Bohun Lynch’s Menace from the Moon
By Dale Nelson
Bohun Lynch attended one or more convivial gatherings at Machen’s Melina Place residence in St. John’s Wood, Westminster, London. Lynch drew what, I suppose, is the best-known caricature of Machen.
Whether Machen ever read anything by Lynch I couldn’t say, but Lynch was author of a little-known novel that should still appeal to some readers. Since it was published in 1925, its composition may date to the period of Lynch’s association with Machen.
Fans of H. G. Wells and John Buchan likely would have enjoyed the novel’s clever premise, its occasional bits of satire, and its atmospheric passages.
The premise: in the 17th century, the secret of travel to the moon was discovered, and three human couples went there. The lunar colony has survived – but not thriven. Now, never-specified “terribly hostile” conditions make it imperative that the human lunarians escape to the earth. Unfortunately, they no longer possess the secret of space travel.
They beam messages to the earth, written in a bizarre code that, at first, no one here can decipher. Eventually it is realized that the messages shining from the moon use the “universal shorthand” devised by Bishop Wilkins.*
The lunarians threaten earth with destruction from heat-ray projections unless papers that their ancestors left behind them are retrieved and their contents beamed back to them by the “super-cinematograph” that they assume earth-dwellers must, like themselves, possess. Unfortunately, these papers appear to have perished. In any event, the people of earth don’t have the technology by which to communicate with the moon people – and so doom seems assured.
Lynch develops the satirical or ghastly possibilities of human behavior under such an appalling death-sentence less intensely than an author today would. Many people, at least in England, either deny that there really is such a danger, or, despite their expectations, go about their activities as if nothing dreadful is imminent. (This behavior may be a satire on English phlegm.)
Lynch’s writing conveys a Buchanesque quality of adventure early in the novel, when the narrator is lost in the fog on a moor. The sudden and frightening appearance of strange lights – he doesn’t realize at first that they are projections of Wilkins’s “hieroglyphics” – and the apparition of a face may remind some readers a little of the frightening experiences “Lewis” has at the beginning of Perelandra. (Menace from the Moon was in C. S. Lewis’s personal library.) The sequence in Menace from the Moon, Chapter 14, in which the narrator becomes lost again, this time in the pines of Italian mountains, and stumbles upon a weird, torchlit rite conducted by old men, is a bit like something out of Buchan’s “The Wind in the Portico.” The passage in which the invisible ray causes the Ligurian coast to become terribly hot suggests the fiction of Wells, except that Wells would probably have made the passage more frightening.
The novel’s resolution depends on the release of energy from the nucleus of the atom in a way that is surprising for a fiction published just a few years after Ernest Rutherford split the atom, and 20 years before the Trinity nuclear test in New Mexico.
*Wilkins was an historical person (1614-1672), Bishop of Chester, onetime Warden of Wadham College, Oxford, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and author of An Essay Towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language (1668) – the shorthand book. The Dictionary of National Biography adds that Wilkins’s first work was an anonymous attempt “to prove that the moon was a habitable world,” and that a subsequent edition added a chapter on the possibility of flight to the moon. Wilkins shouldn’t be dismissed as a crank; the DNB says “he deserves, more than any other man, to be esteemed as the founder of the Royal Society.” His associates included the chemist Robert Boyle and the architect Christopher Wren. Wilkins started the Civil War period as a parliamentarian, indeed husband of Cromwell’s sister, and diarist John Evelyn praises him for taking “great pains to preserve the universities from the ignorant, sacrilegious Commanders and Soldiers, who would fain have demolish’d all persons and places that pretended [claimed] to learning” (cited in the DNB). Wilkins reconciled with the royalists at the Restoration. The DNB mentions that, in the Great Fire of London of 1666, Wilkins’s residence was destroyed with his library and the manuscript of his Real Character.
Note: This Books Around Machen entry includes some material originally published in CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society No. 428 (Nov.-Dec. 2008).
5 thoughts on “Menace from the Moon”
This review is a neat sci-fi tie-in with Machen, as only last week I sent Christopher a copy of the entry for Machen from “The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction” by John Clute and Peter Nicholls. From Machen’s entry, we both concluded that people can surely have very different ideas based on reading the same material.
I enjoyed reading this review of “Menace from the Moon.” It fits right in with my recent Wells reading/listening list. I read and also listened to “The Time Machine” for the local sci-fi book club that I attended this past Sunday. We had a wonderful time discussing the book. When you get twelve friendly folks together in a room giving their personal thoughts on a book… come on, does it get much better than that?
I finished the audiobook of “War of the Worlds” a few days ago and I watched the Criterion Collection release of the 1953 movie last night and some of its extras today. Last week, I bought and watched the Criterion Collection version of “The Time Machine” on Blu-Ray, which looks as if it were filmed yesterday. It’s one of the best film restorations I’ve ever seen. It was truly fantastic, and honestly, the special effects in both “The Time Machine” and “War of the Worlds” are classic and holds up even today, not just to me, I hope, for I am one who wishes CG effects were minimized in every film, but, again, I hope, to anyone who would watch either film today.
I’m going to read the 1976 book “The Space Machine’ by Christopher Priest in the next couple of weeks, which, if I understand it correctly, is a sort of sequel to both “The Time Machine” and “War of the Worlds.”
Figuring that “Menace from the Moon” has likely fallen into the public domain, I searched Project Gutenberg for it, but it’s not there. Dale, did you read a copy of this book that you own?
Those are both fantastic movies. For another great film adaption of a Wells novel, I recommend First Men on the Moon with effects by Harryhausen. I do not recommend Bert I. Gordon’s Empire of the Ants and Food of the Gods!
I have not seen “First Men on on Moon.” I checked the local library and they don’t have it. I added the 2019 Blu-ray of it, released by Indicator, to my wishlist to help me to remember to get it. It has quite a few extras on it. The effects are supposed to be great, but the humor… not so much.
This morning, I started listening to the Naxos audiobook of “First Men in the Moon” which is read by Jonathan Keeble. I’ve listened to about an hour of it so far. Jonathan has a great voice. It’s great that I can borrow and download audiobooks from my library using Hoopla. The book has a humor about it that I’ve not seen in other books by Wells.
Harryhausen’s film test of the octopus-like Martian emerging from its cylindrical spaceship after unscrewing the “door” is on the DVD of the Criterion Collection version of “War of the Worlds” in one of the several mini-documentary supplements on the disc. If you like stop-motion, then you need to see it. It’s only about ten seconds long, but it looks great.
Curious that, since Lynch died in 1928, Gutenberg Australia, fadedpage, and the Internet Archive also lack Menace from the Moon – though (in contrast with the former two) the last named has scans of a number of his books, including a 1924 anthology he compiled in both its English and American versions: A Muster of Ghosts and The Best Ghost Stories respectively. (But perhaps my ignorance of the intricacies of international copyright law is showing…)
I have a soft spot for Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds (1978). I do like that 1964 First Men in the Moon, too (but forgot until checking just now that Nigel Kneale, of Quatermass fame, was one of the script writers).
I wonder if the copyright situation somewhere would allow an audiobook of Menace from the Moon?