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I am a huge fan of H. G. Wells. I have read quite a few of his books and most
of them I've liked and some I have liked very much. This one tops them all, and has left me reeling. Written in 1923 (but set in 1921), it, here in 2016, is a
novel for our times; what we are going through right now, and where we are heading. What he has written about humanity in his own time holds true, perhaps
with even greater accuracy nearly one hundred years later. Amazing and unbelievable. The old cliché about hitting the nail on the head couldn't apply
Furthermore, this book is about a utopia; in fact, that is the name the Earthlings call the planet they visit. Normally, utopian books, to me, sound more like nightmares. I do not believe I've ever read a utopian book that sounded anything like a place I would like to be. Until now. In fact, this world, created in the mind of one of literature's greatest authors, is so like the one I have been creating in my mind for thirty years—well—it is just uncanny. Not that I agreed with everything, and Wells did not get into the metaphysical aspect, which is my main basis for creation, but the overall image he creates makes me want to be there now.
The hardest part of writing this review is deciding what to include. I took two pages of notes, which are mostly passages I wanted to quote. Obviously I cannot quote all of them, but I will certainly attempt to give you enough of an idea of what it's all about to inspire you to read it on your own. Not only do I highly recommend that, but, especially if you are a reader of my articles, I urgently recommend it. Believe me, you will understand when you read it. You may go to the link above to either download the eBook that suits your reader, or you may read it online. In addition, Dover has added this novel to their stock, in fact, it is through them that I discovered it. Incidentally, I think quite a few books from this era must have recently gone into the public domain, because Dover now has in print books of a much more modern style than their typical classics. The University of Adelaide is in Australia, and their copyrights expire much earlier than ours here in the U.S..
Perhaps the best way to convey my thoughts on this novel is to present a brief synopsis, then supply commentary and quotes. We meet our unlikely hero, Mr. Arthur Barnstaple, as he finds himself in a state of serious disenchantment with his job, situation, his beloved family, and the world in general. He works for a prick named Mr. Peeve on a newspaper called the Liberal in Sydenham, and owns a little car which his family calls the Foot Bath, Colman's Mustard, and the Yellow Peril. In a state of desperation to get away, he packs up while his wife is gone, having seen Dr. Pagan and confirming he has "neurasthenia." He telegraphs his wife and says a letter will follow.
But things don't go as planned. As he "wanders north" with a view of Windsor Castle in the distance, and the billboard advertising the hotel at Maidenhead, he is passed by a "an enormous grey touring car," then "a large, smooth, swift Limousine." And suddenly as he turns the bend, there is no sign of either vehicle. In astonishment, he slows down, then skids and panics, and hears a strange snapping like a lute string. When he recovers himself, he finds he is in a strange place. But he does see the Limousine, and soon the inhabitants make themselves known. But Barnstaple is even more interested in the exquisite beauty of the scenery.
Barnstaple soon learns that one of the men is Cecil Burleigh, "the great Conservative leader." Another is a short, heavy man with an eye-glass, and the third is a clergyman, whom he learns later is Father Amerton. No one knows where they are, or how they got there. There is a another person in the limo, noticed when she screams. A beautiful leopard is standing, watching Lady Stella furiously open and close her parasol. But the leopard is tame and harmless, and as one man stretches his arm to pet it, it sneezes, then runs off.
As the initial shock of the situation wears off, the group realizes that there is a house on fire nearby. They investigate, to find two beautiful people, quite naked, and dead. They had obviously been working on a chemistry experiment. Their questions are soon answered, as "two stark Apollos" approach them, speaking perfectly fluent English. The two dead people, Arden and Greenlake, had been working on a very advanced experiment, the result of which opened the door for the entrance of the Earthlings. They are in Utopia, (as the Earthlings call it); a parallel universe, which is about 3,000 years advanced from Earth. The small group, which also includes Rupert Catskill, the Secretary of War (who, according to Wikipedia, was modelled after Winston Churchill), is then flown to another place, where they have refreshments, then meet with other Utopians for a conference.
A man called Serpentine begins the meeting, speaking about dimensions, and how the Earthlings entered. Mr. Barnstaple is very interested, and Burleigh seems like he is, too, but the others, especially Lady Stella and Father Amerton, can't hear a word. Barnstaple notes that words fade in and out, with gaps, and none of the Earthlings hear quite the same thing. They discover later that the Utopians, in fact, are not actually speaking English, or speaking at all, but mentally conveying messages, which is why the group hears them in their own language. But the problem with this sort of communication, is that concepts too advanced for the Earthlings cannot not be translated by their brains. Father Amerton dozes. Lady Stella and Mr. Mush (the man with the eye-glass) are holding their own conversation, bored with the proceedings.
So that's how it all begins. In brief, Barnstable is the only one of the group who is in awe of the extraordinary intelligence, beauty, and harmony of this wonderful planet. Burleigh represents the Earthling response to the Utopians, and he takes the stance of a seasoned politician as he speaks. In other words, lots of bull and little substance. Still, the Utopians are patient, and try to answer questions and put their guests at ease.
It is quite interesting how Wells chose basically the scum of the Earth to travel to Utopia. Other than Barnstaple, who realizes he is an idiot in the presence of these extremely advanced beings, the others become arrogant and find all kinds of faults with the Utopian way of life and government (an Anarchy). Father Amerton goes on a rampage and wants to convert all these "sinners" for going naked and other things. And we haven't even met the worst of the Earthlings—the ones in the grey touring car, who have killed a person by running over him, then tried to get away and eventually rolled over a cliff. They survive, however, unfortunately. That party consists of the shallow and wealthy and arrogant: Lord Barralonga; Mr. Hunker, the American "Cinema King;" Miss Greeta Grey; and the Frenchman Dupont.
Shortly after the arrival of the Earthlings, disease breaks out in Utopia from the latent germs brought onto their planet. They have been disease-free for so long that their immune systems are now non-existent. So the Utopians fly the Earthlings to a distant and isolated castle on a crag where they have been provided with all they need. But the total inability to recognize the beauty and perfection of Utopia, and the fact that Earth herself has the ability to become such a world of splendor, the Earthlings begin to plot war and takeover of the planet, led by the Secretary of War, Rupert Catskill. Their first plan of action is to capture a couple Utopians and hold them hostage. But Barnstaple, who wants no part of this insanity, warns the Utopians as they approach, to get away, run, go back. The Utopians are killed, and Barnstaple is next on the list. He escapes down the mountain and is rescued, while the others are "removed."
Well, that's more than I wanted to say about the storyline of this book. The rest of this review will be devoted to quotes and my comments.
The first one concerns the Utopians' means of communication by thoughts alone, which I find very interesting because of all the mind/creation work that I do, and I know this technique is possible. Urthred (or perhaps his name is Edom or Adam; no one knows for sure) says:
". . . people began to get the idea before it was clothed in words and uttered in sounds. They began to hear in their minds, as soon as the speaker had arranged his ideas and before he put them into word symbols even in his own mind. . . .That is what we do now habitually in this world. We think directly to each other."
The section on over-population struck a chord with me. I find myself in the minority, but in my opinion, there are waaaay too many people on this planet. We're like rats in a cage, and it gets worse and worse. The population of Utopia is two hundred fifty million. During the Last Age of Confusion (comparable to our current Earth), their population was over two thousand million, (about 2 billion), which was the approximate population in 1923. Of course, Father Amerton is aghast that a world should dare regulate its population:
The overcrowding of the planet in the Last Age of Confusion was, these Utopians insisted, the fundamental evil out of which all the others that afflicted the race arose. An overwhelming flood of newcomers poured into the world and swamped every effort the intelligent minority could make to educate a sufficient proportion of them to meet the demands of the new and still rapidly changing conditions of life. . . . The economic system, clumsily and convulsively reconstructed to meet the new conditions of mechanical production and distribution, became more and more a cruel and impudent exploitation of the multitudinous congestion of the common man by the predatory and acquisitive few. That all too common common man was hustled through misery and subjection from his cradle to his grave; he was cajoled and lied to, he was bought, sold and dominated by an impudent minority, bolder and no doubt more energetic, but in all other respects no more intelligent than himself. It was difficult, Urthred said, for a Utopian nowadays to convey the monstrous stupidity, wastefulness and vulgarity to which these rich and powerful men of the Last Age of Confusion attained. . . .
Upon this festering, excessive mass of population disasters descended at last like wasps upon a heap of rotting fruit. It was its natural, inevitable destiny. A war that affected nearly the whole planet dislocated its flimsy financial system and most of its economic machinery beyond any possibility of repair. Civil wars and clumsily conceived attempts at social revolution continued the disorganization. A series of bad weather accentuated the general shortage. . . . The effort to make passed out of Utopian life, triumphantly superseded by the effort to get. Productions dwindled down towards the vanishing point. Accumulated wealth vanished. An overwhelming system of debt, a swarm of creditors, morally incapable of helpful renunciation, crushed out all fresh initiative. . . .
What plenty and pleasure was still possible in the world was filched all the more greedily by the adventurers of finance and speculative business. Organized science had long since been commercialized and was "applied" now chiefly to a hunt for profitable patents and the forestalling of necessary supplies.
Uh. Well. Sounds familiar to me. Like as in where we are now.
The Utopians also had a "Jesus" figure in their history, but nobody worshipped him at present. They accepted him as a "Teacher of Teachers," (which is what Jesus really was). Of course, Father Amerton is again aghast.
Ultimately, the final "revolution" was not one of violence,
. . . but of an increase of light, a dawn of new ideas, in which the things of the old orders went on for a time with diminishing vigour until people began as a matter of common sense to do the new things in place of the old.
And that is surely happening now, too.
There were some parts of Utopia that I had some issues with, especially the purging of plant and animal species that they deemed a nuisance, though they did it with much thought and planning, and took into consideration what long-term effects it would have on all the planet. OK, we can do without fleas and ticks, but wolves and house pets. NO WAY. They also bred formerly noxious plants into sources for chemicals they needed. And many species that didn't make the list, in both plants and animals, were allowed in small numbers. In one instance, two people are tending a certain doomed rose, but because they love it, they are in charge of its existence. And as they "weeded and cultivated" the plants and animals, so they also did with humanity itself, producing over the centuries, a god-like being of near perfection.
One of the beautiful aspects of these people that impresses Barnstaple the most is their transparency. (Gosh, wouldn't that be wonderful!)
They were clear and frank and direct. They had never developed that defensive suspicion of the teacher, that resistance to instruction, which is the natural response to teaching that is half aggression. They were beautifully unwary in their communications. the ironies, concealments, insincerities, vanished and pretensions of earthly conversation seemed unknown to them. Mr. Barnstaple found this mental nakedness of theirs as sweet and refreshing as the mountain air he was breathing.
Mr. Catskill, the Secretary of War, of course, cannot grasp the concept of a world like Utopia.
His bright, headlong mind had seized upon the fact that every phase in the weeding and cleansing of Utopia from pests and parasites and diseases had been accompanied by the possibility of collateral limitations and losses; or perhaps it would be juster to say that the fact has seized upon his mind. He ignored the deliberations and precautions that had accompanied every step in the process of making a world securely healthy and wholesome for human activity. He assumed there had been losses with every gain . . .
(And when the Utopians begins to get sick from diseases brought by the
Earthlings, he is the first to say "told you so," and set the plans in motion for war.)
He continues by stating his belief that the Earthlings have a much richer life, because by suffering, they can appreciate not suffering even more.
"We go down far below your extremest experiences into discomforts and miseries, anxieties and anguish of soul and body, into bitterness, terror and despair. Yea. But do we not also go higher? I challenge you with that. What can you know in this immense safety of the intensity, the frantic, terror-driven intensity, of many of our efforts? What can you know of reprieves and interludes and escapes? Think of our many happinesses beyond your ken!"
Lots to ponder here, to be sure! And even more to ponder is the Utopians' perception of Nature—that it is better in their control, then left to chance. Perhaps that is so. Urthred says:
"The minds of these Earthlings are full of fears and prohibitions, and though it has dawned upon them that they may possibly control their universe, the thought is too terrible yet for them to face. They avert their minds from it. They still want to go on thinking, as their fathers did before them, that the universe is being managed for them better than they can control it for themselves. because if that is so, they are free to obey their own violent little motives. Leave things to God, they cry, or leave them to Competition."
Then he really gives it to them—the Utopian opinion of Mother Nature:
"They do not see that except for our eyes and wills, she is purposeless and blind. She is not awful, she is horrible. She takes no heed to our standards, nor to any standards of excellence. She made us by accident; all her children are bastards—undesired; she will cherish or expose them, pet or starve or torment without rhyme or reason. She does not heed, she does not care. She will lift us up to power and intelligence, or debase us to the mean feebleness of the rabbit or the slimy white filthiness of a thousand of her parasitic inventions. There must be good in her because she made all that is good in us—but also there is endless evil. . . . Half the species of life in our planet also, half and more than half of all things alive, were ugly or obnoxious, inane, miserable, wretched, with elaborate diseases, helplessly ill-adjusted to Nature's continually fluctuating conditions, when first we took this old Hag, our Mother, in hand. We have, after centuries of struggle suppressed her nastier fancies, and washed her, combed her and taught her to respect and heed the last child of her wantonings—Man.
Urthred gives a reason behind Catskill's love of misery:
"You are not, you must realize, a very beautiful person, and probably you are not very beautiful in your pleasures and proceedings. But you have superabundant energy, and so it is natural for you to turn to the excitements of risk and escape, to think that the best thing in life is the sensation of conflict and winning."
Sounds familiar to me.
Here, Father Amerton keeps following Barnstaple around, and Barnstaple finally tells him to get lost, and a lot more:
"I agree with these Utopians that there is something wrong with your mind about sex, in all probability a nasty twist given to it in early life, and that what you keep saying and hinting about sexual life here is horrible and outrageous. And I am equally hostile to you and exasperated and repelled by you when you speak of religion proper. You make religion disgusting and sex disgusting. You are a dirty priest. What you call Christianity is a black and ugly superstition, a mere excuse for malignity and persecution. It is an outrage upon Christ."
As an ex-Catholic, I certainly agree. The next excerpt tells a little about how Barralonga became wealthy:
Then he launched out into speculations in shipping and in a trade we carry on in our world in frozen meat brought from great distances. He made food costly for many people and impossible for some, and so he grew rich. For in our world men grow wealthy by intercepting rather than by serving.
The next excerpt comes when the Earthlings have been quarantined. They fear that the Utopians will inject things into them, and begin their plan of attack, starting with refusal to cooperate. Barralonga thinks they will be a pushover because they have lived in such ease for so long, they have no power to fight back.
"They will not know what to do, Do not be deceived by any outward shows of beauty and prosperity. These people are living, as the ancient Peruvians were living in the time of Pizarro, in an enervating dream. They have drunken the debilitating draught of Socialism and, as in ancient Peru, there is no health nor power of will left in them any more. A handful of resolute men and women who can dare—may not only dare but triumph in the face of such a world. And thus it is I lay my plans before you."
"You mean to jump this entire Utopian planet?" said Mr. Hunker.
"Big order," said Lord Barralonga.
Leave it to the Earthlings to start a war . . .
All the use these Earthlings had had for Utopia was to turn it back as speedily as possible to the aggressions, subjugations, cruelties and disorders of the Age of Confusion to which they belonged.
But of course, they don't succeed—far from it. The advanced technology of the
Utopians blasts them into a different dimension. Except for Barnstaple, who escapes and is welcomed, to a point, into the community.
In the end, Barnstaple who was rendered unconscious by the blast that sends the others off the planet, is rescued and nursed back to health. He spends his remaining time in Utopia wandering around, taking in the beauty and asking questions. Everyone is cordial to him and answers his questions, but he is so far below their intelligence that no one really pays him much attention. He feels terribly useless. One woman, Lychnis, is much less advanced than the others, and she befriends him for a while, as does her young cousin, Crystal, who at only thirteen is still more advanced than Barnstaple. The boy teaches him much about their beliefs. Barnstaple learns about the foundations of Utopian character; habits of cleanliness, truth, candour and helpfulness, confidence in the world, fearlessness and a sense of belonging to the great purpose of the race. Barnstaple also learns the Five Principles of Liberty: the Principle of Privacy; The Principle of Free Movement; The Principle of Unlimited Knowledge. But it is the Fourth Principle, that Lying is the Blackest Crime, that most impressed Barnstaple. Crystal says, "Where there are lies there cannot be freedom." YES!! How I agree with that one!! And the Fifth Principle of Liberty is Free Discussion and Criticism.
And upon that profound thought, I shall end probably the longest review I've ever written on a fictional book. All I can say is this one is an absolute must-read. It's free for anyone online, or you can buy the book from Dover Publications.
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