Review by: KEN KORCZAK
A large nut-shaped metallic object comes crashing to earth and buries itself on impact into the bucolic pastures of the East Devonshire countryside.
A distinguished and semi-retired biologist who lives nearby investigates. He digs out the object and is stunned to discover it’s not a natural meteorite, but obviously something hollow and of intelligent design.
But the real surprise comes when his team of workmen finally manage to open the space capsule. Inside they find three small boxes. One contains an egg, the next contains a cache of seeds and the third a mysterious tin containing what appears to be some sort of jelly.
Of course, they have to hatch that egg. Out of it emerges a rather humanoid-like iguana. This iguana has no tail. It also sports a large, bulbous head and large, luminous eyes that gleam with intelligence from Day 1. The seeds are also planted. The result is a rapid-growing plant that produces a fruit resembling a tomato. It turns out the tin of jelly is “baby food” for the newly hatched reptoid — apparently sustenance until the space tomatoes are ready to eat. And so “Saurus” is born — an extraterrestrial envoy from some mysterious source in outer space.
Prolific British author EDEN PHILLPOTTS leveraged this science fictiony premise as a vehicle that would enable him to present a series of essays and commentaries on the state of human affairs, from geopolitical and theological, to historical and philosophical.
So this is not a thrilling science fiction yarn with a well-developed plot, and not the brand of space opera action that was thriving in 1938 when this book was published. Saurus matures to adulthood in just weeks, learns to read and write quickly — and then he learns to type. That’s his only method of communication since he cannot not speak. Fortunately, he commands a blazing fast word-per-minute proficiency.
After a deep read of world history, a thorough survey of philosophy, math, theology and sundry other topics he begins to spill forth with his assessment of earth’s collective humanity and our current level of psycho-social development. Of course, these are the views of Eden Phillpotts.
It’s interesting to note this book came out in 1938, a dire time for Great Britain. The nation still bore the scars of the first Great War. Everyone knew that a second World War was certainly right around the corner. Also, the rising menace of the Russian communists and the gigantic figure of Joseph Stalin rumbled menacingly on the Eastern horizon.
One would think that simmering atmosphere would have informed and influence the many opinions Phillpotts espouses through the fictional vehicle of his intellectual lizard — and yet I detect scant sense of fear or anxiety within these pages. In fact, Saurus is the very personification of staid English tact and aplomb. The qualities of politeness and a certain pragmatic chivalry infuse the fundamentals of his discourse.
I’ll also say that Phillpotts does not come off as radical in his politics, nor does he display the agitation of a social malcontent who is deeply critical or pessimistic about the fate of mankind. His views on the achievements of his own culture are measured. That Great Britain spread a common law grounded in the fundamental liberty of the individual throughout its empire is what Phillpotts considers his country’s greatest contribution to the world. Yes, he acknowledges that Britain committed its share of atrocities in its forays around the globe, but he says these sins are ultimately mitigated when the basic principles of English law and culture take hold after the dust settles. As Saurus writes, the British find “hating” to be “very fatiguing.”
On the other hand, Phillpotts’ central notion is that mankind is ultimately unable to live up to its own highest ideals. For example, Saurus identified the GOLDEN RULE as perhaps the most enlightened concept ever idealized. Unfortunately, no one is able to adhere to the Golden Rule for long, be it an individual or a nation. So Phillpotts says that while people understand what to do — they ultimately fail to do it — and the reason for that is that we fall prey to our passions, emotions and latent animal instincts.
And there’s so much more. For example, Phillpotts upholds the first American President George Washington as one of the greatest men in history and that England should have learned more from his example — but I’ll leave it there.
Unfortunately, one can never consider any of the hundreds of popular books Phillpotts wrote without also noting his infamous, years-long incestuous relationship with his daughter, ADELAIDE PHILLPOTTS ROSS. She revealed the incestuous nature of her relationship with her father in a 1976 interview. It started when she was a girl and may have continued until she was 55 when she married an American bookseller, Nicholas Ross — which Eden Phillpotts objected to strenuously. Upon her marriage, he never spoke to her again. He died in 1960 at age 98.
Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS
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