The Green Man Returns by Harold M. Sherman
Near the conclusion of Harold M. Sherman’s 1946 novel The Green Man, the eponymous Numar, visitor to Earth from the far-distant planet Talamaya, makes some startling predictions in a speech to the world from Chicago’s Soldier Field. Among other things, the green-skinned space wanderer tells mankind that a Great Light that will one day arise in the East will usher in a new age of spiritual enlightenment and “a new harmony of being with all things.” He also tells the book’s scatterbrained leading lady, Betty Bracken, immediately before his departure, “Perhaps we shall all meet again, somewhere.” Well, although the passage of several decades would be required, Numar, as it turns out, is as good as his word, as readers soon learned in Sherman’s follow-up novel, the appropriately titled affair The Green Man Returns.
Like its predecessor, The Green Man Returns initially appeared in the pages of Amazing Stories magazine … the December ’47 issue, in this case, with a cover price of 25 cents; like the first outing, the novel was graced by a beautiful front-cover painting by Robert Gibson Jones. Six months later, the tale was reprinted in the Summer ’48 Amazing Stories Quarterly, a mammoth, 528-page (!) pulp magazine that set readers back all of 35 cents. And then, Sherman’s sequel would go OOPs (out of prints) for 65 years, until the fine folks at Armchair Fiction chose to resurrect it for a new generation in 2013. (And I believe that Fiction House Press even released its own edition three years later, sporting the Gibson Jones artwork on its own front cover, as does Armchair’s.) But other than the fact that both tales originally appeared in Amazing, adorned with Gibson Jones’ artwork, and the fact that Armchair chose to revive both titles after a period of 60+ years, the two novels are actually quite dissimilar. Whereas the first book had been a very lighthearted, indeed screwball comical affair, set in the 1940s, and with a huge cast of characters, the sequel is much more serious in tone, is set in a future age, and features only two returning characters from the first book. Still, it remains a perfect sequel, and one that I can’t imagine fans of the first novel reluctant to explore.
That first book had taken place in 1943, and in Sherman’s follow-up, we jump forward 32 years, to the futuristic era of, uh, 1975, an age very much in the precarious throes of a global Cold War, and indeed teetering on the brink of World War 3. The book cleaves into two fairly discrete halves. In the first, we are reacquainted with Betty Bracken, still somewhat ditzy although a grandmother of two now. For those unfamiliar with Sherman’s original Numar tale, Betty brings us up to speed as she regales her grandkids with a summary of her time with the Green Man decades earlier … a tale that her grandson scoffs at, telling her, “This is the dizziest story I ever heard … I think, Granny, you’re just plain bats!” We are also introduced to Betty’s daughter, Ellen Hopper, who works as a secretary in the White House and who is dating both the U.S. State Department’s most promising up-and-comer, Andrew Brownell, as well as the charming Russian attache Petrov Gouchevisky. Ellen is as levelheaded as her mother is wacky, however, and as world events continue to hurtle both America and Russia closer to nuclear holocaust, Ellen is given an assignment by U.S. Military Intelligence. Thus, in the book’s most well-done and surely most suspenseful segment, Ellen goes to Petrov’s apartment on a date, bringing with her a truth serum to slip into the Russian’s coffee, in an effort to learn just when the enemy plans to attack. It is a bravura section of the book, and perhaps one of the earliest examples of female espionage in a Cold War setting! But just as the world is about to be plunged into chaos, what should arrive on the scene but a blinding light in the eastern heavens, and the arrival of hundreds of Talamayan spaceships!
And so, in the second half of Sherman’s novel, Numar announces that he has come back to Earth to offer the people of the world a proposition: either accept the Talamayans’ plan for a “Great Change,” including a new Constitution of the United States of the World, or be destroyed. And as the second half of The Green Man Returns proceeds, Numar lays out, in fairly explicit detail, what this Great Change will entail. In a nutshell, he tells the world that all currencies are to be abolished, and replaced with a merit system. Learning of the English language will be mandatory for all Earthlings, to assist in communication and avoid misunderstandings. Everyone will be compelled to do some kind of work from age 15 to 40, after which time one may retire with full benefits. A Council of Sixteen, comprised of representatives from Earth’s 16 greatest economies, will rule the planet from Washington, D.C., while a subsidiary Council of All Other Nations will be able to make recommendations. It is a fairly sweeping plan to do away with poverty, injustice, and racial and cultural prejudice, and although the agenda is met with the expected reluctance and flat-out fears of the U.S. president and his aides, Numar’s program is indeed put into operation. But unknown to most, a cabal of industrialists, bankers and big businessmen, appalled at the thought of the impending destruction of all currencies, begins to conspire, with plans of their own…
It strikes me now that there is still another difference between these two Green Man books. In the first novel, Numar is rather taciturn, other than those times when he is on the radio or giving his big speech; in the sequel, he is much more outgoing, even long-winded. And nothing at all is mentioned concerning Numar’s various superhuman attributes in the second book, such as his ability to read minds, (literally) shock others with his electrical essence, and cure the handicapped by a laying on of hands. He is thus rendered less mysterious, less Christ-like in the sequel, and more of a superadvanced functionary of an alien culture, arrived here to get another interplanetary job done.
And there is still one more major difference between the two novels, as well. The Green Man had struck this reader as being hopelessly dated, with dozens upon dozens of references that — and real-life personalities who — probably won’t mean a thing to the average sci-fi buff of today. The sequel, however, feels much more modern, and its emphasis on Cold War machinations nicely predicts the dilemmas that would face the world over the next 40 years, and even, to a degree, today. Indeed, some of Numar’s pronouncements concerning life in the book’s fictional 1975 are, sadly, more timely than ever. Take this brief passage, for example:
…You in the United States of America have reached the highest mechanical development in all history. You have achieved, through your production genius, the highest standard of living. You have become the wealthiest of all nations. Your remarkable Constitution has permitted you to be more free than any other humans. But in the face of all this you still have millions of underprivileged among you, the highest divorce rate in the world, a high percentage of crime, maladjustment and juvenile delinquency — indicating that you have been able to manufacture everything but happiness. Then something must also be wrong with your system of life and living — even as there are even greater ills existing in governments and nations abroad…
Thus, whereas the first Numar book feels dated, the sequel would appear to be timeless. The book also feels modern as regards its sentiments regarding racial equality. As Numar tells the Council of Sixteen at one point, in a passage that predates some similar words delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. around 15 years later:
…Once this Plan is in operation … each individual [will be] judged, not as to his race or religion or color — but as to his own personal value — ability — character…
The sequel is a rather optimistic book, ultimately, and Numar’s new agenda for world peace, as he lays it out, surely does sound pretty desirable. As in another vintage sci-fi novel that I recently enjoyed, Thomas Temple Hoyne’s Intrigue on the Upper Level (1934), Sherman here uses his fictional story as a means of delivering a new and improved schematic for proper living, and for showing his readers what needs to be done to make existence more decent and liveable on this Earth. And there surely isn’t anything wrong with that!
Now, for some reason, this Armchair edition tells us, on its back cover, that some people have speculated on whether or not The Green Man Returns was a possible inspiration for the 1951 sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Never mind the fact that the film was an adaptation (and a rather loose one, I hear) of Harry Bates’ short story “Farewell to the Master” (which I have still not read but hope to very soon), which initially appeared in Astounding Science Fiction magazine’s October 1940 issue … seven years before The Green Man Returns hit the newsstands. Klaatu in the film and Numar in the book are completely different in nature, and I don’t recall Klaatu ever giving the people of Earth a sweeping and detailed plan for proper living, either. Klaatu had none of Numar’s superhuman abilities, looked exactly like an Earthling, and traveled with no other members of his race (other than that wonderful robot, Gort). Thus, it is a mystery to me how a connection between Sherman’s sequel and Robert Wise’s classic film ever arose to begin with. Go figure.
The Green Man Returns, for all its merits, is hardly a perfect book. Sherman is guilty of the occasional ungrammatical turn of phrase (such as when he writes “If the Profit System was to be eliminated…”), and this reader could never get over the fact that no one was willing to believe in Numar’s existence in 1975, even though he had been huge news in 1943, had met with the U.S. president, and had delivered his Chicago speech in front of over 100,000 people. It is suggested that this might have something to do with the fact that no photographer was ever able to capture Numar on film, although this phenomenon is once again, disappointingly, never explained in the sequel. And oh … Sherman, early on, tells us that the Chinese capital city in 1975 is … Chunking? An oversight, this, or just an imaginative projection of the future? Regardless, these are merely quibbles that should in no way interfere with most readers’ enjoyment. Even with the abundance of punctuational errors to be found in this Armchair edition, I would most heartily recommend this hugely entertaining sequel to one and all. To read it is to solemnly wish for Numar’s pledge of “the ending of an old, outmoded system and the beginning of a new epoch on this Earth…”