In a parallel dimension, creatures of myth and fantasy live their magical lives without care, or pain, or need of food. One day, a rift opens, and one of its inhabitants falls through into late Victorian England. It’s an angel. It’s not really much of an angel. Its only miraculous ability seems to be an unnatural talent for playing the violin, but it does have wings and other angelic features.
The local English vicar, Mr. Hilyer, hears rumors of sightings of a large, strange bird in the area, and, being an amateur ornithologist, he does what all good naturalists of the time would do. He grabs his gun and heads out to bag the beast to be catalogued, stuffed, and added to his collection. The scene in which Wells describes this particular series of events had me cracking up. (This is one area in which I think modern society has made some progress.) Of course, Hilyer ends up shooting the angel and injuring its wing. After that, what’s a Victorian vicar to do other than apologize politely and invite the mythological winged gentleman to be his houseguest while he recovers?
First published in 1895, Wells does here what he is well known for — satirical comment on Victorian society. The angel, coming from an alternate reality that knows nothing of human culture, provides an outside perspective from which to examine it. Wells allows him to do so, and Mr. Angel’s innocent and nonjudgmental observations can be quite charming. At one point he asks, insofar as people do not like pain, why is it that they keep inflicting it on one another. Good question, I thought.
Biases about race, gender, and social class are dragged out for dry ridicule, as are such things as clothing styles, beliefs, values and other attitudes. In one scene, Wells, as narrator, pops in briefly to apologize to the reader for making a servant appear too much like a real person and promises that he’ll make sure they’re portrayed more accurately as mindless stereotypes in some future story. This cracked me up, too, but I suppose I’m easily amused.
From an outside perspective, these Victorian conventions all seem somewhat arbitrary, if not silly, but perhaps no more so than our current ones. (I’m sure you can imagine a few examples.) The point Wells is trying to make, I think, is one that cannot be made too often. Question your assumptions. Question your values. Do they make sense? What do they say about you? This advice is as good today as it was in 1895.
I suppose I could pick on a few things to criticize about the book. It could have been funnier; the satire could have been sharper, but somehow I think Wells was intentionally trying to be, if not subtle, and least not blatantly offensive. His audience, after all, included people who held the attitudes he was holding up for ridicule, and you don’t want to upset your readers too much. They might stop buying your books.
Both the beginning and the ending leave questions unanswered. How did the rift between dimensions open? Suddenly the angel simply appears here with no understanding of how. It leaves, presumably returning, in the same way, possibly taking with it a human housemaid, which it was previously explained does not happen. No one new ever shows up in the angel universe. No one is born, no one dies, and no one visits. Except for this, we don’t know much about the parallel dimension that is home for angels and hippogriffs and magical beings of other types.
That’s about as critical as I’m prepared to be. I found this book humorous and charming. Insofar as it is readily available free as an e-book, it is well worth the cost. (I snagged a freebie Kindle version from Amazon.) It is also worth the time it takes to read. I highly recommend it.