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HG Wells' portrayal of Neanderthals


Using HG Wells's stories in my own work
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Many of Wells’ stories are... are in my own work. When I spoke of L-DOPA and its power to accelerate movement and thought... I thought of, I quoted The New Accelerator. Now in my current book on hallucinations, I... I have a footnote quoting Wells’ short story, The Moth.

It’s actually a wonderful short story in many ways, because it’s about the monstrous way in which scientists can behave, and how they can attack one another, and in particular it’s about two zoologists who are always... attacking each other. One creates a species, another extinguishes the species. These two zoologists reach international eminence, basically through quarrelling with one another, and then one of them happily makes a... a particularly vicious attack and an annihilating attack on the other, and the effect of this apparently is, well, he’s very taken aback.  The other man dies, and suddenly he’s left without his rival, without his enemy, without his motivation, and then he... one evening he... he sees and hears an enormous moth, which comes in. He hears a ping against the lampshade. I think that ping is the first thing, so he starts by listening, then he sees it, and he goes after this hallucinatory moth and he chases it outside. He doesn’t realise it’s a hallucination, and he breaks a leg, and he... he wonders if this is the ghost of his deceased rival. 

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: The New Accelrator, The Moth, L-DOPA, Awakenings, HG Wells

Duration: 2 minutes, 2 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012