The Works of H. G. Wells: 'The Wonderful Visit' - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Works of H. G. Wells: 'The Wonderful Visit'

You'll never believe what Alexander Wallace found in the woods.
We call those people among us who seem to be paragons of good by the name ‘angel;’ usually, we do not refer to nigh-Lovecraftian beings whose first words to us are “be not afraid” when we use such a phrase to compliment. H. G. Wells, likewise, has very comprehensible, human-like angels on his mind when he wrote The Wonderful Visit, published in 1895. It is fortunate that he did so, for had he not, this book would not have had the impact it does.

The inciting event of The Wonderful Visit is one that would end up being repeated by a great many science fiction works of different media: an alien being crashes on Earth and has to navigate that which is, in its own estimations, an alien world. Such aliens oftentimes have to deal with the terrifying and oftentimes-incomprehensible species known as humanity. Most such works have this intelligence be an extraterrestrial species. Wells does something different: here, it is an actual angel (referred to only as such throughout the book) that lands in a village in the south of England.

He is found by a hunter who also happens to be the village vicar, who mistakes him for a bird. It’s not for nothing that a divine being is found by someone who is looking for something to kill, stuff, and place on a wall. Throughout the book, one of the major themes is the sheer scale of human presumption and arrogance; the good people of this little town keep assuming that this angel would hew to every word of the Bible, but it gradually becomes clear that the divine had other plans for such beings (in that way, this rather humanoid angel is incomprehensible in a very different way than those of scripture).
It’s surprising how well this rather short book works as a first contact story, especially considering how it uses a mythological, rather than extraterrestrial, alien. In some ways, this is a very early example of the trope of the clueless alien and their human guide who nobly tries to explain all the strangeness of homo sapiens and the civilization that it built. The dialogue between the two is much of the book, and there is a good deal of commentary on the society that Wells knew very well.

Indeed, this book is something of a tract, one with Wells’ typical utopian socialist leanings. One of the greatest offenses that the angel commits against the village society in which he lands is to be far too affectionate of one of the servant girls, named Delia. He tries fruitlessly to understand the distinction between ‘lady’ and ‘servant’ that symbolizes class, that which has been called “the British obsession” (as opposed to race, the “American obsession”). He also vaporizes a local farmer’s barbed wire as he cannot understand the concept of large-scale land ownership. He even expresses skepticism of needing to have a job in the first place.

We oftentimes think of Wells as first and foremost a science fiction writer; before that, I think, he was a satirist, perhaps the first to use science fictional devices to lampoon or critique present society to such an extent. We forget that The War of the Worlds is a savage indictment of imperialism, and how he compares the fate of London in that novel to the Tasmanian Aboriginals in our world (to elaborate: the last full-blooded person of Tasmanian Aboriginal descent died in 1905). Those who take the time to really familiarize themselves with a large number of his works will find that Wells was an utterly biting satirist, one whose insights remain harshly relevant today. The Wonderful Visit shows that truth spectacularly.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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