The Wonder by J.D. Beresford
‘m back! So glad Maureen came along and posted, both in general and specifically this week, since I was immersed in other things. June is a pretty quiet month for sf releases. The
only one close to speculative is The Nobbie Stories for Children and Adults, a book of the letters of C.L.R. James to his son Nobbie. Childrens’ stories always have some magic to them and these are no exception with their fun characters named things like Boo-boo-loo and presidents choosing special
words that people have to guess to win prizes. But this is fine with me since I am still working my way through what came out last month. And instead I got caught up in something else.
by J.D. Beresford to be exact. In taking on this blog, I’m learning
more about the history of sf than I otherwise would have. First
published in 1911, The Wonder tells the story of young Victor
Stott, a genius who is so extraordinary, he becomes a problem. Not
because of what he does, but because he exists. It is a social story.
A story of the people around him and how they react more than about
him. And because of this, the story has aged well. There are parts
that will make a modern reader shake her head (e.g. Victor’s father was
a famous cricketer whose career was ended when a cut on his finger
became infected and had to be removed. This was the age before
antibiotics). But the story of the people and their reactions ring
true, as anyone who has ever been different or out of place can attest.
Victor is not a likeable character to begin with. When he finally shows up old enough to speak, almost
half way into the book, he is as stubborn and condesending a little
brat as any child in literature. One agrees with the character Lewes
for wanting to shake him. But he grows on you in that second half.
This child is a genius of logic and mathematics, not poetry or people.
His genius is limited. And while reading this story and frustrated
with Victor Stott I wonder why Beresford made this character so
unlikeable. Now, however, I’ve changed my mind. Had the child been so
much sweetness and light on top of being a genius the reader would
never have been able to stand him. I sort of feel that way towards
Valentine Michael Smith in Stranger in a Strange Land.
Wonder is no messiah or leader. He is a super intelligent kid. This
backs Beresford into a corner. He is forced to continually tell us of
Victor’s marvelous intelligence rather than truly showing us. Because
Victor is supposed to be so intelligent that his arguments cannot be
understood by normal people, the normal person narrating it just keeps
saying how he would explain but he doesn’t understand it himself.
Beresford gave the kid a gift in logic and philosophy. So without
coming up with some truly brilliant philosophical argument to put in
the kid’s mouth, the Wonder won’t sound so wonderful. So instead he
keeps saying how smart he is. It is a bit like Lovecraft’s
indescribable horrors that he can’t comprehend or describe.
And besides, philosophy isn’t the point. The point is how we deal
with those who are better than us. That misfit who is smarter than we
are. The point is that even adults can pick on the nerd, even when
that nerd is far beyond them. The ending is inevitable. If you’ve
read enough sf to know these sorts of stories, you already know it.
But it is a facinating look and a clear precursor to "A Very Old Man
with Enormous Wings" and Stranger in a Strange Land. It is the
story of someone a little different. And as Jack Chalker points out in
his introduction, we’ve all been there and dreamed that one day the
world would see, we are talented. We are special. Our differences
make us better. And for the Wonder, that is true.