The War of the Worlds
|The War of the Worlds|
Cover of the first edition
|Author||H. G. Wells|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Published||1898 (William Heinemann)|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback) & E-book|
|Text||The War of the Worlds at Wikisource|
The War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel by English author H. G. Wells. It first appeared in serialized form in 1897, published simultaneously in Pearson's Magazine in the UK and Cosmopolitan magazine in the US. The first appearance in book form was published by William Heinemann of London in 1898. It is the first-person narrative of the adventures of an unnamed protagonist and his brother in Surrey and London as Earth is invaded by Martians. Written between 1895 and 1897, it is one of the earliest stories that detail a conflict between mankind and an extraterrestrial race. The novel is one of the most commented-on works in the science fiction canon.
The War of the Worlds has two parts, Book One: The Coming of the Martians and Book Two: The Earth under the Martians. The narrator, a philosophically-inclined author, struggles to return to his wife while seeing the Martians lay waste to southern England. Book One also imparts the experience of his brother, also unnamed, who describes events in the capital and escapes the Martians by boarding a ship near Tillingham, on the Essex coast.
The plot has been related to invasion literature of the time. The novel has been variously interpreted as a commentary on evolutionary theory, British Imperialism, and generally Victorian superstitions, fears and prejudices. At the time of publication it was classified as a scientific romance, like his earlier novel The Time Machine. The War of the Worlds has been both popular (having never gone out of print) and influential, spawning half a dozen feature films, radio dramas, a record album, various comic book adaptations, a television series, and sequels or parallel stories by other authors. It has even influenced the work of scientists, notably Robert Hutchings Goddard.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Style
- 3 Scientific setting
- 4 Physical location
- 5 Cultural setting
- 6 Publication
- 7 Reception
- 8 Relation to invasion literature
- 9 Scientific predictions and accuracy
- 10 Interpretations
- 11 Influences
- 12 Adaptations
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 Bibliography
- 16 External links
Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.
— H. G. Wells (1898), The War of the Worlds
The Coming of the Martians
The narrative opens in an astronomical observatory at Ottershaw where explosions are seen on the surface of the planet Mars, creating much interest in the scientific community. Later a "meteor" lands on Horsell Common, near the narrator's home in Woking, Surrey. He is among the first to discover that the object is an artificial cylinder that opens, disgorging Martians who are "big" and "greyish" with "oily brown skin," "the size, perhaps, of a bear," with "two large dark-coloured eyes," and a lipless "V-shaped mouth" surrounded by "Gorgon groups of tentacles." The narrator finds them "at once vital, intense, inhuman, crippled and monstrous." They briefly emerge, have difficulty in coping with the Earth's atmosphere, and rapidly retreat into the cylinder. A human deputation (which includes the astronomer Ogilvy) approaches the cylinder with a white flag, but the Martians incinerate them and others nearby with a heat-ray before beginning to assemble their machinery. Military forces arrive that night to surround the common, including Maxim guns. The population of Woking and the surrounding villages are reassured by the presence of the military. A tense day begins, with much anticipation of military action by the narrator.
After heavy firing from the common and damage to the town from the heat-ray which suddenly erupts in the late afternoon, the narrator takes his wife to safety in nearby Leatherhead, where his cousin lives, and then returns to Woking during a violent thunderstorm in the early hours of the morning. On the road during the height of the storm he has his first sight of a Martian War Machine. In panic, he crashes his borrowed carriage and barely escapes detection. He discovers the Martians have assembled towering three-legged "fighting-machines" (Tripods), each armed with a heat-ray and a chemical weapon: the so-called "black smoke". These Tripods have wiped out the army units positioned around the cylinder and attacked and destroyed most of Woking. Sheltering in his house, the narrator sees a fleeing artilleryman moving through the garden, who tells him his experiences and mentions that another cylinder has landed between Woking and Leatherhead, cutting the narrator off from his wife. The two try to escape via Byfleet just after dawn, but are separated at the Shepperton to Weybridge Ferry during a Martian attack on Shepperton in the afternoon. One of the Martian fighting machines is brought down in the River Thames by Artillery as the narrator and countless others try to cross the river into Middlesex, while the Martians retreat back to their original crater. This gives the authorities precious hours to form a defence-line covering London. After the Martian's temporary repulse, the narrator is able to float down the Thames toward London in a boat, stopping at Walton, where he first encounters the Curate, his companion for the next weeks.
Towards dusk the Martians renew their offensive, and break through the defence-line of Siege guns and field artillery centred on Richmond Hill and Kingston Hill by a widespread bombardment of the Black smoke, and a mass exodus of the population of London begins. This includes the narrator's brother, who flees to the Essex coast after the sudden, panicked predawn order to evacuate London is given by the authorities, a terrifying and harrowing journey of three days, amongst millions of similar refugees streaming from London. He encounters Mrs. Elphinstone and her younger sister-in-law, just in time to help them fend off a gang of ruffians who are trying to rob them. The three continue on together. Mrs. Elphinstone's husband is missing, and his fate is never learned. After a terrifying struggle through a mass of refugees on the road at Barnet, they head eastward. Two days later, at Chelmsford, their pony is confiscated for food by the local Committee of Public Supply. They press on to Tillingham and the sea. There, they manage to buy passage to the Continent from a small Paddle steamer, part of a vast throng of shipping gathered off the Essex coast to evacuate refugees. The torpedo ram HMS Thunder Child destroys two attacking tripods before being sunk by the Martians, though this allows the evacuation fleet, including the ship carrying the narrator's brother and his two travelling companions, to escape to the continent. Shortly after, all organised resistance has ceased, and the Martians roam the shattered landscape unhindered.
The Earth Under the Martians
At the beginning of Book Two, the narrator and the curate are plundering houses in search of food. During this excursion, the men witness a Martian fighting-machine enter Kew and use neither its heat-ray nor the Black Smoke, instead picking up any person it finds and tossing them into a "great metallic carrier which projected behind him, much as a workman's basket hangs over his shoulder."  It is at this moment that the narrator first realises that the Martian invaders may have a purpose other than destruction, as all previous encounters with the aliens and the ensuing mass destruction would suggest. While hiding at a house in Sheen to allow the curate to rest, "a blinding glare of green light" and a loud concussion signal the arrival of the fifth Martian cylinder. The cylinder smashes into the house in which the men hide, and both are trapped beneath the ruins for nearly two weeks. The curate, traumatised by the invasion, sees the Martian creatures as heralding the advent of the Apocalypse. The narrator's relations with the curate deteriorate, and he eventually knocks him unconscious to prevent his loud ranting. The curate has already been overheard by a Martian, who captures him with a prehensile tentacle and, the reader is led to believe, drains him of his blood, blood transfusion being the Martians' form of nourishment. The narrator escapes detection by hiding in the coal-cellar.
The Martians eventually abandon the much excavated cylinder crater, and the narrator is able to head towards West London. He finds abundant growth of red weed, a Martian form of vegetation, spreading with extraordinary rapidity over the landscape wherever there is abundant water. On Putney Heath, he once again encounters the artilleryman, who briefly persuades him to cooperate in a grandiose plan to rebuild civilisation underground. But after a few hours the narrator perceives the lunacy of this plan and the overall laziness of his companion and abandons the artilleryman to his delusions. Heading into a deserted London, he is at the point of despair and attempts to commit suicide by openly approaching a stationary war machine, when he discovers that the invaders have died from microbial infections to which they had no immunity, since "there are no bacteria in Mars." The narrator realises with joy that the threat has been vanquished. The narrator suffers a brief but complete nervous breakdown of which he remembers nothing. He is nursed back to health by a kind family, and returns home to find his wife, whom he had given up for dead. The last chapter, entitled "Epilogue," reflects on the significance of the invasion and the "abiding sense of doubt and insecurity" that it has left in the narrator's mind.
The War of the Worlds presents itself as a factual account of the Martian invasion. The narrator is a middle-class writer of philosophical papers, somewhat reminiscent of Doctor Kemp in The Invisible Man, with characteristics similar to Wells's at the time of writing. The reader learns very little about the background of the narrator or indeed of anyone else in the novel; characterisation is unimportant. In fact, none of the principal characters are named.
Wells trained as a science teacher during the latter half of the 1880s. One of his teachers was T. H. Huxley, famous as a major advocate of Darwinism. He later taught science, and his first book was a biology textbook. He joined the scientific journal Nature as a reviewer in 1894. Much of his work is notable for making contemporary ideas of science and technology easily understandable to readers.
The scientific fascinations of the novel are established in the opening chapter, where the narrator views Mars through a telescope, and Wells offers the image of the superior Martians having observed human affairs, as though watching tiny organisms through a microscope. Ironically, it is microscopic Earth lifeforms that finally prove deadly to the invasion force. In 1894 a French astronomer observed a 'strange light' on Mars, and published his findings in the scientific journal Nature on 2 August of that year. Wells used this observation to open the novel, imagining these lights to be the launching of the Martian cylinders towards Earth. American astronomer Percival Lowell published the book Mars in 1895, suggesting features of the planet’s surface observed through telescopes might be canals. He speculated that these might be irrigation channels constructed by a sentient life form to support existence on an arid, dying world, similar to that Wells suggests the Martians have left behind. The novel also presents ideas related to Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, both in specific ideas discussed by the narrator, and themes explored by the story.
Wells also wrote an essay titled 'Intelligence on Mars', published in 1896 in the Saturday Review, which sets out many of the ideas for the Martians and their planet that are used almost unchanged in The War of the Worlds. In the essay he speculates about the nature of the Martian inhabitants and how their evolutionary progress might compare to humans. He also suggests that Mars, being an older world than the Earth, might have become frozen and desolate, conditions that might encourage the Martians to find another planet on which to settle.
In 1895, Wells was an established writer and he married his second wife, Catherine Robbins, moving with her to the town of Woking in Surrey. Here he spent his mornings walking or cycling in the surrounding countryside, and his afternoons writing. The original idea for The War of the Worlds came from his brother, during one of these walks, pondering on what it might be like if alien beings were suddenly to descend on the scene and start attacking its inhabitants.
Much of The War of the Worlds takes place around Woking and nearby suburbs. The initial landing site of the Martian invasion force, Horsell Common, was an open area close to Wells's home. In the preface to the Atlantic edition of the novel, he wrote of his pleasure in riding a bicycle around the area, and imagining the destruction of cottages and houses he saw, by the Martian heat-ray or the red weed. While writing the novel, Wells enjoyed shocking his friends by revealing details of the story, and how it was bringing total destruction to parts of the South London landscape that were familiar to them. The characters of the artilleryman, the curate and the medical student were also based on acquaintances in Woking and Surrey.
Wells wrote in a letter to Elizabeth Healey about his choice of locations: "I'm doing the dearest little serial for Pearson's new magazine, in which I completely wreck and sack Woking -- killing my neighbors in painful and eccentric ways -- then proceed via Kingston and Richmond to London, which I sack, selecting South Kensington for feats of peculiar atrocity."
In the present day, a 7 metre (23 feet) high sculpture of a tripod fighting machine, entitled 'The Martian', based on the description in The War of the Worlds, stands in Crown Passage, close to the local railway station, in Woking, designed and constructed by artist Michael Condron.
His depiction of suburban late Victorian culture in the novel, was an accurate reflection of his own experiences at the time of writing. In the late 19th Century the British Empire was the predominant colonial and naval power on the globe, making its domestic heart a poignant and terrifying starting point for an invasion by aliens with their own imperialist agenda. He also drew upon a common fear which had emerged in the years approaching the turn of the century, known at the time as Fin de siècle or 'end of the age', which anticipated apocalypse at midnight on the last day of 1899.
In the late 1890s it was common for novels, prior to full volume publication, to be serialised in magazines or newspapers, with each part of the serialisation ending upon a cliff hanger to entice audiences to buy the next edition. This is a practice familiar from the first publication of Charles Dickens' novels in the nineteenth century. The War of the Worlds was first published in serial form in Pearson's Magazine in April - December 1897. Wells was paid ₤200 and Pearsons demanded to know the ending of the piece before committing to publish.
The complete volume was published by William Heinemann in 1898 and has been in print ever since.
Two unauthorised serialisations of the novel were published in the United States prior to the publication of the novel. The first was published in the New York Evening Journal between December 1897 and January 1898. The story was published as Fighters from Mars or the War of the Worlds. It changed the location of the story to a New York setting. The second version changed the story to have the Martians landing in the area near and around Boston, and was published by the Boston Post in 1898, which Wells protested against. It was called Fighters from Mars, or the War of the Worlds in and near Boston. Both pirated versions of the story were followed by Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss. Even though these version are deemed as unauthorised serialisations of the novel it is possible that H. G. Wells may have, without realising, agreed to the serialisation in the New York Evening Journal.
The War of the Worlds was generally received very favourably by both readers and critics upon its publication. There was however some criticism of the brutal nature of the events in the narrative.
Relation to invasion literature
Between 1871 and 1914 over 60 works of fiction for adult readers describing invasions of Great Britain were published. The seminal work was The Battle of Dorking (1871) by George Tomkyns Chesney, an army officer. The book portrays a surprise German attack, with a landing on the South coast of England, made possible by the distraction of the Royal Navy in colonial patrols and the army in an Irish insurrection. The German army makes short work of English militia and rapidly marches to London. The story was published in Blackwood's Magazine in May 1871, and so popular that it was reprinted a month later as a pamphlet which sold 80,000 copies.
The appearance of this literature reflected the increasing feeling of anxiety and insecurity as international tensions between European Imperial powers escalated towards the outbreak of the First World War. Across the decades, the nationality of the invaders tended to vary, according to the most acutely perceived threat at the time. In the 1870s, the Germans were the most common invaders. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a period of strain on Anglo-French relations, and the signing of a treaty between France and Russia, the French became the more common menace.
There are a number of plot similarities between Wells's book and The Battle of Dorking. In both books, a ruthless enemy makes a devastating surprise attack, with the British armed forces helpless to stop its relentless advance and both involve the destruction of the Home Counties of southern England. However, The War of the Worlds transcends the typical fascination of Invasion Literature with European politics, the suitability of contemporary military technology to deal with the armed forces of other nations, and international disputes, with its introduction of an alien adversary.
Although much of Invasion Literature may have been less sophisticated and visionary than Wells's novel, it was a useful, familiar genre to support the publication success of the piece, attracting readers used to such tales. It may also have proved an important foundation for Wells's ideas, as he had never seen or fought in a war.
Scientific predictions and accuracy
Many novels focusing on life on other planets written close to 1900 echo scientific ideas of the time, including Pierre-Simon Laplace's nebular hypothesis, Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, and Gustav Kirchhoff's theory of Spectroscopy. These scientific ideas combined to present the possibility that planets are alike in composition and conditions for the development of species, which would likely lead to the emergence of life at a suitable geological age in a planet's development.
By the time Wells came to write The War of the Worlds, there had been three centuries of observation of Mars through telescopes. Galileo, in 1610, observed the planet's phases and in 1666 Giovanni Cassini identified the polar ice caps. In 1878, Italian astronomer, Giovanni Schiaparelli observed geological features which he called canali (Italian for "channels"). This was mistranslated into English as "canals" which, being artificial watercourses, fuelled the belief that there was some sort of intelligent extraterrestrial life on the planet. This further influenced American astronomer Percival Lowell.
In 1895 Lowell published a book entitled Mars which speculated about an arid, dying landscape, whose inhabitants had been forced to build canals thousands of miles long to bring water from the polar caps to irrigate the remaining arable land. This formed the most advanced scientific ideas about the conditions on the red planet available to Wells at the time War of the Worlds was written. The concept of canals with flowing water was later proved erroneous by more accurate observation of the planet, and later landings by Russian and American probes such as the two Viking missions which found a lifeless world too cold for water to exist in its liquid state.
The Martians travel to the Earth in cylinders, apparently fired from a huge space gun on the surface of Mars. This was a common representation of space travel in the nineteenth century, and had also been used by Jules Verne in From the Earth to the Moon. Modern scientific understanding renders this idea impractical, as it would be difficult to control the trajectory of the gun precisely, and the force of the explosion necessary to propel the cylinder from the Martian surface to the Earth would likely kill the occupants.
However, the 16 year old Robert H. Goddard was inspired by the story and spent much of his life inventing rockets. The research into rockets begun by Goddard eventually culminated in the Apollo program's manned landing on the moon.
The Martian invasion proceeds with total disregard for human life; attacks on people and their environment are conducted with the heat-ray, with poisonous gas, the Black Smoke, delivered by rockets, and the Red Weed. These weapons brought almost total destruction to the capital of the British Empire and its surrounding counties. It also involves the strategic destruction of infrastructure such as armament stores, railways and telegraph lines. It appears to be intended to cause maximum casualties, terrorising and leaving humans without any will to resist. These tactics became more common as the 20th century progressed, particularly from the 1930s with the development of mobile weapons and technology capable of 'surgical strikes' on key military and civilian targets.
Wells's vision of a war bringing total destruction without moral limitations in The War of the Worlds were not taken seriously by readers at the time of publication. It was seen as one of a number of fictions which proposed this idea. He later expanded these ideas with more realistic novels such as When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), The War in the Air (1908) and The World Set Free (1914). This kind of 'total war' did not become fully realised until the Second World War, with the terrorising and evacuation of entire civilian populations, and the annihilation of cities.
As noted by Howard Black, "(...) In concrete details, the Martian Fighting Machines as depicted by Wells have nothing in common with tanks or dive bombers - but the tactical and strategic use made of them is strikingly reminiscent of Blitzkrieg as it would be developed by the German armed forces four decades later. The description of the Martians advancing inexorably, at lightning speed, towards London; the British Army completely unable to put up an effective resistance; the British government disintegrating and evacuating the capital; the mass of terrified refugees clogging the roads - all were to be precisely enacted in real life at 1940 France.(...) Ironically, this 1898 prediction came far closer to the actual land fighting of WWII than Wells did much later, much closer to the actual war, in the 1934 "The Shape of Things to Come".
Weapons and armour
Wells's description of chemical weapons – the Black Smoke used by the Martian fighting machines to murder human beings in great numbers – was later a reality during the First World War, with the use of Mustard Gas. The Heat-Ray, used by the Martians to annihilate nineteenth century military technology, and cause widespread devastation, is a precursor to the concept of laser weaponry, now widely familiar. Comparison between lasers and the Heat-Ray was made as early as the later half of the 1950s when lasers were still in development. Prototypes of mobile laser weapons have been developed and it is now being researched and tested as a possible future weapon in space.
Military theorists of the era, including the Royal Navy prior to the First World War, had speculated about building a "fighting-machine" or a "land dreadnought". Wells later further explored the ideas of an armoured fighting vehicle in his short story "The Land Ironclads". There is a high level of science-fiction abstraction in Wells's description of Martian automotive technology; he stresses how Martian machinery is devoid of wheels, using the "muscle-like" contractions of metal discs along an axis to produce movement. However, the electroactive polymers currently being developed for use in sensors and robotic actuators are actually a close match for Wells' description.
Wells's dramatisation of an ecological threat posed by a rapidly growing alien organism, the Red Weed, which spreads over the English landscape, also has parallels in more modern times. Non-native species such as rabbits, foxes and prickly pear have been introduced into the Australian landscape, with a devastating impact. Another example is the spread of Kudzu in the United States. In Ireland and the United Kingdom, Japanese knotweed has become an invasive species. It was introduced in the 19th century. However, these species were not introduced with the intention of causing deliberate harm.
H.G. Wells was a student of Thomas Henry Huxley, a proponent of the theory of natural selection. In the novel, the conflict between mankind and the Martians is portrayed as a survival of the fittest, with the Martians whose longer period of successful evolution on the older Mars, has led to them developing a superior intelligence, able to create weapons far in advance of humans on the younger planet Earth, who have not had the opportunity to develop sufficient intelligence to construct similar weapons.
The novel also suggests a potential future for human evolution and perhaps a warning against overvaluing intelligence against more human qualities. The Narrator describes the Martians as having evolved an overdeveloped brain, which has left them with cumbersome bodies, with increased intelligence, but a diminished ability to use their emotions, something Wells attributes to bodily function. The Narrator refers to an 1893 publication suggesting that the evolution of the human brain might outstrip the development of the body, and organs such as the stomach, nose, teeth and hair would wither, leaving humans as thinking machines, needing mechanical devices much like the Tripod fighting machines, to be able to interact with their environment. This publication is probably Wells's own "The Man of the Year Million", published in the Pall Mall Gazette on November 6, 1893, which suggests similar ideas.
Colonialism and imperialism
At the time of the novel's publication the British Empire was in its most aggressive phase of expansion, having conquered and colonised dozens of territories in Africa, Australia, North and South America, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and Atlantic and Pacific islands.
While Invasion Literature had provided an imaginative foundation for the idea of the heart of the British Empire being conquered by foreign forces, it was not until The War of the Worlds that the reading public of the time was presented with an adversary so completely superior to themselves and the Empire they were part of. A significant motivating force behind the success of the British Empire was its use of sophisticated technology; the Martians, also attempting to establish an empire on Earth, have technology superior to their British adversaries. In writing The War of the Worlds, Wells turned the confident position of a reader in the British Empire on its head, putting an imperial power in the position of being the victim of imperial aggression and thus perhaps encouraging the reader to consider the nature of imperialism itself.
Wells suggests this idea in the following passage from the novel:
And before we judge them [the Martians] too harshly, we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished Bison and the Dodo, but upon its own inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?—Chapter I, "The Eve of the War"
The novel also dramatises the ideas of race presented in Social Darwinism, an ideology of some prominence at the time it was written. The Martians exercise over humans their 'rights' as a superior race, more advanced in evolution.
Social Darwinism was a theory which applied Darwin's theory of Natural Selection to ethnic groups and social classes. It suggested that the success of these different ethnic groups in world affairs, and social classes in a society were the result of evolutionary forces, a struggle in which the group or class more fit to succeed did so; i.e., the ability of an ethnic group to dominate other ethnic groups, or the chance to succeed or rise to the top of society was determined by biology, not by the effort of individuals, and the offspring of the dominant groups were destined to succeed because they were more evolved. In more modern times it is typically seen as dubious and unscientific for its apparent use of Darwin's ideas to justify the position of the rich and powerful, or dominant ethnic groups.
Wells was born into a family which, while middle class, was not well to do and matured in a society where the merit of an individual was not considered as important as their social class of origin. His father was a professional sportsman, which was seen as inferior, because this was an area that 'gentlemen' indulged in only as an amateur pastime. His mother was at one time a domestic servant, and Wells himself was, prior to his writing career, apprenticed to a draper. His achievements were hard won. Trained as a scientist, well aware of evolutionary theory, he was able to relate his experiences of struggle to Darwin's idea of a world of struggle, but he saw science as a rational system, which extended beyond traditional ideas of race, class and religious notions, and this gave his fiction a critical edge which challenged the use of science to explain political and social norms of the day.
Religion and science
Good and evil appear to be entirely relative in The War of the Worlds, and the defeat of the Martians does not involve any kind of direct divine action. It has an entirely material cause, the action of microscopic bacteria. An insane clergyman is a key character in the novel, but his attempts to relate the invasion to some kind of biblical enactment of Armageddon seem only to reinforce his mental derangement. His death, as a result of his evangelical outbursts and ravings attracting the attention of the Martians, appears to be an indictment of his outdated religious attitudes making him a candidate for culling by natural selection, at the hands of the superior evolved Martians. However the narrator twice prayed to his god (when he first lay in a bed for days and next when he discovered the defeat of the Martians), and suggests that bacteria may have been divinely allowed to exist on Earth for a reason such as this.
Mars and Martians
The novel originated several enduring Martian tropes in science fiction writing. These include Mars being an ancient world, nearing the end of its life, being the home of a superior civilisation, capable of advanced feats of science and engineering, and also being a source of invasion forces, keen to conquer the Earth. The first two tropes were prominent in Edgar Rice Burroughs "Barsoom" series, beginning with A Princess of Mars in 1912.
The publication and reception of The War of the Worlds also established the vernacular term of 'martian', as a description for something offworldly or unknown.
On April 19, 1897 the The Dallas Morning News reported that an alien being ("he was a native of the planet Mars") had crash-landed an airship in nearby Aurora, Texas. The reporter was S. E. Haydon, a well-known local joker, but the story was taken seriously by many readers (at least initially). The town of Aurora was dying following boll weevil crop destruction, a major fire, the outbreak of spotted fever and (above all) the very recent shelving of a planned rail link with Dallas. [For further details see BBC History Magazine, April 2014, p. 16]. It is interesting that this Dallas Morning News story twins neatly with the publishing of the first installment of The War of the Worlds in Pearson's Magazine and Cosmopolitan in April 1897. Most magazines go onto the shelf prior to the beginning of the month, so it is probable that S. E. Haydon (or persons known to him) would have been aware of this serial prior to April 19th.
Aliens and alien invasion
Wells is credited with establishing several extraterrestrial themes which were later greatly expanded by science fiction writers in the 20th Century, including first contact and war between planets and their differing species. There were, however, stories of aliens and alien invasion prior to publication of The War of the Worlds.
In 1727 Jonathan Swift published Gulliver's Travels. The tale included a race of beings similar but not identical to humanity, who are obsessed with mathematics and are superior to humans. They populate a floating island fortress called Laputa, four and one half miles in diameter, which uses its shadow to prevent sun and rain from reaching earthly nations over which it travels, ensuring they will pay tribute to the Laputians. Voltaire's Micromégas (1752) includes two aliens, from Saturn and Sirius, who are of immense size and visit the Earth out of curiosity. At first they think the planet is uninhabited, due to the difference in scale between them and the peoples of Earth. When they discover the haughty Earth-centric views of Earth philosophers, they are greatly amused by how important Earth beings think they are compared to greater beings in the universe such as themselves.
In 1892 Robert Potter, an Australian clergyman, published The Germ Growers in London. It describes a covert invasion by aliens who take on the appearance of human beings and attempt to develop a virulent disease to assist in their plans for global conquest. It was not widely read, and consequently Wells's vastly more successful novel is generally credited as the seminal alien invasion story.
The first science fiction to be set on Mars may be Across the Zodiac: The Story of a Wrecked Record (1880) by Percy Greg. It was a long-winded book concerned with a civil war on Mars. Another Mars novel, this time dealing with benevolent Martians coming to Earth to give humankind the benefit of their advanced knowledge, was published in 1897 by Kurd Lasswitz — Two Planets (Auf Zwei Planeten). It was not translated until 1971, and thus may not have influenced Wells, although it did depict a Mars influenced by the ideas of Percival Lowell. Other examples are Mr. Stranger's Sealed Packet (1889), which took place on Mars, Gustavus W. Popes's Journey to Mars (1894), and Ellsworth Douglas's Pharaoh's Broker, in which the protagonist encounters an Egyptian civilisation on Mars which, while parallel to that of the Earth has evolved somehow independently.
Early examples of influence on science fiction
Wells had already proposed another outcome for the alien invasion story in The War of the Worlds. When the Narrator meets the artilleryman the second time, the artilleryman imagines a future where humanity, hiding underground in sewers and tunnels, conducts a guerrilla war, fighting against the Martians for generations to come, and eventually, after learning how to duplicate Martian weapon technology, destroys the invaders and takes back the Earth.
Six weeks after publication of the novel, the Boston Post newspaper published another alien invasion story, an unauthorised sequel to The War of the Worlds, which turned the tables on the invaders. Edison's Conquest of Mars was written by Garrett P. Serviss, a now little remembered writer, who described the famous inventor Thomas Edison leading a counterattack against the invaders on their home soil. Though this is actually a sequel to 'Fighters from Mars', a revised and unauthorised reprint of War of the Worlds, they both were first printed in the Boston Post in 1898. Lazar Lagin published "Major Well Andyou" in USSR in 1962, an alternative view of events in "War of the Worlds" from the viewpoint of a traitor.
The War of the Worlds was reprinted in the United States in 1927, before the Golden Age of science fiction, by Hugo Gernsback in Amazing Stories. John W. Campbell, another key editor of the era, and periodic short story writer, published several alien invasion stories in the 1930s. Many well known science fiction writers were to follow, including Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Clifford Simak and in 1953 Robert A. Heinlein with The Puppet Masters and John Wyndham with The Kraken Wakes.
The theme of alien invasion has remained popular to the present day and are frequently used in the plots of all forms of popular entertainment including movies, television, novels, comics and video games. Alan Moore's graphic novel, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II, retells the events in The War of the Worlds. In the end of the first issue of Marvel Zombies 5, it is revealed that the main characters will visit a world called "Martian Protectorate" where the events of War of the Worlds are occurring.
The Tripods trilogy of books features a central theme of invasion by alien-controlled tripods.
Other narratives, in addition to utilising the alien invasion trope, also involve the appearance of tripod alien fighting machines. The computer game Half-Life 2 makes an apparent homage to The War of the Worlds in the appearance of tripod fighting machines known as Striders, used by the alien invaders. In the video game Unreal Tournament III, one of the vehicles used by the antagonist is a large "Darkwalker" tripod that functions similarly to those in War of the Worlds.
The War of the Worlds has spawned several feature films, as well as various radio dramas, comic-book adaptations, video games, a television series, and sequels or parallel stories by other authors.
Among the most famous, or infamous, adaptations is the 1938 radio broadcast that was narrated and directed by Orson Welles. The first two-thirds of the 60-minute broadcast were presented as a news bulletin and led to widespread outrage and panic by certain listeners who had believed the events described in the program were real.
In 1953 came the first War of the Worlds theatrical film produced by George Pal and directed by Byron Haskin, starring Gene Barry. Steven Spielberg directed a 2005 film adaptation starring Tom Cruise, which received generally positive reviews.
In the 1980s, a joint American-Canadian venture produced the television series War of the Worlds that ran for two seasons. Its premise was that the Martians had not been killed off, but were instead stored in suspension by the U.S. government, and that most people had forgotten the previous invasion. Their accidental awakening results in another war.
In 1978 a best selling Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds was produced by Jeff Wayne, with the voices of Richard Burton and David Essex.
- Facsimile of the original 1st edition
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- The War of the Worlds Invasion Large resource containing comment and review on the history of The War of the Worlds.
- The War of the Worlds at Project Gutenberg.
- The War of the Worlds at LibriVox
- TIME Archives A look at perceptions of The War of the Worlds over time.
- Hundreds of cover images of the book's different editions, from 1898 to now.
- The War of the Worlds in English and Russian (parallel translation)