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Literature / The First Men in the Moon

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The First Men in the Moon is a 1901 Science Fiction novel by H. G. Wells about two Edwardian-era Englishmen who utilise some Applied Phlebotinum to fly to the moon for a bit of a jolly gadabout. Things don't quite go as planned. There have been two film adaptations made; one in 1964, directed by Nathan Juran, written by Nigel Kneale, and with special effects by Ray Harryhausen, and more recently in 2010 by Mark Gatiss.

In the 1964 film, the United Nations has launched a rocket flight to the Moon. A multi-national group of astronauts in the UN spacecraft land on the Moon, believing themselves to be the first lunar explorers. They discover a Union Jack flag on the surface and a note naming Bedford and Cavor, claiming the Moon for Queen Victoria. This discovery drives the plot, as the UN and many journalists seek out these men to get them to recount their first mission to the moon in the 1800s. Only Bedford is still alive and tells the story.

The 2010 film sticks much more closely to the H. G. Wells original, with Professor Cavor and Bedford engaging in their flight to the moon alone. The ending is significantly changed.

Though not a full-on adaptation, the first volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen also features Professor Cavor as a major supporting character, and a struggle to possess the Cavorite that fuels his spaceship ends up driving much of the plot.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Accidental Astronaut: Near the end of the story, after Bedford has been forced to leave Cavor behind on the moon and barely made it back to Earth in the sphere they designed, a curious boy enters the sphere and activates it, sending him off into space, and leaving Bedford with no way of ever going back to retrieve Cavor. The kid's fate is not revealed. This scene was also included in the 2010 movie, except here it's an adult who accidentally launches the sphere.
  • Aliens Never Invented Democracy: The moon's civilization is ruled by the Grand Lunar, who holds that office by virtue of having the biggest brain. It is noted in-universe that Lunars conduct eugenics to produce Lunars specific to a societal purpose.
  • Anti-Gravity: Cavorite blocks gravity. Put a sheet of it between yourself and the Earth and you're weightless — or, rather, you're now in the weak gravitational grip of the Moon.
  • Bold Explorer: When Joseph Cavor discovers a material that blocks gravity, he quickly decides to set off and explore the moon.
  • Cephalothorax: The Grand Lunar is a gargantuan brain attached to an atrophied, unused body.
  • Cool Starship: Cavor's polyhedral spaceship is not only the first spaceship; it's the first spaceship with curtains.
  • Dawn of an Era: Averted. Cavor desperately wants the voyage to be this trope, but events conspire to prevent this.
  • Dilating Door: The Selenites' lunar iris is a physically huge example of one.
  • Falling into the Cockpit: At the end of the story, the interplanetary sphere takes off soon after the narrator left it on a beach, and he immediately suspects a kid they passed by on the way (and who is later reported missing) of having stepped inside and accidentally activated the sphere's Anti-Gravity.
  • Famous for Being First: The book details the odd but brilliant inventor Doctor Cavor, who discovers a material that's opaque to gravity, and dubs it Cavorite. Cavor then decides to build a spacecraft from the stuff, and explore the moon with it, taking his good friend Bedford along as chronicler (the story is recounted from Bedford's perspective). The craft works, and the two men become the first humans to set foot on the moon. They are not the first living beings there, however, as there's a whole subterranean society full of Selenites.
  • Fan Sequel: The Martian War, wherein the Martians from The War of the Worlds conquer the Selenites.
  • Fungus Humongous: They grow underground in the Moon's lower gravity. Some provide illumination, and some are hallucinogenic.
  • For Science!: Cavor's entire motivation.
  • Hollow World: The Moon is full of tunnels and is largely hollow.
  • Insectoid Aliens: The Selenites, each of whom fulfills a specific specialized role in lunar society. They are often considered the Trope Maker.
  • Insect Gender-Bender: the Grand Lunar and the common worker Selenites are referred to as male despite being said to be similar to ants. Male ants are simply drones for procreation and usually die after fertilizing the queen. Of course, these are aliens.
  • Interplanetary Voyage: Bedford and Cavor discuss setting up interplanetary routes (with Bedford being primarily interested in the shipping and mining possibilities), but the only location they end up visiting on the test flight is the Moon.
  • Lightworlder: Well, the Selenites are from the moon, where the gravity is lower, after all...
  • Lunarians: The Selenites.
  • My Brain Is Big: Members of the Selenite aristocracy are identifiable by their massively oversized brains. This is especially true of the Grand Lunar, whose exposed brain takes up most of the ceiling space in his cathedral-like throne room.
  • Public Domain Artifact: Cavorite (often in lower case) has been adopted as a standard anti-gravity material in scores of sci-fi stories.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Despite Cavor mentioning that the moon is 250,000 miles away, they make the journey in an unspecified, but nonetheless shorter space of time than it would take...
  • Speculative Fiction: well, it is H. G. Wells. Given how Science has marched on, the speculative part is quite emphatic.
  • Starfish Language
  • Super Breeding Program: Each Selenite is physically and mentally altered almost from hatching to fulfill one specific role in lunar society. They do not have any thoughts or desires outside of this role, and they are sedated during times when they have nothing to do.
  • Thinking Tic: Cavor's tic of making odd noises while he's thinking is the whole reason he and Bedford even meet. Cavor has the habit of walking past the cottage Bedford lives in, while contemplating his experiments. He unconsciously sings as he walks, and the singing disturbs Bedford's attempts to write, to the point that he asks Cavor to either stop or to walk somewhere else.
  • Trip to the Moon Plot: One of the earliest examples (and unlike in Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon, Wells' explorers actually land on the Moon).
  • Unreliable Narrator: In his transmissions from the Moon, Cavor accuses Bedford of being rather more cowardly and dishonorable than Bedford's own narrative made himself out to be, but Bedford in turn points out that Cavor appears to be engaging in some Self-Serving Memory of his own
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The Selenites are pretty vulnerable to a punch to the head. It's like hitting cinder toffee, apparently... Justified, as they are built for 1/6th Earth's gravity, and are much weaker and more slender than humans.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Towards the end, a young English boy sneaks inside the Cavorite sphere and accidentally blasts himself off into space. Whatever happened to him or to the sphere is not revealed.
  • Your Head Asplode: See Weaksauce Weakness above.

The 1964 adaptation provides examples of:

  • Damsel in Distress: Kate gets captured by the Selenites and held as some kind of scientific specimen when they find the sphere.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Cavor's attempt to explain humanity to the Selenites comes across as this. They focus particularly on the contradiction of humans hating war and yet honoring people who fight in them.
  • Humanity on Trial: The Grand Lunar questioning Cavor about earthlings comes across as this; whether this was actually the Grand Lunars' intent however is left a little vague.
  • Just Eat Gilligan: Cavor really should have shot both Arnold and Kate with the elephant gun as soon as she handed it to him. Kate almost gets the sphere tossed into the sun when she tries to look out the window, and Arnold does nothing but antagonize the Selenites from the moment they meet.
  • It's All About Me: Bedford. He ropes his girlfriend into real estate fraud, immediately wants to use Cavorite for commercial purposes, and has no respect for Cavor's intentions of peaceful exploration.
  • Lightning Gun: The Selenites have a large crystal-tipped cannon that can fire lightning bolts. They use it to kill a huge caterpillar-like monster.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: First, Kate almost dooms the expedition. Next, Arnold kills a bunch of the Selenites with little provocation. Finally, Cavor infects the whole population of Selenites with his cold, killing them all.
  • Only Sane Woman: Despite her bouts of being Too Dumb to Live, Kate was often the most honest and sensible of the three protagonists. First, for not being as duplicitous as her fiancé Arnold or as dangerously naïve as Cavor. Second, Kate sensibly helps repair the damaged ship in order for her and Arnold to escape.
  • Poor Communication Kills: This seems to be the case when Bedford overhears Cavor speaking with the Selenites' Grand Lunar. As the Grand Lunar openly states his concerns about how dangerous humans are from what Cavor has told him. Bedford assumes Cavor (and possibly humanity) is being "put on trial" and starts shooting.
  • Science Marches On: Obviously there's a lot about this movie that is not accurate to what we now know about space travel and what the moon is like, but even the movie updates a few things - namely, the need for any kind of protective gear at all while on the moon's surface - from the book.
  • Space Suits Are SCUBA Gear: Actually, just diving gear. The Edwardian equivalent, diving suits, are used as space suits.
  • Strawman News Media: Vapid, celebrity-obsessed subtype. Once the first reporter attempts to interview a United Nations official, the message spreads and soon dozens of reporters are present.
  • Tattered Flag: The modern astronauts discover, to their astonishment, an old, worn out Union Jack left in the Victorian age.

The 2010 adaptation provides examples of:

  • Alternate History: It's just no-one believes Bedford.
  • Artistic License – Physics: It's highly unlikely that a "gravity column" would flush a planet's atmosphere out into space...
  • Brain in a Jar: The Grand Lunar's natural form seems to be this, only the "jar" is the inside of the moon itself.
  • Cassandra Truth: The 2010 film is set in 1969, just prior to the "first" official moon landing. Bedford's been to the moon, and has kinematographic evidence. No-one believes him, and his films are regarded as fakes.
  • Easily Thwarted Alien Invasion: The Selenites' invasion gets stopped remarkably easily physically speaking. Cavor simply has to kill them all to do it...
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Grand Lunar becomes one of these once introduced to the concept of empire and conquest by Cavor.
  • First Contact: It doesn't end well.
  • Foreshadowing: Bedford's repeated use of the word "Imperial" as a suplerlative sets up the Selenites' plan to invade and conquer Earth.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Cavor destroys the moon's atmosphere to prevent an alien invasion, dying in the process.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Cavor is afraid that humanity will fight over the moon, as they do the rest of the Earth. Ironically, his fear turns out to be justified, as the Selenites quickly adjust to the idea that being a bastard might be fun.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Cavor's reaction to teaching The Grand Lunar about conquest and empire.
  • Rubber-Band History: At the beginning it looks like the science will be utterly outdated only to reveal at the end that Professor Cavor used a sheet of Cavorite to flush all the oxygen off the moon in a Heroic Sacrifice to save the Earth from a Selenite invasion, creating the deserted, airless moon discovered by Aldrin and Armstrong.
  • Shout-Out: Bedford has a dream sequence that is almost exactly identical to the fantasy cinema of George Melies, creator of A Trip to the Moon.
  • Steampunk: It's a film about Victorian adventurer-scientists traveling to the moon and back. What would you expect?
  • Violence Really Is the Answer: Although initially describing himself as a pacifist, Cavor ultimately decides that the Selenites cannot be dissuaded from their plans of violent invasion. The result? He decides to kill them all by using his Cavorite to blow away the Moon's atmosphere, suffocating the entire species and rendering the planet utterly useless for all life forever afterwards.

Alternative Title(s): The First Men In The Moon, First Men In The Moon