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“The War of the Worlds” is an earthshaking comet

Malcolm Streitfeld

Anchor Staff Writer

Picture this: You’re sitting at home listening to the radio. All of a sudden, you hear a terrifying announcement: something from Mars has landed in New Jersey and is now wreaking havoc as it begins its journey across the States. It won’t be long now before this strange visitor destroys your hometown and ends your life. You fly into a panic at the thought of the fast approaching Martian attackers.

On Oct. 30 1938, Orson Welles’s radio series, “The Mercury Theatre on the Air,” played a special Halloween episode: an adaptation of H.G Welles’s 1898 novel “The War of the Worlds” that convinced some listeners that Martians were invading earth.

“The War of the Worlds” follows a citizen of Surrey, England. A meteor soon lands near his house and a strange, bulbous creature emerges, forcing the protagonist to flee as this mysterious figure lays waste to everything around it. As he struggles to survive in a society that has been rapidly thrown into chaos, his younger brother, also a main character, tries to persevere in London. A fierce battle soon begins between the Martians and the English military as the latter desperately tries to hold back an unstoppable onslaught. Countless lives will be lost and several towns will be reduced to ashes as this catastrophic calamity rages on. Will mankind survive or will it become the next species to go extinct? 

Image by Malcolm Streitfeld

This book has my favorite depiction of Martians. Nowadays, most Martians are drawn as humanoid figures with advanced technology who are perfectly capable of conversing and trading with humans. These can range from little green men in flying saucers to “Looney Tunes’” Marvin the Martian to DC’s Martian Manhunter. However, the Martians in this book are nothing like that. They are amorphous, blobby organisms with no set shape that don’t at all resemble human beings. Their ships are round, gray structures on thin legs. Such vehicles probe the landscape using twisting tendrils and if on the offensive can fire a piercing laser from their singular eye. These Martians are so far beyond humans when it comes to technology and science that any communication between the two races is pretty much impossible. They are more akin to Lovecraft’s incomprehensible horrors, like Cthulhu, rather than any kind of animal found on Earth.

Reading “The War of the Worlds” was a humbling experience. It reminded me that humanity can never get too cocky, as we likely won’t always be the top dogs in the solar system. Maybe one day, intelligent life might emerge that has surpassed us, forcing our diplomats to stay on their good side. And yet, this is a story about the resilience and tenacity of the human spirit. The courageous soldiers who fought the Martians are proof that we won’t ever give in against a vastly superior foe and will keep pushing on despite the odds. The Martians may also represent the threat industrialization poses to nature. This book was written in 1898, when smog filled England’s skies and its citizens struggled to breathe. It is a lesson about not taking nature for granted, as otherwise it may destroy our technological progress. Best to clean up the pollution we’ve caused before it’s too late.

H.G. Wells’s “The War of the Worlds” served as a fiery trailblazer for the alien invasion narratives that followed it, paving the way for a whole new subgenre of science-fiction. Go on and see what all the commotion around this book is all about and if you see a Martian, flee for the hills.


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