The first alien abduction case in the UK is usually considered to be that of PC Alan Godfrey in 1980. He was driving his panda car on Burnley Road, Todmorden in the early hours of a November morning when he was confronted with a large diamond shaped craft hovering above the street, or so he claims. Later under hypnosis, he ‘remembered’ being aboard the craft and undergoing some kind of medical examination carried out by robots, an alien named Joseph and a dog.[i] Godfrey now distances himself from the abduction element of his story, and some accounts omit it altogether, perhaps because, compared to later abduction claims by Americans that involved the greys, implanted chips, anal probes, human-alien hybrid baby farms and other exciting features, Alan’s abduction just seems rather quaint. And of course, there have been many older abduction claims around the world.
So, as for the world’s first alien abduction case, this honour usually goes to Americans Betty and Barney Hill. They were driving at night in September 1961 when they saw a strange light in the sky. Later, under hypnosis they described being kidnapped and examined by aliens.[ii] One of the best parts of this abduction claim is that, as the aliens who abducted the Hills had no mouths, they were confused by Barney’s false choppers and couldn’t understand why his teeth were removable but Betty’s weren’t. Betty tried to explain to the alien that as people age, they might require false teeth, but these aliens, who had mastered interstellar travel, could not comprehend the passing of time.[iii] This is probably a good thing if you have to make a voyage of millions of light years.
The abduction of Betty and Barney Hill may have been the first publicised account, but that of Antonio Villas Boas from Brazil predates the Hills’ account by several years. Villas Boas claimed that in 1957 he saw a UFO land in his field one evening. He was taken aboard, examined and then seduced by a saucy naked alien lady.[iv]
But are there any earlier descriptions of alien abductions? French computer engineer and ufologist Jacques Vallee noted the similarity between alien abduction stories and fairy folklore.[v] There is some superficial similarity, to be sure. Both fairies and aliens are often portrayed as diminutive in stature. There is often an element of ‘missing time’ in alien abduction claims, and in fairy lore, when an unfortunate human returns to the human world after spending a short time in fairy land, he may find that many years have passed. But fairy folklore misses some central aspects of the typical abduction narrative – the technology, the medical examination and the aliens. I’m looking for the first description on a human being taken by ETs from another planet, not magical creatures like fairies, elves or boggarts.
No, for the first alien abduction we need to go back to 1897. This was when War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells was first serialised in Pearson’s Magazine. Perhaps you don’t remember the abduction in Wells’ classic, and that’s because it was viewed as so disturbing it was cut from the story when it was reissued in book form. Wells describes how the Martians had abducted and experimented on a human scientist as a vivisectionist would do to a lower animal. The unfortunate scientist was left horribly mutilated yet still alive. Here’s the offending passage from the magazine version of the novel:
I know it is the fashion to write of these Martians as being incredibly cruel, but for my own part I cannot see that we are justified in calling ourselves, as certain recent flatterers of humanity have called men, their Moral Superiors. The fact that in the pit at Wimbledon (the pit made by the tenth Cylinder) the still living body of an eminent physician was found fixed so that he could not move, and horribly mutilated, does not seem to me to carry the point.
Let us clear our minds of cant. We are not justified in supposing that the Martians had been amusing themselves by torturing him. All the circumstances point to the view that they were satisfying their curiosity upon some structural point, and that afterwards, through interruption or inadvertency, they omitted to put him out of his misery. Man who vivisects the lower animals certainly has no claim to exemption when in his turn he becomes a lower animal.[vi]
The cruel vivisectionist was often a character in sensation novels in the later 19th century, and it’s interesting to see here the tables turned and the vivisectionist vivisected. The aliens are not cruel, just dispassionate – the ultimate technocrats.[vii]
So there we have it. The first reference to an alien abduction and medical examination, considered so shocking it was censored. It’s also interesting that the fictious aliens that Well’s described are more plausible as extra-terrestrial life forms described in supposedly real abduction claims. Wells describes his aliens as tentacled slavering blobs, whereas most aliens in the abductions described above are merely short-arsed humans with big eyes. Surely an alien that evolved on another planet would not be so remarkably similar to us? Some cynics may accuse abductees of having too much imagination, though it seems to me the opposite is true. If you must be abducted by aliens, at least show some imagination and make them a bit more exotic.[viii]
Anyway, perhaps somewhere there’s an earlier account that I’ve missed, and if so, I’d love to hear about it. But for now, I’m going to maintain that the father of alien abduction is H.G. Wells.
[i] See my Weird Calderdale chapters 3 and 4 for the full story.
[ii] See The Interrupted Journey by John G. Fuller for the first telling of this story. See UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game by Philip J. Klass (Prometheus Books, 1989) for a sceptical take on the events.
[iii] Klass, p.12
[iv] Robert Shaeffer Bad UFOs (2016) p.116
[v] Jaques Vallee, Passport to Magonia: from folklore to flying saucers (Brisbane: Daily Grail Publishing, 2014)
[vi] The original Pearsons Magazine version of the novel can be found here: https://decollected.net/compare/
[vii] See Michel Meurger, ‘Surgeons from outside’ in Fortean Studies Volume 3 ed. by Steve Moore (London: John Brown Publishing, 1996), pp. 310-311 for more on the relation between villainous mad scientists and the emergence of alien abduction tropes.
[viii] See the image at the top of the post: Frank R. Paul’s drawing for the cover of a 1927 edition of War of the Worlds