A Maggot by John Fowles: Unidentified Flying Myths?

They’re out there. You just don’t wanna believe it!

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John Fowles’ “A  Maggot,” circa 1985, a truly bizarre and fascinating tale revolving around one of the most unlikely subjects possible for the historical setting of the 1700s,  slowly pushes open an eerily creaking door on the controversial world of UFOs.

Though Fowles denies that “A Maggot” is historical, it does nevertheless take place during a precise historical timeframe of May 1736 to February 1737.

An article in www.nytimes.com stated:

A maggot in this sense is a whim, or a work based on a whim, and Mr. Fowles’ whim is often to tease…In ”A Maggot” the hypothesis seems to be that readers will tolerate more teasing, and more indeterminacy as to plot and character, than is usually expected of them.

Who except John Fowles of “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” would combine a story taking place in the 18th century with the much-maligned and ridiculed subject of UFOs? It was fascinating to see the counterbalance between what at first appeared to be normal travelers plodding along and then the subtly unraveling mystery they all carried with them; the shared, unspoken secret, the verboten knowledge. In the opening pages, Mr. Fowles’ lyrical language floats us, dream-like, into the story:

The woman raises her hands and pushes back the hood of her cloak, then loosens the white linen band she has swathed round the lower part of her face. She is young, hardly more than a girl, pale-faced, with dark hair bound severely back beneath a flat-crowned chip, or willow-shaving, hat…She is evidently a servant, a maid.

Unfastening the top of her cloak, and likewise undoing the kissing-ribbons, she goes beside the track a little ahead and stoops where some sweet-violets are still in flower on a bank. Her companion stares at her crouched back, the small movements of her hands, the left one picking, ruffling the heart-shaped green leaves to reveal the hidden flowers, the right one holding the small sprig of deep mauve heads she has found. He stares as if he does not comprehend why she should do this.

Beginning at the actual end of their travels, the final afternoon concluding a mysterious four-day journey, the novel then progresses with more twists and turns: a few days later, one character is found hanged in the woods, another goes missing, and the hirelings have vanished. Later, testimony from witnesses under the scrutiny of an investigator slowly begin to unravel the labyrinthine tale, ultimately unveiling truths, half-truths, or outright distortions of the truth that are almost beyond comprehension and definitely bigger than the 18th century world of historical England.

My fascination with the story lies with Mr. Fowles’ treatment of perception: how, exactly, someone from those long ago times would perceive something like a UFO, any beings associated with it, and how would they then be able to translate the experience and explain it to anyone else, if it came to that? The mind would have no context, no experience, with such a situation, and it would be next to impossible to define in any exact terms what had actually transpired.

It’s so interesting to think about things like this: do other beings exist? And if so, why do they hang around us? Would they really have any good reason to do so, being so far advanced? Surely it couldn’t be simply for altruistic reasons; isn’t that a lot of effort put into something and basically getting nothing back? So I tend to think, if they are out there, that they come around for a specific purpose. I don’t know what, but I feel like it maybe probably isn’t that great for us. But what do I know? What does John Fowles know? It’s all just really speculation at this point…..right?

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19 thoughts on “A Maggot by John Fowles: Unidentified Flying Myths?

    • Lol, thanks, HR. I’m sure it’s something I did. I always suspect myself first when it comes to this stuff. Thanks!

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  1. I like how you end your essay with those religious “UFO” paintings! So, yeah, those 18th century folk would have a frame of reference. UFOs represent the ultimate fear of the unknown. After all this researching they’ve supposedly been doing on us, you’d think they’d make themselves known!

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  2. Pingback: A Maggot…. again. | Laughter Over Tears

  3. The paintings are very thought-provoking Stacey. I’m attracted by the idea that early humans saw, let’s say, dragons, due to the prevalent mythology, and then, as the context became more religious/biblical, angels and demons. And now, in our technological world, UFOs. So the Fowles idea didn’t quite work for me, until the paintings you displayed showed a disruption of my neat little contexts.
    I’ve witnessed a UFO (I think), after laying in a sleeping bag under the Norfolk skies and noticing very odd light movements. And saying aloud:”OK, if you’re out there, I’m ready to see you.” Long story short, there were lights moving asymmetrically in a nearby field one hour later, terrifying the horses.
    Why would they visit? Monitoring of some kind? My gut feeling is that some of us were ‘manufactured’ or at least ‘tweaked’ somewhere along evolution’s path. We don’t sit easily in the world. Tbh, we pollute and destroy.
    Fowles is a great writer. The Magus being my favourite. Reminds me of glorious holidaying in Greece!

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    • Thanks–glad your thoughts got provoked a little.
      I think we all must have seen something weird at least once in our lives, right? Definitely would lean toward “monitoring” and the questions abound about why they would bother. Did we explode strangely and robustly in a new direction that defies simple evolution and points more towards….them? Such a weird idea! I can see why some people are offended by the idea of man evolving from apes, ’cause I feel a little insulted thinking man could have been ‘tweaked’ by aliens, those SOBs, lol .
      Fowles is great, huh? Haven’t read The Magus.I should look into that one.

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      • Another ‘conspiratorial’ explanation for modern UFOs is that the technology was built by the Nazis, taken under the wing of NASA when the German scientists were brought over, and developed in the subsequent 70 years. And ‘hidden’ under the cover of the Roswell incident and Area 51 stories (ie the US stole or copied technology from crashed aliens). But that doesn’t account for those compelling paintings. You can think about all of this stuff until disappearing up one’s own backside, or just enjoy the mystery.

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  4. Why do people keep aquariums? What do the fish do for us? We could be illogical, entertaining oddities to extraterrestrials. Either that or they are, matrix-like, sucking electricity out of our brains…

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  5. Yeah, like Kevin says above, who knows what inspired dragons, fairies–fairy LIGHTS–gnomes–all the strange creatures and things in stories and myths–was it based on real sightings and interpreted that way? You gotta wonder. Do we believe in elves more than aliens? It’s a big, wide, mysterious universe. Who knows what’s in it?

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  6. And Kevin–Interesting stuff about Nazis and us and aliens. I’ve heard that before too. Wouldn’t surprise me. I can’t BELIEVE how many Nazis and Nazi sympathizers actually got JOBS AND NEW LIVES over here! I know it was largely due to science and they were scientists and engineers, etc., but….no excuse. Shame on us and shame on South America, an even worse offender.
    But you’re right….just floating in the mystery, surrounded by the mystery, musing and wondering about the aliens, the paintings, the past……is the best part. Because short of full disclosure or a ship landing in the middle of the Champs Elysees….. we’ll probably never know.

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  7. I love The Miracle of the Snow picture with Jesus piloting his very own UFO. Looks like he’s trying to fly it with his mind! Bet he’s been on the wine again! Jeez Jesus not another DUI to add to the pile. Guess all the UFO’s behind him are the police? It’s like a crazy old version of The Blues Brothers. You can just hear the music as they crash through the shopping mall market.

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    • Hahahaha. “Hey, J.C., that’s called a rolling stop. The rules still apply for flying vehicles!”
      “No! You’re destroying the interior of the Cheesecake Factory! Noooooo ! ! !”

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  8. Ahh…I like this so much better than the contest winning marathon sentence. Great review of a book I will not read. (I know, I’m being an ass. I did read A French Lt’s Woman. I thought it was good.) I rarely go for Sci-Fi films and I never read it with the exception of Clockwork Orange. The premise is interesting though and I love the paintings. They remind me of the song Come Sail Away by Styx.
    “I thought that they were angels but to my surprise
    They climbed aboard their starship and headed for the skies ”
    (Nope. I’m not apologizing. I love this song.)
    Cool post, as per usual.
    Pam.

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  9. The premise WAS interesting, solely due to UFOs + that particular time period. And the writing was beautiful, I thought.
    So you must be one of those people who’s never seen 2001, huh? Lol
    What about ones that are more *plausible* scenarios like: Arrival, Ex Machina, Children of Men, Gravity, Moon, Gattaca, Silent Running?
    What about Blade Runner? You could get into that one ’cause it’s also a detective noir with a dark atmosphere.
    Under The Skin was a great version made out of the book–very disturbing–and of course Inception was an interesting box within a box within a box kind of idea. I know I’m not going to change you, but now I’m just thinking of my favorites: Edge of Tomorrow was surprisingly good (for a Tom Cruise movie; I think he’s aged well into his acting) and there’s always Galaxy Quest–a thinly veiled satire about Star Trek, what happens to the washed-out actors later in life as they struggle to stay, minimally, at the edge of the spotlight–HILARIOUS. And not full of children. Full of actual adults!
    Anyway, I know sci-fi’s not your thing, but just threw those out there, a few of the better ones, I think.
    Thanks for dropping by!
    SB

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