The First Men in the Moon

by H. G. Wells

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 440

The lunar voyage draws on a theme as old as The True History (transcribed second century c.e.) of Lucian of Samosata, who lived in the second century. The use of a fantastic journey for the purpose of satirizing contemporary society echoes Jonathan Swift’s Gullivers Travels (1726). The First Men in the Moon is distinguished not so much by originality as by its vivid and imaginative writing, its mixing of comic and serious elements, and its pessimistic vision of a dystopian society.

The highly ordered society of the Selenites is a system without individual freedoms and rights. The insectlike form of the lunar beings emphasizes this and gives them a monstrous quality. Bedford fights against the system, but for his own selfish reasons: He wants to steal gold and come back for more later. Cavor is a detached scientist who is fascinated by what he sees but is prepared only to observe, not to participate. The Selenites are called “citizens” but are in reality completely conditioned from birth to perform their preassigned tasks in the machine. This is a nightmarish vision of economic conditions in a developed capitalist system. Bedford typifies the acquisitive capitalist, who is egotistical and irresponsible in his pursuit of gain. On the Moon, he can literally throw his weight around. His plan to annex the Moon and harvest its resources is a satirical jab at imperialist exploitation of vulnerable peoples and lands. Bedford also embodies those competitive energies and individualistic values that Wells appeared to admire. The novel validates the idea of an organized society but at the same time sets limits on how far the individual should be subjected to the desires of the group.

The dreamlike quality of the narrative has been noted often. The fragmentary account of Cavor’s observations that concludes the novel gives the impression of snapshots or vignettes, a technique often used by satirists. The voyage is a journey of self-discovery for both principal characters. Bedford, who writes his serial in a paradisiacal setting in Italy, has been enlivened by his experience and finally has gained the success he craved. Cavor, on the other hand, has come face to face with the consequences of his own scientific speculations and been destroyed by them. The major themes of Wells’s dystopian vision are taken up by many later works, such as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932). First Men in the Moon (1964), a film version of the novel, was directed by Nathan Juran and had a different ending: The Selenites in the film are wiped out by a virus in a manner reminiscent of Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1898).

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