The Power of the Coming Race
In 1871, the novel Vril: The Power of the Coming Race, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, was published. Personally, I found the book pretty boring; most of it is just a description of the society where the main character ends up. But there is little doubt that it has influenced H.G. Wells when he wrote The Time Machine (spoilers):
In Vril: The Power of the Coming Race, the main characters finds a subterranean race that is superior to the humans living on the surface, and he is worried what will happen the day they decide to rise from their underground kingdoms. The first person he meets has an outfit (including wings) and appearance that makes him look like a sphinx. In The Time Machine, a sphinx-like statue is the first thing the time traveller sees, and in both books, the character finds this meeting disturbing.
They are all vegetarians. They once lived on the surface, but were later forced under the earth. They share the same origin as us, but it is suggested that they and maybe also we evolved from a species with amphibian traits, and that later subterranean amphibians used by their children as pets, were degenerated descendants from a highly evolved race with common origin as themselves, that no longer were able to defend themselves against aggression. Also the vril-people have lost some of the drive we see in humans living on the surface, resulting in a decline or absent of art, music and literature. They have no facial hair, and there is a difference in size between them and normal humans (in The Time Machine, they were shorter, here they were taller). The main character become attached with a young female, and learns a lot of the society from her, and visits a museum with old machines, among other things. The need for eugenics to avoid degeneration is also mentioned, for instance by not breeding with inferior people, while in Wells' story, the humans have already degenerated.
In Samuel Butler's Erewhon from 1872, there are other similarities, where the main character again meets a girl, this time called Arowhena, which sounds a lot like Weena who starts hanging out with him and explain the society, and takes him to a museum with old technology.
Bulwer-Lytton himself was probably inspired by Jules Verne (among others). In both books, there are species living underground who are descendants from animals who once lived on the surface. And even if it was never confirmed in Verne's A Journey to the Centre of the Earth (published seven years earlier), there is a moment where we see a silhouette or something of a human that is much taller than on earth. Then there are all the mysteries about the written messages of Arne Saknussemm, and the hints that there have been humans before them entering the underground world, and which may even still be around.
And there seems to be some similarities between the opening of The Time Machine and Around the World in Eighty Days in how the main character is sitting in a room claiming in front of other people that a journey that they assume is impossible is actually possible.
From an article
on the net:
Darwin and Marx were of course two other influences. Wells also claimed to have been influenced by Nathaniel Hawthorne, but this could just as well have been the writing style.
About the publishing of the story, he wrote to an old college friend named Elizabeth Healey; "It's my trump card, and if it does not come off very much I shall know my place for the rest of my career. Still we live in hope".
Den her texten ovan var er et innlegg jeg postet i et diskusjonsforum, derfor er det skrevet på engelsk. Hvis du onsker lese mine folgende kommentarer på norsk, klikk her. (This text above is vritten in English, because it was once posted in a discussion forum. If you want to read my following comments in original Norwegian language, click here.)
And an article I found on the Net dealing with, among other things, H.G. Wells and the Time Machine: http://www.questionsquestions.net/docs04/morton-degeneration.html
I remembered an another similarity between the books now in retrospect, and there is a tendency to keep the name of the protagonist hidden:
"Where's_____?" said I, naming our host.
And then the
With respect to amphibians mentioned in Lytton's book is regarded as degenerate descendants of common ancestors, this is more of a negative critique of Darwin than a support for his theories, which this short article explains further; http://skullsinthestars.com/2008/12/15/edward-bulwer-lyttons-the-coming-race/, but there is a similarity nonetheless.
A few other comments:
Among other things, it's written in Wikipedia under the Dying Earth (subgenre) article, that Camille Flammarion published a book The End of the World, aka Omega: The last days of the world in 1893, two years before Wells' story, which both are dealing with the Earth's last days. But this can of course be a coincidence. The theme of the last man on Earth have that most people know, been used a few times before, though not quite the same way.
It is also possible that Wells was the first, or one of the first ones, which included the theme of evolutionary psychology in his stories, even if the concept at that time was still many years from being defined. Until the industrial revolution was the man and his surroundings more or less compatible. On the other hand, the industrial revolution created a completely new environment in such a short time that the evolution could not hang on, something Wells was very aware of. This meant that not least the human mind was not in harmony with the world it lived in, with the consequences this may cause. In this case, what is known resulted in a class distinction, where each class experienced the absence of certain factors in the traditional selection on their way, something that eventually led to the evolution brought forth two different types of people.
The only thing I personally might be viewed a bit differently in the book, is the Morlocks habitat. Once they have taken the surface in its possession, it is strange that they still choose to live so far underground, where they have to maintain a mechanized ventilation system, and spend lots of time and effort to climb up and down every night. Maybe it seemed more logical if they had dug out new home just a few meters below the surface, similar to larger homes without basement floors above of course, connected by underground passages. It would have symbolized both their origin and that they now was the surface rulers a little bit clearer. But that is only trifles when you think about how revolutionary the book was, generally seen. Perhaps it also represents a decline that the Morlocks after so long time are not able to think in new ways about their residence, but instead chose to stick to the old.
A small correction to the article I wrote in English; it's true that vril-ya, the people of Lytton's book, considers meat eating as barbaric and kills all the meat eaters over a certain size, but they still drink milk and make use of skins from animals. They are, in other words lakto-vegetarians. And when I think of it, it's also a certain similarity between the end of the two books. An excerpt from Lytton near the book's end:
The Gy kissed me on my forehead, passionately, but as with a mother's passion, and said, as the tears gushed from her eyes, "Farewell for ever. Thou wilt not let me go into thy world--thou canst never return to mine. Ere our household shake off slumber, the rocks will have again closed over the chasm not to be re-opened by me, nor perhaps by others, for ages yet unguessed. Think of me sometimes, and with kindness. "...
Her voice ceased. I heard the swan-like sough of her wings, and saw the rays of her starry diadem receding far and farther through the gloom.
Wells also ends his book with friendship between two different types of people from two different worlds, between a man and a woman:
But to me the future is still black and blank--is a vast ignorance, lit at a few casual places by the memory of his story. And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers--shrivelled now, and brown and flat and brittle--to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man.
The protagonist of Wells' book has to flee because Morlocks finally decided to get him and he is trapped in the building with the Sphinx on top. The main character in Lytton's book are forced to flee because the people in the town he lives in have finally decided to execute him as soon as day dawns (to the extent that a day can dawn under the earth), and he is trapped in upper floors of the building where he lives.
Adding excerpts of the books where I think the similarities occur, it would be interesting (nothing new really, just a clarification of what is already commented). If you think it's a little too much, just ignore them:
Lytton, the main character arrives at the village for the first time:
I now came in full sight of the building. Yes, it had been made by hands, and hollowed partly out of a great rock. I should have supposed it at the first glance to have been of the earliest form of Egyptian architecture. It was fronted by huge columns, tapering upward from massive plinths, and with capitals that, as I came nearer, I perceived to be more ornamental and more fantastically graceful that Egyptian architecture allows. As the Corinthian capital mimics the leaf of the acanthus, so the capitals of these columns imitated the foliage of the vegetation neighbouring them, some aloe-like, some fern-like. And now there came out of this building a form-human;-was it human? It stood on the broad way and looked around, beheld me and approached. It came within a few yards of me, and at the sight and presence of it an indescribable awe and tremor seized me, rooting my feet to the ground. It reminded me of symbolical images of Genius or Demon that are seen on Etruscan vases or limned on the walls of Eastern sepulchres-images that borrow the outlines of man, and are yet of another race. It was tall, not gigantic, but tall as the tallest man below the height of giants.
Its chief covering seemed to me to be composed of large wings folded over its breast and reaching to its knees; the rest of its attire was composed of an under tunic and leggings of some thin fibrous material. It wore on its head a kind of tiara that shone with jewels, and carried in its right hand a slender staff of bright metal like polished steel. But the face! It was that which inspired my awe and my terror. It was the face of man, but yet of a type of man distinct from our known extant races. The nearest approach to it in outline and expression is the face of the sculptured sphinx-so regular in its calm, intellectual, mysterious beauty. Its colour was peculiar, more like that of the red man than any other variety of our species, and yet different from it-a richer and a softer hue, with large black eyes, deep and brilliant, and brows arched as a semicircle. The face was beardless; but a nameless something in the aspect, tranquil though the expression, and beauteous though the features, roused that instinct of danger which the sight of a tiger or serpent arouses. I felt that this manlike image was endowed with forces inimical to man. As it drew near, a cold shudder came over me. I fell on my knees and covered my face with my hands.
Wells, the protagonist is seen around the first time:
I stood up and looked round me. A colossal figure, carved apparently in some white stone, loomed indistinctly beyond the rhododendrons through the hazy downpour. But all else of the world was invisible.
"My sensations would be hard to describe. As the columns of hail grew thinner, I saw the white figure more distinctly. It was very large, for a silver birch-tree touched its shoulder. It was of white marble, in shape something like a winged sphinx, but the wings, instead of being carried vertically at the sides, were spread so that it seemed to hover. The pedestal, it appeared to me, was of bronze, and was thick with verdigris. It chanced that the face was towards me; the sightless eyes seemed to watch me; there was the faint shadow of a smile on the lips. It was greatly weather-worn, and that imparted an unpleasant suggestion of disease. I stood looking at it for a little space-half a minute, perhaps, or half an hour. It seemed to advance and to recede as the hail drove before it denser or thinner. At last I tore my eyes from it for a moment and saw that the hail curtain had worn threadbare, and that the sky was lightening with the promise of the sun.
"I looked up again at the crouching white shape, and the full temerity of my voyage came suddenly upon me.
Lytton's description of his female companion, who was an outstanding representative of women and the breed in general:
She was tall even for a Gy (woman), and I saw her lift up a cannon as easily as I could lift a pocket-pistol. Zee inspired me with a profound terror- a terror which increased when we came into a department of the museum appropriated to models of contrivances worked by the agency of vril; for here, merely by a certain play of her vril staff, she herself standing at a distance, she put into movement large and weighty substances. She seemed to endow them with intelligence, and to make them comprehend and obey her command. She set complicated pieces of machinery into movement, arrested the movement or continued it, until, within an incredibly short time; various kinds of raw material were reproduced as symmetrical works of art, complete and perfect.
Though I had a secret persuasion that, whatever the real effects of vril upon matter, Mr. Faraday could have proved her a very shallow philosopher as to its extent or its causes, I had no doubt that Zee could have brained all the Fellows of the Royal Society, one after the other, with a blow of her fist.
In Wells, the roles are reversed:
There was nothing in this at all alarming. Indeed, there was something in these pretty little people that inspired confidence-a graceful gentleness, a certain childlike ease. And besides, they looked so frail that I could fancy myself flinging the whole dozen of them about like nine-pins.
One of the people in Lytton's book put forward the hypothesis that man's common ancestors have given rise to two different species, but that one gradually had degenerated and become inferior to themselves:
"Pardon me," answered Aph-Lin: "in what we call the Wrangling or Philosophical Period of History, which was at its height about seven thousand years ago, there was a very distinguished naturalist, who proved to the satisfaction of numerous disciples such analogical and anatomical agreements in structure between an An (a human) and a Frog, as to show that out of the one must have developed the other. They had some diseases in common; they were both subject to the same parasitical worms in the intestines; and, strange to say, the An has, in his structure, a swimming-bladder, no longer of any use to him, but which is a rudiment that clearly proves his descent from a Frog. Nor is there any argument against this theory to be found in the relative difference of size, for there are still existent in our world Frogs of a size and stature not inferior to our own, and many thousand years ago they appear to have been still larger."
"In the Wrangling Period of History, whatever one sage asserted another sage was sure to contradict. In fact, it was a maxim in that age, that the human reason could only be sustained aloft by being tossed to and fro in the perpetual motion of contradiction; and therefore another sect of philosophers maintained the doctrine that the An was not the descendant of the Frog, but that the Frog was clearly the improved development of the An. The shape of the Frog, taken generally, was much more symmetrical than that of the An; beside the beautiful conformation of its lower limbs, its flanks and shoulders the majority of the Ana in that day were almost deformed, and certainly ill-shaped. Again, the Frog had the power to live alike on land and in water - a mighty privilege, partaking of a spiritual essence denied to the An, since the disuse of his swimming-bladder clearly proves his degeneration from a higher development of species. Again, the earlier races of the Ana seem to have been covered with hair, and, even to a comparatively recent date, hirsute bushes deformed the very faces of our ancestors, spreading wild over their cheeks and chins, as similar bushes, my poor Tish, spread wild over yours. But the object of the higher races of the Ana through countless generations has been to erase all vestige of connection with hairy vertebrata, and they have gradually eliminated that debasing capillary excrement by the law of sexual selection; the Gy-ei naturally preferring youth or the beauty of smooth faces. But the degree of the Frog in the scale of the vertebrata is shown in this, that he has no hair at all, not even on his head. He was born to that hairless perfection which the most beautiful of the Ana, despite the culture of incalculable ages, have not yet attained. The wonderful complication and delicacy of a Frog's nervous system and arterial circulation were shown by this school to be more susceptible of enjoyment than our inferior, or at least simpler, physical frame allows us to be. The examination of a Frog's hand, if I may use that expression, accounted for its keener susceptibility to love, and to social life in general. In fact, gregarious and amatory as are the Ana, Frogs are still more so. In short, these two schools raged against each other; one asserting the An to be the perfected type of the Frog; the other that the Frog was the highest development of the An. The moralists were divided in opinion with the naturalists, but the bulk of them sided with the Frog-preference school. They said, with much plausibility, that in moral conduct (viz., in the adherence to rules best adapted to the health and welfare of the individual and the community) there could be no doubt of the vast superiority of the Frog. All history showed the wholesale immorality of the human race, the complete disregard, even by the most renowned amongst them, of the laws which they acknowledged to be essential to their own and the general happiness and wellbeing. But the severest critic of the Frog race could not detect in their manners a single aberration from the moral law tacitly recognised by themselves. And what, after all, can be the profit of civilisation if superiority in moral conduct be not the aim for which it strives, and the test by which its progress should be judged?
"In fine, the adherents of this theory presumed that in some remote period the Frog race had been the improved development of the Human; but that, from some causes which defied rational conjecture, they had not maintained their original position in the scale of nature; while the Ana, though of inferior organisation, had, by dint less of their virtues than their vices, such as ferocity and cunning, gradually acquired ascendancy, much as among the human race itself tribes utterly barbarous have, by superiority in similar vices, utterly destroyed or reduced into insignificance tribes originally excelling them in mental gifts and culture.
Although this was only meant as a parody of the contemporary debate about whether apes and humans had common ancestors, as a result of the publication of The Origin of the Species a year earlier, probably the idea that two closely related and intelligent species, one of which has degenerated after human standards, has excited the imagination of many readers, among them almost certainly Wells.
I saw no other pet animals among this community except some very amusing and sportive creatures of the Batrachian species, resembling frogs, but with very intelligent countenances, which the children were fond of, and kept in their private gardens.
In Wells' story has no human species become pets (even if the Morlocks tend to make pretty clothes and footwear to them, might suggest certain tendencies), but cattle:
I understood now what all the beauty of the over- world people covered. Very pleasant was their day, as pleasant as the day of the cattle in the field. Like the cattle, they knew of no enemies and provided against no needs. And their end was the same.
Furthermore has the quote from Lytton, a certain resemblance to the part of The Time Machine that were left out when it was passed from a serial story in the magazine The New Review to be published in book form, and the chapter is currently only known as The Grey Man (and also The Further Vision, by the publisher Signet Classic), where man's ultimate degeneration are discussed:
"I got off the machine, and picked up a big stone. I had scarcely done so when one of the little creatures came within easy range. I was so lucky as to hit it on the head, and it rolled over at once and lay motionless. I ran to it at once. It remained still, almost as if it were killed. I was surprised to see that the things had five feeble digits to both its fore and hind feet-the fore feet, indeed, were almost as human as the fore feet of a frog. It had, moreover, a roundish head, with a projecting forehead and forward-looking eyes, obscured by its lank hair. A disagreeable apprehension flashed across my mind. As I knelt down and seized my capture, intending to examine its teeth and other anatomical points which might show human characteristics, the metallic-looking object, to which I have already alluded, reappeared above a ridge in the moor, coming towards me and making a strange clattering sound as it came.
Lytton explains why the underground community's cultural development, where art, literature and music is concerned, has been more or less to a standstill:
Amid the various departments to which the vast building of the College of Sages was appropriated, that which interested me most was devoted to the archaeology of the Vril-ya, and comprised a very ancient collection of portraits.
The type of face began to evince a marked change about a thousand years after the vril revolution, becoming then, with each generation, more serene, and in that serenity more terribly distinct from the faces of labouring and sinful men; while in proportion as the beauty and the grandeur of the countenance itself became more fully developed, the art of the painter became more tame and monotonous.
The most interesting works of a purely literary character are those of explorations and travels into other regions of this nether world, which are generally written by young emigrants, and are read with great avidity by the relations and friends they have left behind.
I could not help expressing to Aph-Lin my surprise that a community in which mechanical science had made so marvellous a progress, and in which intellectual civilisation had exhibited itself in realising those objects for the happiness of the people, which the political philosophers above ground had, after ages of struggle, pretty generally agreed to consider unattainable visions, should, nevertheless, be so wholly without a contemporaneous literature, despite the excellence to which culture had brought a language at once so rich and simple, vigorous and musical.
So, too, a vast part of our ancient literature consists of historical records of wars an revolutions during the times when the Ana lived in large and turbulent societies, each seeking aggrandisement at the expense of the other. You see our serene mode of life now; such it has been for ages. We have no events to chronicle. What more of us can be said than that, 'they were born, they were happy, they died?' Coming next to that part of literature which is more under the control of the imagination, such as what we call Glaubsila, or colloquially 'Glaubs,' and you call poetry, the reasons for its decline amongst us are abundantly obvious.
Painting is an amusement to many, but the art is not what it was in former times, when the great painters in our various communities vied with each other for the prize of a golden crown, which gave them a social rank equal to that of the kings under whom they lived. You will thus doubtless have observed in our archaeological department how superior in point of art the pictures were several thousand years ago. Perhaps it is because music is, in reality, more allied to science than it is to poetry that, of all the pleasurable arts, music is that which flourishes the most amongst us. Still, even in music the absence of stimulus in praise or fame has served to prevent any great superiority of one individual over another; and we rather excel in choral music, with the aid of our vast mechanical instruments, in which we make great use of the agency of water, than in single performers."
"We have had scarcely any original composer for some ages. Our favourite airs are very ancient in substance, but have admitted many complicated variations by inferior, though ingenious, musicians."
Wells expressed his sadness at the thought that both the intelligence and culture will disappear when there is no longer any challenges, changes or development back in the community:
"Looking at these stars suddenly dwarfed my own troubles and all the gravities of terrestrial life. I thought of their unfathomable distance, and the slow inevitable drift of their movements out of the unknown past into the unknown future. I thought of the great precessional cycle that the pole of the earth describes. Only forty times had that silent revolution occurred during all the years that I had traversed. And during these few revolutions all the activity, all the traditions, the complex organizations, the nations, languages, literatures, aspirations, even the mere memory of Man as I knew him, had been swept out of existence. Instead were these frail creatures who had forgotten their high ancestry, and the white Things of which I went in terror. Then I thought of the Great Fear that was between the two species, and for the first time, with a sudden shiver, came the clear knowledge of what the meat I had seen might be. Yet it was too horrible! I looked at little Weena sleeping beside me, her face white and starlike under the stars, and forthwith dismissed the thought.
"It is a law of nature we overlook, that intellectual versatility is the compensation for change, danger, and trouble. An animal perfectly in harmony with its environment is a perfect mechanism. Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no change and no need of change. Only those animals partake of intelligence that has to meet a huge variety of needs and dangers.
As you have read until now, was Lytton's book very popular and extremely influential in its time, and affected far more than just Wells, although today it's about to be forgotten, unlike some other classics. Both vril-ya and the Eloi are described in general as beautiful people.
And to the end a brief reference from Jules Verne's story from the Centre of the Earth:
My uncle was gazing with intense and eager interest.
"Come on!" said he, seizing my arm. "Forward! forward!"
"No, I will not!" I cried. "We have no firearms. What could we do in the midst of a herd of these four-footed giants? Come away, uncle - come! No human being may with safety dare the anger of these monstrous beasts."
"No human creature?" replied my uncle in a lower voice. "You are wrong, Axel. Look, look down there! I fancy I see a living creature similar to ourselves: it is a man!"
I looked, shaking my head incredulously. But though at first I was unbelieving I had to yield to the evidence of my senses.
In fact, at a distance of a quarter of a mile, leaning against the trunk of a gigantic kauri, stood a human being, the Proteus of those subterranean regions, a new son of Neptune, watching this countless herd of mastodons.
Yes, truly, huger still himself. It was no longer a fossil being like him whose dried remains we had easily lifted up in the field of bones; it was a giant, able to control those monsters. In stature he was at least twelve feet high. His head, huge and unshapely as a buffalo's, was half hidden in the thick and tangled growth of his unkempt hair. It most resembled the mane of the primitive elephant. In his hand he wielded with ease an enormous bough, a staff worthy of this shepherd of the geologic period.
At the risk of repeating myself, so it's of course just speculation, but a story about an underground kingdom, with colossal reptiles (a giant lizard is the first creation the protagonist meets in Lytton's book), creatures that are extinct on the earth and unknown human species; which was released only a few years earlier, may well have served as inspiration for Lytton when he wrote his novel.
Another interesting oddity between the two books is on the scientific discussion that took place when they came out. Actually more of a parallel than a similarity, and thus has no significant relevance to the so far discussed.
The force Lytton calls vril is a primordial energy that everything originates from, and that you may already have read in one of the links inspired the contemporary science which tried to unite the known forces of nature in an early form of the theory of everything, which some quantum physicists are struggling with today. This power is in many ways the spine of the book.
Wells, on the other hand, anticipates the theory that would later lead to the theory of relativity, where time and space are combined into a cohesive unit by making time for a fourth dimension that belongs with the three spatial dimensions; a theory that is converted to the time traveler's journey into the future.
Wells and Verne is generally regarded as two of science fiction literature's most influential writers. But while Verne was trying to show the contemporary technological and scientific marvels in a realistic way, Wells had, as you know, a different agenda with several of his books, at least the earliest of them, as his later science fiction mostly was limited to utopias and dystopias (although they are all political in content with sociological comments in general, like so many of their predecessors).
From a web page that discusses the inspiration sources for Star Wars:
lesson Star Wars borrows from Flash Gordon is the idea of
a fairytale in which technology plays the traditional role of magic. This
idea ultimately came from H.G. Wells. He arguably invented the genre we
now call "science fiction" in his first novel, The Time Machine
(1895). Wells believed that culture requires myth to move forward, and
myth requires a shred of plausibility to work properly - take for example
modern America's dominant myth, that we are visited by extra-terrestrials.
Wells believed the Industrial Revolution had quietly destroyed the idea
that fairy magic might be real, thus draining the power from fairytales.
He used the Industrial Era to create a new kind of magic: time machines
instead of magic carpets, Martians as dragons and scientists as wizards.
Wells based his "new kind of myth" partially on the work of other writers,
including Jules Verne, Edgar Allen Poe, and especially Mary Wollstonecraft
Shelley (who probably updated the Jewish "Golem" myth into her proto-science
fiction novel Frankenstein in 1818). He combined these ideas with
the political cartoons he had loved as a child (from the humour magazine
Punch), exaggerating some aspect of the real world to circumvent
his reader's preconceptions and make political points. Wells called his
new genre "scientific fantasia."
And as we already have seen, it is in both Lytton and Wells, the engineering which transforms contemporary theoretical physics into practical application in an impossible, but more or less reliable way, instead of using wands and other magic (in The Time Machine it's also the evolution that have created monsters, not any magic).
O. B. Aamodt from Norway, July 15-21, 2011, article translation by Sandra Petojevic.
O. B. Aamodt's comment:
Master of Arts, July 30, 2011 (updated August 14, 2011)