Farewell to the Master – Harry Bates

ast_4010_200Working in reverse order, this is the credited basis for The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951 and indirectly 2008.  Saying either of these movies was based on this short story is a stretch, though.

The story didn’t seem to make much of a ripple when first published in the October 1940 issue of Astounding.  It was not even mentioned on the cover despite the author having been a previous editor of the magazine.  Ten years later, the rights were sold for $500.  But maybe that was a good deal for Bates — by changing literally one word in the story, 20th Century Fox could probably have had it for free, without attribution.  In fact, he is not credited on the 2008 version.

Unlike the movie versions, Farewell to the Master begins with the spaceship already on the ground, and having been built into a wing of the Smithsonian.  The robot Gnut, wisely renamed Gort for the films, has already emerged and has stood as a still sentry before the ship for 3 months.

Cliff Sutherland, a photo-journalist not in the films, has evidence that the motionless Gnut has actually minutely changed positions overnight.  Sutherland is hiding in the museum to see what Gnut is up to.  For any kids reading this — this is back when journalists actually asked questions and pursued stories rather than being fawning, lap-dog stenographers spoon-fed by politicians.  OK, in reality, it was probably no better back then, plus the journalists smelled like whiskey and cigarettes.

We learn that the ship in the story “just appeared”, and did not come in for a landing as it did in both films. After 2 days, a being emerged, “godlike in appearance, and human in form.” He introduces himself as Klaatu and his robot companion as Gnut.  I can maybe understand people wanting to use the alternate spelling of Nut, but who added the extra “a” in Klaatu?  He wasn’t handing out business cards.

Just as in the the films, he is taken down by a rogue shooter.  Unlike the films, this Klaatu displays a Kennedyesque vulnerability to bullets.  He is killed immediately, causing a huge departure from both films.  Gnut goes still at that moment, not even attending the burial in a mausoleum at the Tidal Basin.

The ship and Gnut both prove too unwieldy to move, so the government does its thing, claiming it for the Smithsonian, and no doubt finding a way to tax it.

Sutherland’s stakeout is rewarded as he sees Gnut not only move, but return inside the ship through the elusive doorway.  Sutherland witnesses a few scenes that are a mystery to him involving a mockingbird and a gorilla.  The next night, Sutherland returns and speaks to a man inside.

With Sutherland becoming Gnut’s BFF on earth, Gnut puts Sutherland on his shoulders and carries him toward Klaatu’s grave.  This was not so much horseplay as it was security against the army launching a howitzer at him.  Gnut uses a few items from Klaatu’s grave, not to resurrect him, but to create a doppelganger.

Klaatu is only revived for a short time, so I’m not sure what the point was.  As Gnut is leaving, Sutherland implores him to tell his world that the death of his master was an accident, and that we’re really swell guys.  Gnut responds with what is supposed to be a gut-punch, a real mind-bender.  Maybe in 1940, it was.

So, it is an OK little story, providing only a few bare basics for the films.  Although the alien is named Klaatu, the full iconic “Klaatu Barada Nikto” is never used in the story. The entire middle of both movies — the 1951 boarding house & 2008 roadtrip  — do not exist here, what with Klaatu being dead.  The ultimatum issued to earth, the demonstration of their power, the threat of destruction — all concocted for the movies. Basically what we have here is a spaceship, a guy named Klaatu and a robot almost named Gort.

But, given its progeny, it is worth a read.

I was also interested in some of the word usage of 75 years ago:

  • “Ladies and gentlemen,” began a clear and well-modulated voice – but Cliff was no longer attending.
  • Do you think Gnut was dereanged in any way by the acids, rays, heat, and so forth applied to him by the scientists.
  • A while ago you used the word purposive in connection with Gnut’s actions. Can you explain that a little?

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