The Country of the Blind, by H.G. Wells, The Golden Cockerel Press, 1939

{Ed. Note: Books and Vines Contributor Neil (Celtic) contributed all of the pictures and some of the content for this article. Assume the good parts of the article are his, the remainder mine!}.

The Country of the Blind, first published in the Strand magazine in 1904, is one of the most famous short stories from H.G. Wells.  In 1939, Wells revised and improved the story and gave it a different ending. This Golden Cockerel Press edition was the first published edition of the newly revised story.

A mountaineer named Nunez, while climbing a fictitious mountain in Ecuador, has an accident and falls down the mountain. From where he ends up recovering himself, he finds a hidden valley, cut off from the rest of the world on all sides by steep precipices. It turns out that within that valley, a village exists which had been founded many, many years ago. In the distant past, an earthquake reshaped the surrounding mountains, cutting the village off from the rest of the world. Despite the fact that, soon after they had been cut off from the rest of the world, a disease had struck them resulting in all new borns being born blind, the stranded villagers prospered.  Over time, no villagers remained with sight, though their other senses were significantly sharpened. Nunez falls in love with a young villager named Medina-saroté, and because of his love for her, reluctantly consents to having his eyes removed, which the village elders want done. Early in the morning on the day his eyes are to be removed, he changes his mind and attempts to escape.

Here is where the original and revised edition part ways.  {Ed. Note:warning, plot spoiler ahead!}  In the original story, Nunez successfully leaves the valley, though becomes trapped in the mountains and eventually dies. In the revised 1939 version of the story Nunez sees, from a distance, that there is about to be a rock slide. Though he tries his best to to warn the villagers of the impending doom, they scoff at his “imagined” sight. Nunez, with Medina-saroté, flees the valley (during the rock slide which does strike the village).

In the introduction to this Golden Cockerel edition Wells states that the original story had always made him uncomfortable. He goes on to explain what the revisions meant to him and why he made them.  The revised version is certainly bleaker than the original and the main protagonist of the story faces a more hopeless outlook – taking the publication date into account it is easy to speculate that contemporary events in Europe influenced Wells. In addition to the revised version, the original version is also included as an appendix for comparison.

The book contains  wood-engravings by Clifford Webb which are, stylistically, very much ‘of the 30’s’ (a good thing in my opinion).  Edward Hodnett in Five Centuries of English Book Illustration (1988), considers the frontispiece of this book to be one of the finest wood-engravings made during this period.

About the Edition

  • Published by Christopher Sandford and Owen Rutter at The Golden Cockerel Press in September 1939
  • Wood-engravings by Clifford Webb
  • Printed on Batchelor hand-made paper in 14pt Golden Cockerel handset type for the main story and 13pt Perpetua for the intro and appendix
  • This copy bound by Sangorski & Sutcliffe in quarter orange vellum with brown cloth boards
  • Compositor A.H. Gibbs, Pressman, H. Barker
  • 68pp, 10 X 71/2 inches
  • 280 numbered copies

Pictures

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The Country of the Blind, Golden Cockerel Press, Spine and Cover
The Country of the Blind, Golden Cockerel Press, Cover
The Country of the Blind, Golden Cockerel Press, Frontispiece and Title Page
The Country of the Blind, Golden Cockerel Press, Frontispiece
The Country of the Blind, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
The Country of the Blind, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text (detail)
The Country of the Blind, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Illustration #2
The Country of the Blind, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text #1
The Country of the Blind, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text #2
The Country of the Blind, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
The Country of the Blind, Golden Cockerel Press, Colophon

7 thoughts on “The Country of the Blind, by H.G. Wells, The Golden Cockerel Press, 1939

  1. One of the first books I got as a Folio Society subscriber was “H.G. Wells Short Stories,” a rather drab book but containing many of Wells’ stories including this one, “The Stolen Bacillus,” and “Empire of the Ants.” The Forward to that Folio edition doesn’t even mention “The Country of the Blind.” Again, I have to believe this story struck a resonant chord with millions horrified by the slaughter of WW I and the 1918 influenza pandemic, and who were longing for such a place, and that was what inspired such an amazing production as this.

  2. I’ve just reviewed this myself, but in the Penguin 70’s version issued a few years ago. This is a much lovelier edition – the illustrations are really gorgeous!

  3. ‘Lost Horizon’ was a film that I first saw when I was very young on the TV. I’ve watched it from time to time since and always find it quite compelling. I don’t really know why I like it so much, but it’s a favourite. I read the book for the first time a couple of years ago and enjoyed that as well. The similarities and, especially, the mystery, that you find in ‘The Country of the Blind’ and ‘Lost Horizon’ are very similar. It’s a plot that I find fascinating, but has been written poorly by many people in many books over the years. When it is done skilfully as in these two books it makes for a wonderful read.

    Thanks for pointing out ‘The Machine Stops’ dlphcoracl, I’ll watch out for it.

    Special thanks to Robert for the lyrics – this blog never fails to surprise!

  4. An inspired choice Neil (Celtic) ! This is one of my favorite Golden Cockerel Press books for many of the reasons you have stated. First and foremost, it is a great short story by one of the 20th century’s visionary authors. Second, the inclusion of the earlier work (in the appendix) along with the revised work, which is darker and more ominous, with commentary by H.G. Wells is fascinating. And, of course, the wood-engraving illustrations are amongst Golden Cockerel Press’ finest.

    If you enjoy this book, another thin (but much larger) Golden Cockerel Press book with a fascinating tale well worth seeking out is “The True Historie of Lucien the Samosatenian” (1927). The book design is ingenious with the English translation printed centrally on each page, surrounded by a combination of the original Greek text and magnificent small wood-engraved illustrations by Robert Gibbings around the periphery. Nearly every page contains a wood-engraving and many have 2-3 small wood-engraved illustrations. The binding is elegant and similar to this small volume with a thin band of leather (hubbed in this case) along the book spine wrapping around into the boards, which are then covered with a high grade linen fabric.

    Finally, a ‘can’t miss’ private press publication scheduled for summer 2012 is from the Chester River Press (CRP). They are doing a letterpress edition of the science fiction short story masterpiece from E.M. Forster ‘The Machine Stops’, published over 100 years ago, every bit as relevant today as it was then, and as chilling and cautionary a tale as ‘The Country of the Blind’. If the CRP does this nearly as well as their debut letterpress publication of 2011, Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness’, this book will be a must have.

  5. Indeed, a beautiful book. Thanks to digitizing the original Lost Horizon, I was able to watch this 1930s film recently. I hadn’t seen it since I was a child, and Roosevelt announced our planes were coming from Shangra La.

  6. Lovely book. The frontispiece illustration is fabulous, and made something click in my memory banks–when I first read this story many, many years ago, I thought to myself, “this has many similarities to Hilton’s Lost Horizon.” After the horrors of WW I, the idea of a place cut off from the rest of the world, where the inhabitants were figuratively, or as here, literally blind to current events outside their daily lives, was extremely appealing. A famous song from this period was “Let the Rest of the World Go By”:

    I’d like to leave it all behind and go and find
    A place that’s known to God alone just a spot we could call our own
    We’ll find perfect peace where joys never cease
    Somewhere beneath the stary skies
    We’ll build a sweet little nest somewhere out in the west
    And let the rest of the world go by

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