Sunday, June 12, 2005

THE GERM GROWERS - 1892 - ALIEN INVADERS BEFORE WELLS' "THE WAR OF THE WORLDS"


BEFORE "THE WAR OF THE WORLDS" THERE WAS "THE GERM GROWERS" - 1892

A few years ago I sat down in the NSW State Library in Sydney Australia and read an obscure novel - "The Germ Growers - An Australian Story of Adventure and Mystery" - published way back in 1892. While it's authorship was attributed in one edition to Robert Easterley & John Wilbraham, they were in fact the central fictional characters - two young English chaps who eventually come into contact with an alien "heart of darkness" in the Kimberley area of Western Australia - coincidentally home of the Wanjina (or Wanjina - see my earlier post). The real author was an Australian priest - Robert Potter - a canon of St. Paul's Anglican Church in North Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Reading the novel one can perhaps readily understand why it didn't capture the public imagination in England or Australia and languishing instead as a hidden oddity - perhaps the world's first science fiction novel focusing on an alien invasion - fully 5 years before H.G. Well's classic of the genre - "The War of the Worlds" (1897) - entered our imagination and took a permanent hold, particularly with Orson Welles famous 1938 Martian Invasion radio broadcast, George Pals' 1953 filmic Americanisation, Jeff Wayne's 1978 musical (with Richard Burton), and now in June 2005 with a majoring rebirthing via Steven Spielberg's blockbuster treatment.

Potter (1831-1908) gave us a florid tale of aliens from the ethereal dimensions of outer space who have set up "beach heads" in remote locales, intent on laying waste to humankind via germ warfare. Our young English adventurers discover the Kimberley outpost, bearing witness to the activities of the alien's flying craft - "invisible aerial cars" - and the sinister alien leader Signor Niccolo Davelli. Salvation from this cosmic invasion comes in the form of alien invervention - Leafar, ye of the good alien types. Leafar, read Rafael the "angel", and Davelli (the Devil) and you get the drift of Canon Potter's religious SF tract. Yes Potter plays out a cosmic war between good and evil - a theme revisited in the occult baggage served up in much of the contactee credo of the 1950s - but his tale replete with "alien abduction", "UFOs", and contact, was probably offered up as a clever reselling of godly redemption (if of course one chooses the right side in the cosmic war) something he may have thought might have had more popular appeal than his Tractarian publications - "A Voice from the Church in Australia" (1864), "An examination of Secularism" (1883), and "Replies to the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne" (1895).

Religious agendas intermixed with alien themes is certainly a popular theme - check out "The Gods have landed - New Religions from Other Worlds" edited by James Lewis (1995) and "UFO Religions" edited by Christopher Partridge (2003). Susan Palmer offers an interesting study with "Aliens Adored - Rael's UFO Religion" (Rutgers University Press, 2004). Further anchor points and alternative perspectives may be found in such studies as "The Lure of the Edge - Scientific Passions, Religious Beliefs, and the Pursuit of UFOs" by Brenda Denzler (University of California Press, 2001), and "Heavenly Lights - the Apparitions of Fatima and the UFO Phenomenon" by Portuguese historians Joaquim Fernandes and Fina D'Armada (2005) (a theme visited by Jacques Vallee in his book "The Invisible College" (1975) and in potent fictional form in John Fowles' striking novel "A Maggot" (1985).
Bill Chalker

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