Monday, February 3, 2020

The Humblest Things . . .

Ruthless, predatory--they arrive. They will make of their new empire a purely material thing, made and engineered for their own benefit and for the ruination of everyone who is not they. But then all of their very finest plans are ruined when they are laid low "by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth." I have been writing about the late H.G. Wells. Those quoted words are from the early version of himself when he might have put prayer and belief into his work with far less squeamishness. Tyranny--the totalitarian ideal--is often shown to be like a plague or a creeping, biological menace, obliquely in The Plague by Albert Camus (1947), less so in I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (1954), least of all in these three examples in The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney (1955). But in The War of the Worlds (1897), microbes do for humanity what we are powerless to do for ourselves, that is, to defeat the invaders:
But there are no bacteria in Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and fed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow. [Emphasis added; from Chapter VIII, Dead London]
That's a neat way for a Fabian socialist and student of biology to place material means (i.e., bacterial disease) within an act of God so as to wipe out his villains the Martians. I imagine that Wells did this to stay true to his belief in science and materialism while also making his story palatable for the popular readership of his day, which was at least nominally Christian.

The coronavirus isn't quite at the level of a pandemic yet, but could it help to lay low the tyrants of Earth?

Famous Fantastic Mysteries, July 1951, with "The War of the Worlds" as the cover story and cover art by Lawrence.

Text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

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