The War of the Worlds

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The War of the Worlds has entered popular culture, with a vast number of books, films, TV series and comic books using themes from this book, whether acknowledged or not. Adaptations have tended to move the date of the invasion but the basic theme has remained the same.


The original science fiction novel by H.G. Wells describes the invasion of Earth by beings from the planet Mars. Mars having become progressively more inhospitable to life, the Martians are desperate to colonise Earth, and have no compunctions about using their vastly superior weaponry (poison gas, and a heat ray bearing a strong resemblance to a high-power infrared laser) The most advanced human weaponry of the time (1895) is utterly powerless to resist, and the rule of the Martians seems inevitable until they fall foul of microbiology...

The book is public domain, and can be downloaded here or from any other Project Gutenberg archive under the filename warw12.txt or .zip

The book as been viewed as an indictment of European colonial actions in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Seeing how European cultures used technological superiority to anihilate inconvenient indigenous cultures, Wells imagined the tables turned, with the British Empire cast as the "natives".

The theme of the invasion of Earth by extraterrestrials has remined a staple of science fiction ever since, some recent examples being Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, the "Worldwar" series by Harry Turtledove, and the film Independence Day.

The Radio play and the panic

For Halloween in 1938 Orson Welles made a radio adaption. The time was the present day, the invasion relocated to Grover's Mill, New Jersey, and the plan was to present the story in a documentary style. To this end, Welles even played recordings of the radio reports of the famous Hindenburg disaster to the cast to demonstrate the mood he wanted. The play started as an apparently ordinary music programme, interrupted by news flashes. The news reports grew more frequent and increasingly ominous, ending with a lone reporter talking from the top of a building, above the poison gas, asking if there was anyone out there. In the atmosphere of growing tension and anxiety in the days leading up to World War II, many people missed or ignored the opening credits of the programme, and took it to be an actual news broadcast. Panic ensued, with people fleeing the area, and others thinking they could smell the poison gas or could see the flashes of the fighting in the distance. Possibly the most successful radio dramatic production in history.

Amazingly enough, the drama has been rewritten to apply to other locations and rebroadcast, with similar results.

In 1944, a broadcast in Santiago, Chile resulted in panic, including the mobilization of troops by the governor.

In 1949, Quito, Ecuador, a broadcast panicked tens of thousands. Listeners who were enraged at the deception set fire to the radio station, killing fifteen people.


see: false document

Musical adaptation

Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds is a fairly faithful adaptation, starring Richard Burton, Justin Heywood and David Essex, with Forever Autumn, Thunder Child and The Spirit of Man as some of the individual songs. The repetition of 'Ulla!', the sound of the Martians Heat Rays throughout the musical and certain musical refrains pull the musical into a tight coherant whole



The War of the Worlds, Byron Haskins 1952 Moved forward in time again for this film, the Martians face more impressive weaponry, including nuclear bombs, but as ever, the human defences have no effect on the Martian fighting machines. All is lost, with humanity defeated, until the Martians succumb to the smallest and humblest of Earth's living creatures.

Independence Day/Film, Roland Emerich 1996 The aliens (not from Mars) apparently never heard of computer security, and used Earth satellites for their communication system. They were defeated by the plucky heros installing a computer virus onto one of the motherships.

Mars Attacks, Tim Burton 1996 A more humorous treatment, and very loosely based upon the original story. The title comes from a series of bubble-gum cards issued in the 1950s; the appearance of the Martians in the cards and in the film appears to be derived from the 'mutant' in the film This Island Earth. In this version, the aliens are repelled not by the natural germs on Earth, but by Slim Whitman's yodelling which causes their heads to explode.


War of the Worlds, 1988-1990

Martian Mania: The True Story of The War of the Worlds, 1998