Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Wells, H G

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(1866-1946) UK writer often regarded as the father of modern Science Fiction. Because he is so closely associated with that genre it is easy to assume that all of his imaginative fiction is sf, but HGW wrote a number of stories using supernatural or fantastic Motifs, only sometimes seeking to rationalize the events in scientific terms. The first group of purely Supernatural Fiction includes: "The Temptation of Harringay" (1895 St James's Gazette), about an artist tempted by a Demon who comes alive from one of his paintings; "The Moth" (ot "A Moth – Genus Novo" 1895 Pall Mall Gazette) about an entomologist who believes he has discovered a new genus of moth until he learns no one else can see it (thereafter he believes it is the spirit of an old colleague with whom he had feuded – like similar stories by Sheridan Le Fanu and Guy de Maupassant it may be interpreted either as a psychological Ghost Story or a story of madness); "Pollock and the Porroh Man" (1895 New Budget), about a man who meddles with an African shaman and is thereafter haunted until he commits suicide; "The Red Room" (1896 The Idler; vt "The Ghost of Fear"), about a room haunted not by a Ghost but by the residuum of fear; "The Apple" (1896 The Idler), a Fable about the fear of knowledge in which a man rejects a fruit believed to be from the Tree of knowledge in Eden. "The Man who Could Work Miracles" (1898 Illustrated London News), which can be seen as a companion piece to "The Apple" as it explores the consequences of a meek little man suddenly finding he has absolute power, which inevitably leads to total destruction – filmed as The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936; script by HGW published as The Man Who Could Work Miracles * 1936 chap); "The Stolen Body" (1898 The Strand), involving experiments in astral travel resulting in a body suffering a spiritual Possession; "Mr Skelmersdale in Fairyland" (1901 The Strand), about a man who thinks he has visited Faerie in a dream but, on realizing his experience was truth, seeks unsuccessfully to return (this story has companion pieces in "The Door in the Wall" [1906 Daily Chronicle], where a man looks for his Secret Garden to find it only in death, and "The Beautiful Suit" [1909 Collier's Weekly; ot "A Moonlight Fable"], in which a man finds perfection in a new suit – all are parables of the search for eternal bliss); "The Story of the Inexperienced Ghost" (1902 The Strand), a humorous ghost story in which a man helps a ghost to return to the land of the dead; "The Truth about Pyecraft" (1903 The Strand), about an Indian Spell which makes a man weightless; and "The Magic Shop" (1903 The Strand), about a Shop where all tricks are genuine Magic.

The second group of stories of fantasy interest attempt a scientific explanation. "The Flowering of the Strange Orchid" (1894 Pall Mall Budget) is about a new species of plant which proves to be vampiric. "In the Avu Observatory" (1894 Pall Mall Budget) and "Aepyronis Island" (1894 Pall Mall Budget) concern the discovery of Animals Unknown to Science. "Under the Knife" (1896 New Review) tells of a patient who, during an operation, has either a Hallucination or an astral journey (see Astral Plane). "The Plattner Story" (1896 New Review) is about a chemistry teacher blown into another dimension where he sees what he believes are the Souls of the dead – here HGW seeks to rationalize the growing interest in psychic research. "The Story of the Late Mr Elvesham" (1896 The Idler) uses a tablet to effect an Identity Exchange. "A Story of the Stone Age" (1897 The Idler) may be regarded as a Prehistoric Fantasy. "The Presence by the Fire" (1897 Penny Illustrated) is a rationalized ghost story. "Mr Marshall's Doppelganger" (1897 Gentlewoman) considers two interpretations of a Doppelgänger. "A Vision of Judgment" (1899 Butterfly) considers divine retribution leading to Reincarnation on a planet orbiting Sirius. "The Empire of the Ants" (1905 The Strand) tells of a new species of ant from South America which threatens to dominate the world. "The Strange Story of Brownlow's Newspaper" (1931 The Strand) is a Timeslip tale.

Both sets of stories demonstrate that HGW explored as many themes of fantasy and the supernatural as he did the sciences. No single collection contains all of them, although The Short Stories of H.G. Wells (coll 1927; vt The Famous Short Stories of H.G. Wells 1938 US; vt The Complete Short Stories of H.G. Wells 1965) contains most. Shorter collections of merit are Thirty Strange Stories (coll 1897), Twelve Stories and a Dream (coll 1903), Tales of Wonder (coll 1923), The Valley of Spiders (coll 1964) and The Inexperienced Ghost (coll 1965 US).

HGW's excursions into the fantastic were less frequent at novel length, and usually less successful. The Wonderful Visit (1895) tells of an Angel who comes to Earth from another dimension. In The Sea Lady (1902) a Mermaid appears to a family off the south coast of England. The Dream (1924) might be regarded as a timeslip story, but the initial future setting is really only a story frame in which to add perspective to a mundane novel of 20th-century life. The Croquet Player (1936) is more successful, perhaps because of its cynicism: a doctor reveals his belief that an area of marshland is being haunted by the evil spirits of primitive men whose remains have recently been found, but the doctor's psychiatrist explains that all is hallucination. This novel and The Camford Visitation (1937), in which a disembodied alien visits a centre of learning to exhort the academics on the nature of their studies, are typical of HGW's later attitude toward humankind's inability to come to terms with the horrors of the social and political situation. HGW continued these barbed attacks to the end of his life. The Happy Turning (1945), in which he seems to be preparing to meet his maker, includes two discussions with Christ about the nature of Christianity. These final works emphasize the bitter nature HGW had developed, so different from the excitement of his early fantasies. [MA]

Herbert George Wells


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.