Rare HG Wells writings published in magazine
NEW YORK (AP) — As Nazi Germany grew ever more dangerous in the 1930s and the Japanese threatened China, science fiction author H.G. Wells wrote up some thoughts about real-life horrors and in 1937 submitted them to a magazine with the widest possible audience, Reader’s Digest.
“Democracies need not merely freedom to think and talk, but universal information and vigorous mental training,” warned the author of “The War of the Worlds,” ″The Time Machine” and other classics.
“Consider China today. An ignorant peaceful population has as much chance of survival now as a blind cow in a jungle.”
The British author was known worldwide, but his message was apparently too strong for the conservative magazine, which never published the brief essay. Its debut in print comes more than 75 years later, in the holiday edition of The Strand Magazine, which has rediscovered obscure works by Mark Twain, Joseph Heller and many others.
“He had a very good relationship with them,” Strand managing editor Andrew Gulli says of Reader’s Digest, “and they occasionally even reprinted his stuff. But this article about democracy seemed to have rankled them.”
The Strand’s latest publication, which comes out Friday, also features a private letter by Wells that he wrote in 1935. Gulli found the materials among thousands of papers at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Wells was a socialist and often a pacifist whose fears for the planet’s fate were well developed in his fiction. But Gulli says the Reader’s Digest piece was an unusually strong nonfiction work, a direct call for action that anticipated the current debate about “failed states” in the Middle East and elsewhere.
“Wells was progressive in his views. He belonged to a generation of ardent imperialists, yet his belief was that the great powers should grant their colonies self-determination,” Gulli says. “His fear, I think, was that many of these Third World countries would fall prey to demagogues and militia and clerics.”
In his article for Reader’s Digest, Wells finds that too many countries are “half-literate” and “wholly undisciplined.” Democracies should build up their militaries, Wells recommends, but he insists that education is the best weapon.
“The choice is a plain one now,” he concludes. “Train yourself for freedom or salute and march.”
Wells was a prolific writer and tireless thinker, well demonstrated by his 1935 letter. He writes of a day that begins at 4 a.m.; includes revisions of a book about how “human hope and effort are frustrated”; preparations for a radio broadcast about the evolutionist T.H. Huxley; and several hours of work on a dystopian film he was writing, “Things to Come,” that eventually starred Ralph Richardson and Raymond Massey.
That night, the 69-year-old author dined with a Russian friend.
“And we argued about freedom of thought and expression,” Wells wrote, “with more particular references to Russia, until it was time to go to bed.”