLOTS (1949) (Volume Twelve, pages 7035 and 7037)

Category: Science fiction

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