H. G. Wells' Familiar Aliens
John R. Reed
When H. G. Wells was beginning his literary career, a number of intriguing books describing the human capacity to maintain the opposing traits of good and evil in the same self were commanding popular attention. The best remembered of these are Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ( 1886), Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray ( 1890), and Bram Stoker's Dracula ( 1896). These narratives offered a dramatic picture of human nature as a multiple structure composed of antagonistic elements. As Stevenson put it, "a polity of multifarious, incongruous and independent denizens." Stevenson's and Wilde's fables suggested that a man might detach one evil element of his nature from the others, Stoker's that a malign external power might invade one's self, subverting the will and releasing the evil impulses hidden there.
These stories are in a tradition of English fiction that presents man himself as a creature alien to his kind. Wells understood this tradition and experimented with it. He considered Stevenson's tale a "masterpiece" and imitated it in The Invisible Man ( 1897). Wells' main character, Griffin, whose very name suggests his oddly composite and mythical nature, is not strictly alien to his species, although his unique trait of invisibility places him at odds with his kind. Or so it first appears. In fact, it is not Griffin's invisibility but his lawlessness that makes him a threatening presence to his fellow men. Like Jekyll, Griffin has voluntarily released the greed and desire for power in himself only to discover that, once unconfined, these impulses become monstrous.
The Invisible Man was an ingenious variation on a conventional theme, but Wells' genuinely original contribution to the literature of aliens was his up-to-date demonstration that what is frightening within us may not only escape to terrorize others, but it may project
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Publication information: Book title: Aliens:The Anthropology of Science Fiction. Contributors: George E. Slusser - Editor, Eric S. Rabkin - Editor. Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press. Place of publication: Carbondale, IL. Publication year: 1987. Page number: 145.
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