Fighting machine (The War of the Worlds)

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Fighting machine
The War of the Worlds character
Illustration by Henrique Alvim Corrêa, 1906
First appearanceThe War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (1898)
Last appearanceThe War of The Worlds (2019)
Created byH.G. Wells
In-universe information
  • Tripod
  • Martian Fighting Machine
  • Martian War Machine
OccupationMilitary vehicle

The fighting machine (also known as a "Martian Tripod") is one of the fictional machines used by the Martians in H.G. Wells' 1898 classic science fiction novel The War of the Worlds. In the novel, it is a fast-moving three-legged walker reported to be 100 feet (30 meters) tall with multiple whip-like tentacles used for grasping, and two lethal weapons: the Heat-Ray and a gun-like tube used for discharging canisters of a poisonous chemical black smoke that kills humans and animals. It is the primary machine the Martians use when they invade Earth, along with the handling machine, the flying machine, and the embankment machine.

Description in the Novel[edit]

The fighting machines walk on three tall, articulated legs and have a grouping of long, whip-like metallic tentacles hanging beneath the central body, a single flexible appendage holding the heat-ray projector, and atop the main body a brazen hood-like head that houses a sole Martian operator.[1] The fighting machines are armed with a heat-ray, which is fired by a camera-like device held by an articulated arm, and a chemical weapon known as "the black smoke", a poison gas which is deployed from gun tubes.[2] The fighting machines can also discharge steam through nozzles that dissipates the black smoke, which then settles as an inert, powdery substance.[2] The metallic tentacles, which hang below the main fighting machine body, are used as probes and to grasp objects. The height of the fighting machines is unclear; a newspaper article describes them to be more than 100 feet (30 m) tall.[citation needed] HMS Thunder Child, a Royal Navy torpedo ram, engages a trio of tripods that are pursuing a refugee flotilla heading to France from the southeast English coast; the Thunder Child is eventually destroyed by the Martian heat-ray, but not before taking out two fighting machines.[2]

Martian tripods drawn by Warwick Goble in 1897

The original conceptual drawings for the fighting machines, drawn by Warwick Goble, accompanied the initial appearance of The War of the Worlds in Pearson's Magazine in 1897.[3]


The War of the Worlds (1953 film)[edit]

The Martian fighting machines, designed by Albert Nozaki for George Pal's 1953 Paramount film The War of the Worlds, barely resemble the same machines in the H. G. Wells novel. The novel's fighting machines are 10-story tall tripods and carry the heat-ray projector on an articulated arm connected to the front of the machine's main body, as well as possessing the poison black smoke canisters fired from gun-like tubes. In the film version, the war machines instead possess two different types of death ray weapons, the first having pulsing wingtip ray emitters that cause subatomic disintegration to whatever they shoot, while the second type of death ray each Martian machine uses is a visible, reddish heat-ray, atop a swiveling goose-neck, mounted in a cobra-like head. The film's war machines move about on three invisible legs of energy, which are only briefly visible when moving on the ground upon leaving their initial landing site.[4]

Television series[edit]

The serialized War of the Worlds (1988–1990) television series was established as a sequel to the 1953 film with much of the alien technology in the first season cued with visual references to the design of those in the aforementioned film. An older model of the 1953 film's craft is shown to have physical legs more similar to the novel version.[5]

War of the Worlds (2005 film)[edit]

There are several differences between the fighting machines as described in Wells' novel and those in Steven Spielberg's 2005 film, which come from an undisclosed alien world. In this version the tripods were long ago brought to Earth, having been buried underground sometime in the past. The aliens instead travel in capsules to their buried machines, which transport them underground. In a published interview screenwriter David Koepp stated his belief that they were planted by these extraterrestrials as a part of some kind of alien "contingency plan" (said plan never being revealed to the audience).[6]

H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds (2005 film)[edit]

In Pendragon Pictures' direct-to-DVD H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds the tripods have a large, free-moving head atop the smaller main body, giving its sole Martian occupant a panoramic view. It has three thick, metallic tentacles, which are held on high, made up of boxy-looking segments, making them appear like large bicycle chains rather than slim and whip-like, as described in Wells' novel; they are used mainly to capture humans during the film. The tripods have three long, ridged, and stilt-like legs, which occasionally stride with the right and rear leg moving forward together in a clumsy, unconvincing manner.[7]

War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave (2008 film)[edit]

In the Asylum's 2008 sequel War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave, the walkers are tripods called squid-walkers, and are capable of flight. Unlike the first film, the Martians do not control the fighting machines directly from the inside but manipulate cyborgs by remote control. A heat-ray is attached to the walkers, as well as a kind of ray that teleports humans directly to the alien mothership, where humans are then drained of their blood to feed the invaders. Whereas Wells' fighting machines carried cages to hold captured humans, these tripods place humans directly into the tripods' interiors. These appear organic, with no windows or controls, and the walls absorb anyone unlucky enough to touch them, sending them to an unknown destination.[8]

Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds[edit]

The fighting machines are described in Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds and depicted on the album artwork painted by Michael Trim. This version of the tripods has major inconsistencies when compared to Wells' description in the novel.[citation needed]

Parallel and sequel novels[edit]

In Kevin J. Anderson' The Martian War the Martians use two type of tripods, the ones from The War of the Worlds and a smaller, "overseer" variant. In Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds, the fighting machines are described as having legs that can telescope down allowing for entry and exit, and as being possibly based upon the original body type of the Martians.[citation needed]

Influence on later fiction[edit]

Creatures and machines similar to the fighting machines are featured in video games, such as the Annihilator Tripods from Command & Conquer 3,[9] or the Striders from Half-Life.[10]

Inaccurate coinage[edit]

In 2021, the Royal Mint announced a new version of the UK two pound coin minted in tribute to H.G. Wells. The coins bear an image of a Martian Fighting Machine with four instead of three legs, and The Invisible Man wearing the wrong style hat, resulting in derision from fans and collectors of Wells' work.[11]


  1. ^ "Chapter 10: 'The War of the Worlds' by H.G. Wells." Wikisource. Retrieved: January 31, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Wells, H. G. (1898). The War of the Worlds (2005 ed.). London, England: Penguin Books. p. 116.
  3. ^ Dalby 1991, pp. 92–93.
  4. ^ Rubin 1977, pp. 4–16, 34–47.
  5. ^ "George Pal's 'War Of The Worlds' TV Series (Circa 1975)." Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved: 31 January 2015.
  6. ^ Morris 2007, pp. 353, 357.
  7. ^ Hagerty and Rogers 2008, pp. 118–119.
  8. ^ Hagerty and Rogers 2008, p. 119.
  9. ^ Meer, Alec. "Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars Review". Eurogamer, 26 March 2007. Retrieved: 31 January 2015.
  10. ^ Half-life 2 : raising the bar. Valve Corp. Roseville, Calif.: Prima Games. 2004. ISBN 0-7615-4364-3. OCLC 57189955.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  11. ^ "HG Wells Fans spot Numerous Errors on Royal Mint's New £2 Coin". 5 January 2021.


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