“The Flying Man” is a short story by H. G. Wells (1866–1946), first published in the The Pall Mall BudgetThe Pall Mall Budget was a weekly magazine published in London from 1868 until 1920. in 1895 and subsequently reprinted in The Stolen Bacillus and Other IncidentsA collection of 15 short stories by H. G. Wells, first published in 1895. (1895). The story, told as a third-person narrative, tells of a soldier who, trapped on a mountain ledge, improvises a parachute to escape, giving rise to the legend of a flying man among the native people.
An ethnologist[a]Ethnology is a now somewhat outdated term for the branch of anthropology dealing with the comparative and analytical study of cultures. is in discussion with a young British Army lieutenant in Burma, present-day Myanmar, complaining that the soldier has played a childish trick on the native Chin people who inhabit the mountains in that region. The ethnologist has travelled four hundred miles (644 km) out of his way to record the folklore of the natives, but all he has heard is stories about the lieutenant’s invulnerability and ability to fly.
The lieutenant assures the ethnologist that circumstances forced him to do what he did, and proceeds to explain how his actions had replaced folklore with legend. His commanding officer, believing the Chins to be friendly, had sent him with three men from the Derbyshire regiment and half a dozen sepoys[b]A sepoy was an Indian soldier serving in the British Army. to a Chin village during the Lushai Expedition of 1871–1872, a punitive incursion to rescue British subjects who had been captured by the Lushais.[c]The Lushais are peoples spread throughout the northeastern states of India, northwestern Myanmar (Burma) and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. As they approached the village they came under attack, and were forced to make a fighting retreat up an unfamiliar mountain road. But after a while the road ran out, and the men found themselves trapped on a ledge about ten yards (9 m) across, with a drop of several hundred feet to the side.
Although their position was defensible, the small force had no access to water. At the end of the second day one of the Derbyshire soldiers disappeared, and one of the sepoys, delirious from a wound to his leg, jumped off the cliff, landing in the river below. Then the lieutenant had the idea to fashion a parachute out of the tent they had brought with them, and after an embarrassing false start –”As soon as I stopped I was ashamed of myself” – jumped off the ledge. He landed on top of a group of Chins, who had decapitated the sepoy who had earlier fallen to his death, and caught one in the face with his boot; the others bolted after witnessing his sudden appearance.
After slaking his thirst in the river the lieutenant made his way back to headquarters, and fifty men were sent to rescue the remaining survivors. When the rescuers finally relieved the lieutenant’s force they discovered that two more of the sepoys had jumped to their deaths from the ledge.
The theme of relatively unsophisticated natives being so awestruck by Western technology as to believe it to be god-like also appears in Wells’s Jimmy Goggles the GodA short story by H. G. Wells first published in 1898, about a treasure hunter who because of his diving suit is mistaken for a god. (1898), in some ways a more sophisticated narrative in which the object of the natives’ deification is not the narrator but the eponymous diving suit he is wearing.
- H. G. Wells bibliographyA list of publications written by H. G. Wells during the more than fifty years of his literary career.
|^a||Ethnology is a now somewhat outdated term for the branch of anthropology dealing with the comparative and analytical study of cultures.|
|^b||A sepoy was an Indian soldier serving in the British Army.|
|^c||The Lushais are peoples spread throughout the northeastern states of India, northwestern Myanmar (Burma) and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh.|