The Fly (Langelaan)

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"The Fly"
AuthorGeorge Langelaan
CountryUnited Kingdom
Genre(s)Science fiction, Horror
Published inPlayboy
Publication dateJune 1957

"The Fly" is a science fiction horror short story by French-British writer George Langelaan. It was published in the June 1957 issue of Playboy magazine.[1] It appeared in SF The Year's Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy, Dell First Edition B119, 1958. It was first filmed in 1958, and then again in 1986. An opera of the same name by Howard Shore premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, in 2008. The short story "The Fly" is included in Langelaan's short story collection Out of Time (1964).


The story begins late at night when François Delambre is awakened by the telephone. On the other end of the line is his sister-in-law Hélène who tells him that she has just killed his brother and that he should call the police. He does and they find the mangled remains of his brother in the family factory, his head and arm crushed under a hydraulic machine press.

Helène seems surprisingly calm throughout the investigation, willing to answer all questions except one: she will not give the reason for killing him. Eventually she is sent to a mental asylum and François is given custody of his brother's young son, Henri. François goes to visit her often, but she never provides the explanation for the question that he most desperately wants to know. Then one day she inquires how long a housefly's life span is. Later that evening, he hears Henri mention something about a fly with a funny white head. Realizing that this might somehow hold a clue to the murder, François confronts her with the news that Henri spotted a strange fly, and Hélène becomes extremely agitated at this news. François threatens to go to the police and give them the information about the insect if she does not tell him what he wants to know. She relents and advises him to come back the next day, at which time he will receive his explanation. The next day she gives him a handwritten manuscript, and later that night he reads it.

His brother, André Delambre, was a brilliant research scientist who had just made an amazing discovery. Using machines that he called disintegrator-reintegrators, André could instantaneously transfer matter from one location to another through space. He had two such machines in his basement, one being used as a transmitter pod, the other as a receiver. Hélène's manuscript reveals that at first André encountered several flukes, including an experiment in which he transmitted an ashtray that reintegrated in the receiver pod with the words "Made in Japan" on the back written backwards. He also tried transmitting the family cat, which disintegrated perfectly but then never reappeared. Eventually, however, he ironed out the mistakes and found that the invention worked perfectly. Then one day André tried the experiment on himself. Unbeknownst to him, a tiny housefly had entered the transmitter pod with him, and when he emerged from the receiver, his head and arm had been switched with that of the insect.

André tells Hélène that his only hope of salvation is for her to find the fly, identifiable by the fact that its head is completely white, so that he can transmit himself with it again in the hopes of regaining his missing atoms. A search of the house proves fruitless, and in desperation Hélène begs him to go through once more in the hopes that the transformation might reverse itself. Not believing it will work, but wanting to humor her, he agrees and goes through. When he steps out of the receiver Hélène pulls off the cloth sack that he has been covering his head with, and she is greeted with a truly horrifying sight. Not only is his head now that of a fly, but some of the missing particles from the family cat were also mixed in with his scrambled anatomy during the last experiment. Now realizing that he has been transformed beyond all hope, André destroys the pods and all of the work in his lab and devises a way to commit suicide while at the same time hiding from the world what he had become. He shows Hélène how to operate the hydraulic press and then places himself under it. Obeying his last wish, Hélène pushes the button to lower the press and kills her husband.


The Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz discusses the story in her lectures on "The Inferior Function", an aspect of the theory of psychological types. She describes it as an "example of inferior introverted intuition" that "illustrates the disgusting form and desperate abyss into which the inferior function can lead." After summarising the plot (adding "I have spared you most of the disgusting and perverse details in the story, which are expounded with great gusto"), she comments:

There one sees how inferior intuition takes shape in a sensation production. Since the story is written by a sensation type, it gets disguised as completely practical sensation. The fly would represent inferior intuition, which gets mixed up with the conscious personality. A fly is a devilish insect. In general, flies represent involuntary fantasies and thoughts that annoy one and buzz around in one’s head and that one cannot chase away. Here, this scientist gets caught and victimized by an idea that involves murder and madness. … At the end of the story the commissioner of police talks to the author and says that the woman was, after all, just mad. One sees that he would represent collective common sense – the verdict finally adopted by the writer, who admits that all this is just madness. If the writer had established the continuity of his inferior function, and had freed it from his extroverted sensation, then a really pure and clean story would have come out. In genuine fantasies, such as those of Edgar Allan Poe and the poet Gustav Meyrinck, intuition is established in its own right. These fantasies are highly symbolic and can be interpreted in a symbolic way. But a sensation type always wants to concretize his intuitions in some way.[2]


Screen adaptations[edit]

The following movies were based on this short story:[3]


There is also a Fly opera:

  • The Fly is 2008 opera by Howard Shore that is based on the 1986 film


The story received Playboy magazine's Best Fiction Award for the year, and was selected for inclusion in the Annual of the Year's Best Science Fiction.


  1. ^ Vieira, Mark A. (2003). Hollywood Horror: From Gothic to Cosmic. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. p. 173. ISBN 0-8109-4535-5.
  2. ^ von Franz, Marie-Louise (1986). Lectures in Jung's Typology. Spring Publications.
  3. ^ George Langelaan at IMDb