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Little Green Men

Jocular item of Terminology, seemingly derived from its use to describe fairies but more widely employed in sf to denote generic Aliens – most often from Mars, as widely popularized in 1940s and 1950s newspaper stories about UFOs. The titular phrase is repeated many times in the poem "The Little Green Man: A German Story" (1801) by Matthew Lewis [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], whose green-spectacled character is an unwelcome if perhaps not supernatural intruder into society. As initially applied to leprechauns, "little green men" appear on page 374 of Sketches in Ireland (1827) by Cesar Otway (anonymous), though it may even then have been a traditional term; the eponym of The Little Green Man (1895) by F M Allen is also a leprechaun. An early small green Extraterrestrial features in the whimsical story "Green Boy from 'Harrah'" (8 October 1899 Atlanta Constitution) by Charles Battell Loomis; there are "ten little green men from the moon" in G Herb Palin's newspaper story "The Little Green Man" (17 February 1907 The State, Columbia, South Carolina); and green (though far from little) Martians in Burroughs's A Princess of Mars (February-July 1912 All-Story as "Under the Moons of Mars" as by Norman Bean; 1917). Robert Nathan's The Woodcutter's House (1927) uses the phrase "little green man" to describe a "small god" whose size depends on his number of worshippers. Green men feature in such 1930s and 1940s sf titles as Festus Pragnell's The Green Man of Kilsona (July-September 1935 Wonder Stories as "The Green Man of Graypec"; 1936; rev vt The Green Man of Graypec 1950) – whose green men are not merely little but of subatomic size (see Great and Small) – and Harold Sherman's The Green Man: A Visitor from Space (October 1946 Amazing; 1946).

The first occurrence of the actual LGM phrase in a clearly Genre SF context is perhaps in "Moon Crystals" (January 1934 Astounding) by J H Haggard, whose LGM is a native of Venus. 1940s occurrences include "Mayaya's Little Green Men" (November 1946 Weird Tales) by Harold Lawlor. Literal alien examples on Venus in Damon Knight's "The Third Little Green Man" (Summer 1948 Planet Stories) are rejected by the hard-drinking protagonist as likely alcoholic delusions. Fredric Brown used the term three times in singular and plural form as the expected appearance of aliens in "Mouse" (June 1949 Thrilling Wonder), and Mack Reynolds wrote the mystery novel The Case of the Little Green Men (1951), involving murders by apparently science-fictional means at an sf Convention. The best-known sf treatment of the theme, featuring a non-violent Invasion of annoying little Martian voyeurs, is Fredric Brown's Martians, Go Home (1955). The eponym of Lewis Zarem's The Green Man from Space (1955) also hails from Mars, his green coloration being supplied by symbiotic algae. Knowing references to this Cliché appear in later sf: for example, an unappealingly sausage-shaped "Old Galactic" alien in James H Schmitz's A Tale of Two Clocks (1962; vt Legacy 1979) manifests reassuringly at the close of the book as a literal Little Green Man. The wasted limbs and mighty brain of Dan Dare's green Venusian nemesis the Mekon suggest a synthesis of little green man and H G Wells's "The Man of the Year Million" (6 November 1893 Pall Mall Gazette).

This sf trope may distantly echo the UK legend of the Green Children [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], upon which Herbert Read based his novel The Green Child: A Romance (1935) and which was reimagined in highly speculative nonfiction terms in Duncan Lunan's Children from the Sky (2012). The familiar phrase still persists, as witness Greg Leitich Smith's Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (2014). [DRL/MA]

see also: Ivan Southall.


Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 02:47 am on 24 April 2024.