by H. G. Wells
The War of the Worlds has not only been made as a book, as many people think. Hallows Even, or Halloween, 30th of October 1938, the most memorable radio play ever aired was transmitted by the radio station CBS and was, like the book, titled The War of the Worlds. A large part of the American east coast was during and a while after the airing in a state of utter panic. The show was constructed as a report from "the theatre of war", and the only time it was said it was a dramatisation and not real was at the very beginning of the show. People were running bewildered in the street, some said they had seen the sun reflected from the giant tri-pods, other that they had seen the green trails from the falling cylinders, orhets yet that they had felt the heat from the martian heat-ray. The unlucky affair was of course not planned, and Wells himself saw it as a personal insult and the company behind the production was forced to stand forward and make a public appology.
In 1978, Jeff Wayne made a musical based on the book, in which the narrator was Richard Burton, and it set a new standard on how a musical should be made. For example it inspired Danish state radio DR to the method for the alternative "history lessons" in their show "Kid's Radio", aired on Danish P3 between 15.03 and 16.00 on Mondays. The method is simple: A narrator reads the story, from time to time stopped by related musical scores. The musical simply starts with a man, reading a shortened version of the first page of the novel:
No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that human affairs were being watched from the timess worlds of space. No one could have dreamed that we were being scrutinised, as someone with a microscope studies the creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Few men even considered the posibility of life on other planets, and yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably supperior to ours regarded this Earth with envious eyes. And slowly, and surely, they drew their plans against us.
After this quote the music starts playing, after which it is only lowered, not turned off, to let the narrator continue. The text for the songs in the musical are, as it is the norm in musicals, a part of the story, but this is more a narrator's story with background music, so that it is only small bits of the text that is sung. Thus the only text actually sung in the whole first chapter ("The Eve of the War", also used as the main theme) is the text The chances of anything coming from Mars / Are a million to one, he said / The chances of anything coming from Mars / Are a milion to one / But still, they come.
The movie Mars Attacks, from the late 1990s, is a modern, more updated and humorised version of The War of the Worlds. In this movie martians don't land on Earth in cylinders fired from canons on Mars' surface, but in flying saucers, made popular through he many b-movies from the 1950s, and their heat-ray has been replaced with a ray-gun which simply dissolves everything. The opening scene in the movie is very impressive. It is not an impressive battle or lots of special effects, only very effective. You simpy see a family standing outside their house, when suddenly a large herd of cows stampede past them. That isn't the scary part, that is that the cows are on fire.
I have attempted to find out of The War of the Worlds was ever filmed under this name, and in Study Guide for H. G. Wells: The War of the Worlds found one section which mentions a movie from 1953 called "War of the Worlds", which it seems it very close to the novel, though with a few changes to make it more audience-friendly... In the 1953 movie War of the Worlds, thenarrator was made a single man and the curate replaced with an attractive young woman.
The main character is an un-named man, mostly working as the novel's narrator. He is a personal friend of the astronomer Ogilvy, whom we will get to a little later, and is thus one of the first to, the 12th of August, see the flourecent gas-excretions which Mars exhibits for the next ten nights. Both him and Ogilvy find them a beautiful, but somehow disturbing sight. This is not, however, a detective novel where the narrator is also the main character ("Name's Jack Whiskey, privat eye. Whiskey isn't just a name, it's my favorite passtime..."), and thus you don't actually know the man himself all that well, though you know that he has a wife and a respectable house, as well as belong to, if not the higher class, then at least the higher middle class. This does, however, make sense, as it is not him the story is about, but what happens around him during the Martian's attempt at an invasion.
The Narrator's Brother
At a point in the story, the narrator stops telling about himself, to start telling about his brother, who at the time is in London and thus can report on what happens there. The brother can see how people in London are either completely ignoring what happens, or simply do not believe the reports in the news papers. He attempts to go to Woking, where his brother lives, but can not go as all trafic in that direction has of course been cut off. The first while no-one knows what is going one, but as the telegraph is shortly opened again, before they are again cut off they recieve a report from there on the happenings. Still, though, people are not terrified as one might expect. While they may feel sorry for the poor souls on the battle-field, they don't worry further about it as it is of course so far away...
The narrator has made a good friend of an astronomer named Ogilvy. The two are, as mentioned above, amongst the first to witness the gas-excretions, or more precicely gas-explotions, but Ogilvy puts them aside as natural fenomena as the narrator tells him of his worries about them looking like the flame from a fired gun, with the words The chances of anything man-like on Mars are a million to one. You can say that he is right. According to the description in the book, the martians have a much larger similarity to amoeba than to humans. But to mistake this for intelligence was where he went wrong. That said, it puts across a point, in Victorian times well accepted, that only humans can have intelligence, and that everybody else only have instincts. Darwin's theories about how humans came to be, "The Descent of Man", was published in H. G. Wells' time (1871, when Wells was 5 years old), and his attack on the idea that man was the ultimate being, just after God, and thus protector and owner of the planet, not to say the world, was sorely mis-interpreted and used as arguments for Eugenics, or race-hygiene which at the time was an established science.
People in general
Apart from a few very disturbed people whom the Narrator meets (such as a chaplain, who ends up giving himself to what he believes is God's messengers), most people had the same reaction to the Martian invasion as Brits do to most things: Oh my, how interesting. Another cup of tea? When the same was attempted in the USA, not only the news papers, but the radio brought the information. I am here thinking of the radio play mentioned above. Of course, we should mention that at the time, no-one knew anything about this type of thing. They did not have the wide ranging heritage that we have now, where seeminly every day there is a new type of invasion or such to take care of for one space hero or other.
Wells have before writing The War of the Worlds put some serious research into where and how, and also shows his adeptness in the art of describing things like they are, but without going into such detail as it might as well be a text book for geography lessons. There is only one way to do this in a way that is believable: Use existing locations in your story. Which he did.
The War Loving Man
There are a few very intersting observations to be made on war and it's brethren in The War of the Worlds. The most important, and disturbing is that the novel was written in 1898; More than 10 years before World War I, and more than 40 years before World War II. Why is this important? It is really rather simple. If it had been written after World War II, it might easily have been attributed to the conflict between the Nazis and the rest of us. While this is not the case, what then did inspire him to this inferno of death and destruction, worthy of Godzilla? According to himself, the idea comes from his brother Frank Wells (according to Arthur C. Clarke in the introduction to the Annotated The War of the Worlds):
A practical philosopher with a disbelief even profounder than that of the writer in the present ability of our race to meet a great crisis either bravely or intelligently... Our present civilisation, it seems, is quite capable of falling to pieces without any aid from the Martians
The biggest wars up through history have been fought on the basis of religion, and even if this is not the case in The War of the Worlds it is still a big part of the story. There is also a large selection of quotes from the Bible in The War of the Worlds, and the following is a list of the places in the Bible, with the location written after them. The list is taken from Stody Guide to H. G. Wells: The War of the Worlds, but has been edited to fit the medium:
Chapter 1.9: Fishers of men - fighters of fish - Matthew 4:19
Chapter 1.11: Pillars of fire - Exodus 15:21-22
Chapter 1.13: A refence to Soddoma and Gommora - Genesis 18:20-28
Chapter 1.13: The smoke of her burning goeth up for ever and ever! - Revelations 14:11
Chapter 1.13: The chaplain's interpretation of the Martians' attack - Revelations 6:16-17
Chapter 2.4: The wine is blood - Isaiah 63:1-19
Chapter 2.8: A reference to Solomon - Judges 13:1 - 16:31
The English translation of the Bible, approved in 1671 by King James is, even with it's immense amount of mis-translations and deliberate changes, an enormous and important piece of work, probably the literary work with the most influence on written English as a whole. At the time it was the biggest work released in English, and many of the linguistic terms used in it had never been used before. In this way the King James Bible can be likened to H. G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds, as in they both had to create a lingo for the story they were telling. Before The War of the Worlds was published, things like ray-weapons had never been described before, and thus Wells was forced to describe them in such detail as he did. Many of the things in the novel had already been described by other, for example telescopes were, even though they were not every man's, not wholly unknown.
All in all H. G. Wells has produced a piece which will stand out as one of the greatest ever works of Science Fiction. It is of course not the only one of its kind, but it was probably the first to work with this particular subject. In the time before the publishing of The War of the Worlds, Germany had begun stockpiling weapons, and a couple of years before it's being published, novels and novellas on the subject of war in Europe had begun surfacing. This may in reality simply another one of those, seen as it is about war in Europe, though not about war between European nations, but between Earth and [Mars. But still, a book which is definately worth reading.