In the Country of the Blind, the Seeing Man Gets a Rude Awakening

H.G. Wells was born Herbert George Wells in the town of Bromley in Kent in England. His parents had been domestics and later failed shop owners and his father also played cricket but the family had little money. H.G. Wells began a lifelong devotion to “the other worlds and lives to which books gave him access” after he broke his leg in 1874. Wells was bedridden for months and his father would bring him dozens of books from the local library. Reading about all these new “other worlds” also led Wells to desire to write about his own worlds.
In 1877, Wells’s father broke his thigh and his cricket career – and his income – was finished. Wells and his two older brothers were apprenticed as drapers and his mother went to work as a housekeeper. Wells’s quickly discovered one benefit to the family’s new situation: his mother’s employer had an extensive library and he was allowed to explore it.
H.G. Wells hated his apprenticeship as a draper. He had several other very short apprenticeships but hated them as well. Eventually, he was able to secure a position as a “pupil-teacher” and this allowed him to work yet continue his own education. Later, he obtained a post as a full teacher (one of his first students was A.A. Milne later the author of the Winnie the Pooh books). Throughout this period, H.G. Wells never forgot his early love of literature. He wrote short stories and also for a school magazine during his college years.                                                                                                                                                               In 1895, Wells became an “overnight literary sensation with the publication of the novel The Time Machine.” H.G. Wells also wrote numerous other now classic Science Fiction stories:
  • The Island of Doctor Moreau in 1896
  • The Invisible Man in 1897
  • The War of the Worlds in 1897
  • The First Men in the Moon in 1901
  • When the Sleeper Wakes in 1910
  • The Shape of Things to Come in 1933

Wells also wrote short stories and novellas as well as essays, articles, textbooks, and nonfiction books. But H.G. Wells is best known for his Science Fiction stories and is often called the “Father of Science Fiction” (along with authors Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback).

In the 1930s, H.G. Wells spent some time in Hollywood. He adapted his 1933 novel, The Shape of Things to Come to the 1936 film Things to Come. Wells wrote constantly, often publishing several books a year. He wrote right up until his death on August 13, 1946.
H.G. Wells visits the set of the film Things to Come.
“The Country of the Blind” is a short story written by H.G. Wells and originally published in the April 1904 issue of The Strand Magazine. It is considered one of Wells’s best known short stories.
In the story, a mountaineer Bogota, Columbia named Nuñez suffers a terrible fall from Parascotopetl, a fictitious mountain in Ecuador. His fellow climbers believe he fell to his death and his body is beyond their reach. But Nuñez was extremely lucky and narrowly avoided death repeatedly during his long fall. At the end of his fall,  Nuñez finds himself in a valley that is totally cut off from the outside world by steep cliffs. He soon spies signs of human habitation but quickly discovers that the valley’s human inhabitants are vastly different from the people of the outside world.
The long ago settlers of the valley had been cut off from the outside world by a huge rock fall caused by a long forgotten earthquake. Isolated from the outside world, the valley people had also suffered a strange disease that cause all newborns to be born blind. Eventually the adults also went blind and the valley culture changed as the valley people’s senses altered and sharpened to adapt to life without sight. Nuñez, at first, thinks his stay in the isolated valley will be an adventure and he will literally rule the situation. In fact,  the saying “In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King” repeatedly plays in his mind. Nuñez even boldly asks a villager if he has ever heard the saying. The villager asks “What is blind?”
Nuñez has a very rapid rude awakening. The blind villagers have no need of the “help” of a seeing man. The blind villagers do not even believe there is such a thing as “seeing”. It has been generations since there was last a sighted person in the secluded valley. They do not understand Nuñez when he tries to explain sight to them. They have no word for sight or seeing. They don’t believe such things exist. They think Nuñez is confused. In fact they think he is a poor “newly made” – and badly made – person who cannot even manage to walk across a (pitch dark) room without tripping.
Poor Nuñez soon finds himself relegated to serf-like status while working at extremely basic jobs for a villager named Yacob. Yacob also has a daughter, Medina-sarote, and Nuñez soon takes notice of her. But Yacob and the elders of the village are far from approving of any union of the two. Yacob, in fact, is very unhappy. Then one of the elders comes up with an idea of a way to “fix” Nuñez. 
H.G. Wells manages to create an interesting and convincing isolated community in The Country of the Blind. Like Nuñez, I’ve always known the saying “In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King” and, like Nuñez, I’ve never questioned the truth of it. But Wells easily smacks Nuñez (and me) upside the head with the real truth. Sight is something truly alien to the non-sighted villagers. They can’t even believe such a thing really exists. And since Nuñez insists on loudly proclaiming the “truth” that they are absolutely sure is nothing but crazy, poor Nuñez just ends up destroying any credibility he might have had. Eventually Nuñez is in such a pitiful state that he begins to doubt his own “truth”. He even begins to seriously consider the elder’s “fix.”
Here are a few lines from The Country of the Blind that I enjoyed:
  • Poor Nuñez cannot get the villagers to listen to him as he tries to explain the outside world: “For fourteen generations these people had been blind and cut off from all the seeing world; the names for all the things of sight had faded and changed; the story of the outer world was faded and changed to a child’s story; and they had ceased to concern themselves with anything beyond the rocky slopes above their circling wall. Blind men of genius had arisen among them and questioned the shreds of belief and tradition they had brought with them from their seeing days, and had dismissed all these things as idle fancies and replaced them with new and saner explanations. Much of their imagination had shrivelled with their eyes, and they had made for themselves new imaginations with their ever more sensitive ears and finger-tips.”
  • One of the villagers puts Nuñez in his place: “ “You’ll learn,” the blind man answered. “There is much to learn in the world.” “Has no one told you, ‘In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King?’” “What is blind?” asked the blind man, carelessly, over his shoulder.”
  • Nuñez begins to doubt: “He began to realise that you cannot even fight happily with creatures who stand upon a different mental basis to yourself.”
  • Nuñez is totally undone: “They were moving in upon him quickly, groping, yet moving rapidly. It was like playing blind man’s buff with everyone blindfolded except one.”
  • An elder comes up with a “fix”: “ “And I think I may say with reasonable certainty that, in order to cure him complete, all that we need to do is a simple and easy surgical operation—namely, to remove these irritant bodies.” ”
  • Can Nuñez allow himself to be changed?: “He had fully meant to go to a lonely place where the meadows were beautiful with white narcissus, and there remain until the hour of his sacrifice should come, but as he walked he lifted up his eyes and saw the morning, the morning like an angel in golden armour, marching down the steeps … . It seemed to him that before this splendour he and this blind world in the valley, and his love and all, were no more than a pit of sin.”
Will Medina-sarote and Nuñez find a way to be together?
Will Nuñez allow the village elders to “fix” him?
Will Nuñez ever “see” the outside world again?
You’ll have to read The Country of the Blind to find out.
Overall, The Country of the Blind is a short story, only about 58 pages long, that moves along quickly yet still manages to paint an interesting picture of colliding world views. The ending is a bit too open ended for my taste. H.G. Wells actually rewrote the ending and expanded his story and published it in 1939 with a private printer. This version though, has the original ending. From what I’ve read, I would probably have liked the alternate ending better. 
I thought the very beginning of the story was a little slow. But once Nuñez arrives in the valley I felt the pace of the story picked up. It seemed a bit more modern in tone then the first few paragraphs. As far as characterization, Nuñez is by far the most well rounded. Except for Yacob and his daughter, the blind valley people are a bit like a faceless mob, probably purposely done by Wells.
Of course, the best thing about The Country of the Blind by H.G. Wells is that it is FREE in the Public Domain.
The Internet Archive has two different versions of the entire book of The Country of the Blind and Other Stories. “The Country of the Blind” is story number XXXII (32, the next to last story).
Please click this link and go to first version which is a basic text.
Please click this link to go to the second more complete version which includes online text, a digitalized book version, and downloads including PDF, EPUB, Kindle, and others. 
Project Gutenberg also has the complete book The Country of the Blind and Other Stories. There is an online read as well as downloads for plain text, EPUB, and Kindle. Please click the link to go to Project Gutenberg.
Feedbooks has The Country of the Blind as an individual book. Please click this link to go to Feedbooks and download the story. 
LibriVox has two audio book versions.
Please click this link to go to LibriVox and download or listen to Short Story Collection vol. 021. “The Country of the Blind” is story #2 and is read by Adam Bazinet. 
Please click this link to go to LibriVox and download or listen to Short Science Fiction Collection 032. “The Country of the Blind” is story #4 and read by George Cooney. 

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