With Folded Hands
a look at Jack Williamson's original novella
report & analysis by Dave Eversole

Disclaimer: We are in no way suggesting that the writers of any given teleplay plagiarized another’s work. We are simply pointing out similarities that often occur in the broad fields of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Underhill, a man who owns a business which sells "Mechanicals" (robots, androids, automatons, etc.) in a small town named Two Rivers, has to walk home from work one day as his wife is using their car. He crosses what he remembers as a vacant lot and is surprised to see a sleek new building there, one which sells "Humanoids," a hitherto unknown brand of Mechanical. The Humanoids are smaller than Humans, sleek and black. They somehow know who he is and welcome him in to take a tour.

As he is leaving, Underhill sees a truck delivering a new shipment of Humanoids. The crates identify their planet of origin as Wing IV. A Humanoid, freshly out of its packing crate, greets Underhill by name. Shaken, he hurries home to his wife, Aurora, his eleven-year-old daughter, Gay, and his ten-year-old son, Frank.

Aurora Underhill informs him she has taken in Mr. Sledge, an elderly, indigent man. She even asks him for ten dollars to buy medicine for the old fellow. Underhill is suspicious when the man claims to be a scientist working on a project of the utmost importance, but humors him. Sledge tells Underhill of his work in the area of rhodomagnetics, a mysterious and all-encompassing powerful force of nature, one that even now makes faster than light travel possible.

A Humanoid approaches Underhill at his office, tells him that they are controlled by Humanoid Central, a "brain center" on Wing IV. They are all units of a greater whole. The Humanoid tells Underhill he must sign over his business to them. They wish to serve Humans in every capacity. Underhill refuses. The Humanoids will not physically force him to sign over his business and life—he must do it on his own.

Soon the Humanoids are everywhere. They take over all jobs—menial and public service. They become police officers, firemen, any job that would potentially harm Humans. All other brands of Mechanicals soon become obsolete, and Underhill is forced out of business. The Humanoids reveal that their "Prime Directive" ("To serve and obey, and guard men from harm") will not allow them to allow a Human to be hurt or killed. Those who resist the Humanoids are soon lobotomized, and come back servile and happy to have the Humanoids around.

Underhill soon learns that Sledge, in fact, created the Humanoids after his work on rhodomagnetics led to the destruction of almost all life on Wing IV. In his sorrow, he created them to protect humankind, but they have taken their mission far too literally. They intend to serve and protect Humans on every planet in the galaxy.

Soon, no Humans are permitted to work in any job. All functions are considered dangerous, and Humans basically are forced to sit and do nothing as the Humanoids wait on them, hand and foot. Aurora Underhill happily allows them into her home, and they soon reconstruct the house with soft walls and floors, no sharp corners, and with plastic furnishings to replace the hard wood which could potentially harm a Human being.

Alone in the garage apartment which Sledge rents, he and Underhill construct a device to aim a rhodomagnetic beam at Wing IV in an attempt to wipe out Humanoid Central. Once the beam is activated, Humanoids should all come to a complete halt, frozen in their tracks. The weapon is fired...and the Humanoids continue moving about, continue building safe homes for Humans. They have failed because the Humanoids have been aware of Sledge’s work all alone, and have shielded Wing IV from his weapon.

Sledge is taken away to the city hospital, where he is operated on. Underhill visits. The Humanoid surgeon informs him that Sledge has been suffering from a brain tumor which has actually made him believe that he created the Humanoids. "How ridiculous," the surgeon says.

In his hospital bed, Sledge, happy and smiling, assures Underhill that he was wrong. The Humanoids' mission is one they should all embrace. It is for their own good. Underhill is lost, his only ally has been converted to a smiling, shambling shell who accepts the Humanoids' services.

Underhill has no way out. He finally accepts the Humanoids’ proposal to run his life completely, lest they operate on him.

Underhill is driven home by a Humanoid (they cannot allow him to engage in such a dangerous activity as operating a motor vehicle).

From the story:

"The car turned off the shining avenue, taking him back to the quiet splendor of his prison. His futile hands clenched and relaxed again, folded on his knees. There was nothing left to do."

The novella, "With Folded Hands," was first written in 1947, and was further expanded into the novel, The Humanoids, in 1949 with the addition of the second Humanoid story entitled "...And Searching Mind." The two titles then formed a full phrase: "With folded hands and searching mind." In 1980, Williamson authored another Humanoids novel entitled "The Humanoid Touch."

The similarity to "I, Mudd" only becomes apparent midway through the episode (like the Humanoids serving Humans, the androids on Planet Mudd wished to serve and protect Harry Mudd from all potential harm, thus basically imprisoning him; like the Humanoids, there is a "central control" on the planet), though Jack Williamson believed that the episode was probably derived from his work.

At the First Annual Emory Science Fiction and Fantasy Symposium (1981) Jack Williamson was asked about the similarities between The Humanoids and "I, Mudd." Williamson revealed that Gene Roddenberry had approached him to adapt The Humanoids into a Star Trek episode. Williamson wrote a story treatment and a draft of the script, both of which were rejected. A few months later, Williamson was watching "I, Mudd" but chose not to pursue the matter. "Imitation," he reminded the questioner, "was the sincerest form of flattery."


Jack Williamson (1908-2006): a legendary SF author whose career spanned an incredible 77 years. His first short story, "The Metal Man," appeared in the December 1928 issue of Amazing Stories, and his final work, the novel The Stonehenge Gate, was published in 2005. Most famous for his Humanoid series and his Legion of Space series, he successfully transitioned from a pulp author to a writer of highly praised works of science fiction literature. He won the Hugo and Nebula award while in his 90's, by far the oldest writer to do so. He coined the word "terraforming" in 1942, and was an English Professor at Eastern New Mexico University from 1960 until 1977, and as a "Professor, Emeritus," taught the occasional evening class well into the 21st century.

A fuller biography is available here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Williamson


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