Did H.G. Wells Predict or Invent the Grays?

I’ve been reading various SF books over the past few days. These have been the collections of classic SF stories edited by the British Library’s Mike Ashley. One of these is a history of British SF in 100 stories. This doesn’t collect the stories themselves, but consists of precis of what he judges to be the 100 best British SF stories. It begins with H.G. Wells, as you’d expect and includes a number of other well-known SF authors from the period, like Aldous Huxley and Brave New World. But there are many others that are now obscure, but seem to be really interesting and sometimes chillingly prescient. For example, the 1918 novel, Journey to Meccania, is a terrible warning of what will happen if Germany wins the War and dominates Europe. It’s the account of visit to Meccania, a Nazi-style totalitarian superstate in 1970 by a Chinese traveller, Mr Ming. Another story, written by Charlotte Haldane, the wife of the scientist J.B.S. Haldane, written in 1932, describes another racist, eugenicist dystopia. This is a state in which the government rigidly controls who may be allowed to marry and breed. The scientist, who has founded this totalitarian society, has also created a poison designed to only kill Blacks. At the moment, this is the only such toxin of its kind, though the story states that there are others working on a similar poison to destroy east Asians. In the ’60s or ’70s the South African secret service, BOSS, was really working on a racist poison like it. The book also uses the term ‘holocaust’, though not in connection with the Jews. Charlotte Haldane was Jewish. Her maiden name was Franken, and so I wonder if she was just looking at the direction the contemporary craze for eugenics and racial ‘science’ was going and showing just how horrific this would be in reality. And it did become horrific reality in Nazi Germany.

Back to H.G. Wells, the book obviously discusses The Time Machine, possibly the first serious book about time travel. Wells based the future races in the book, the Eloi and the Morlocks, on what would happen if present social trend continued. The Eloi are the descendants of the aristocracy and the artists, living above ground but farmed like cattle by the Morlocks, the descendants of the working class, who have been forced underground to tend the machines. Wells set that part of the story 800,000 years in the future because that was when he predicted, using then current theories of speciation, that the two post-human species would have diverged. Apparently the book originally included a section on racial degeneration, which was later cut from the book and published as The Gray Man.

Years ago, Martin Kottmeyer, one of the contributors to the small press, sceptical UFO magazine, Magonia, ran a series of articles ‘Varicose Brains’ on how the Grays of UFO lore conform to the aliens in much SF literature. These were based on contemporary theories of evolution, which predicted that as humanity advanced the brain would develop and become larger while the body would consequently become smaller. As humanity became more intelligent and intellectual, so it would become less sensual and food become increasingly simpler. The result would be small people with large heads and atrophied digestive systems. This sounds exactly like the Grays. And some UFO theories state that these are the degenerate remnants of an alien race following mutation and racial decline due to nuclear war. But it’s also the name Wells’ gave his future, racially degenerate humans that also fascinates me: the Gray Man. Did Wells invent the Gray as a cultural motif, which then became incorporate into the UFO experience in the late 1960s and ’70s following the abduction of Betty and Barney Hill? Or did he just predict the figure’s appearance based on nothing more than his literary imagination and scientific insight?

And there are other connections between UFO encounters and early SF. One female SF writer in the ’20s and ’30s wrote a story about Martians coming to Earth to take water back to their own world. UFOs have often been seen over water, including instances like the Joe Simonton encounter, where they appear to be siphoning it into their craft. And then there’s the film The Man Who Fell To Earth, directed by Nicholas Roeg and starring David Bowie, in which an alien travels from his desert world to bring back some of Earth’s water. Is it a case of the human imagination taking these images and narratives and turning them into accounts of encounters with aliens during extreme psychological experiences? Or is the phenomenon behind the UFO encounters taking these images and stories and manipulating them? Or is it just coincidence?


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6 Responses to “Did H.G. Wells Predict or Invent the Grays?”

  1. trev Says:

    In the Book of Enoch the Watchers are described as “the guardians of hell, angels grey of colour, small as children, with a shape that is somewhat similar to the human form.” But there are, or have been descriptions of, all sorts of other ‘Aliens’ including the tall blonde “Nordic” variety, and also taller versions of the Greys, and even at least one description of a bearded man in long robes accompanied by a black dog!

  2. Brian Burden Says:

    I did a postgraduate thesis on Wells’s Scientific Romances many years ago, and never came across The Gray Man, so thank you for filling me in! I’d have said the Morlocks are too simian in appearance to be mistaken for greys, though, interestingly, the childlike Eloi, with their big eyes and pointy chins resemble some aliens described in contactee literature. H.G.Wells died when I was seven and BBC Radio celebrated the event with a dramatisation of The Time Machine, which entitles me to insist that the intended pronunciation of “Eloi” is El-oh-ee, not Ee-loy (as in “Old Macdonald had a farm/ Eeloy, eeloy oh!”?). I take the name to be an ironic derivation from “Elohim” – gods of the Old Testament and lords of Blavatsky’s earthly paradise.

    • beastrabban Says:

      Thanks, Brian. And I agree with you that it is the Eloi who are closest to the ideas about racial degeneration and evolution. That was what Kottmeyer argued in his article anyway. As for the pronunciation of Eloi, I’d assumed it came from the French for ‘elite’ or ‘chosen’, but it would also make sense if Wells did base it on ‘Elohim’. I read somewhere that The Island of Dr Moreau was his take on the creation story in Genesis, but presided over by a malign god.

      • Brian Burden Says:

        My favourite moment in Moreau is when Prendick, the narrator, encounters beast-man M’Ling on deck one night and sees, with a shock, that his eyes are glowing like a wild animal’s. In terms of Jungian dream symbolism, this represents a confrontation of Prendick with his unconscious or shadow self, as Prendick’s own comments confirm.

      • beastrabban Says:

        Interesting. I’ve never read it. There have been a number of film adaptations, including a very early one with Charles Laughton. Richard Stanley tried directing a version in the 90s, but was replaced with John Frankenheimer because of problems, many of them caused by Marlon Brando, who had been cast as Moreau. There are a number of videos about the fiasco on YouTube, and they all present Brando and the other star, Val Kilmer, as complete prats.

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