The eerie cry of the martians from H.G. Wells's unforgettable and history changing novel, The War of the Worlds, is a sound that has stayed with me into adult life.
I first heard the Jeff Wayne musical version of the story when very young, and have since managed to obtain a collector's edition version. This set of seven cds and accompanying illustrated book, is one of my prized literary possessions.
Herbert George "H. G." Wells was an English writer born in 1866. While being prolific in other genres, science fiction was where he truly made his mark.
Born in Kent, the youngest child of a domestic gardener and a domestic servant, Wells, or Bertie as he was known at home, discovered the world of books at the age of eight, when, bedridden with a broken leg, he passed the time by reading books borrowed from the local library. His imagination caught fire, and soon the worlds he was reading about and the characters' eyes through which he saw their lives, stimulated his desire to write.
His home life was difficult - his father was injured and could no longer work, leaving Bertie and his siblings to support themselves financially by taking up various unhappy apprenticeships. These unpleasant and exhausting experiences inspired the novels we know today, such as The Wheels of Chance and Kipps.
Through the connections of a distant relative, Wells secured a position as a pupil/teacher at Midhurst Grammar School. His excellent work there, saw him win a scholarship to the Royal College of Science, introducing him to biology, Darwinism and futurism, thus allowing him the mental scope to write the science fiction novels that see him today, labelled as the "The Father of Science Fiction".
About 15 years ago I was at a State Library sale and spotted a "Now Age Illustrated" edition of The Time Machine. Snapping up the bargain, I raced home to devour the "scientific romance" and was truly amazed by the concept of the story - given it was published in 1895 when most people were still rattling about in horse and carriages, wearing bustles and top hats - the concept of time travel using a vehicle that "allows the operator to travel purposefully and selectively" (rather like Dr Who and his Tardis, which began screening in 1963 - a staggering 68 years after The Time Machine was released).
Illustrated by Alex Nino, a Filipino comic book artist who went on to work for DC and Marvel Comics, my The Time Machine adaptation's stark black and white pen and ink drawings, complement perfectly the futuristic, winding, chaotic travels of the main character "... just call me the Time Traveller..." through time and the universe. We are even treated to a lesson on how the time machine works - which is obviously Wells drawing on his past experience as a teacher.
There have been several film and television adaptations of this story, but I will always prefer my illustrated version.
Moving along two years, to 1897... Queen Victoria is still on the throne, Robert Cecil is presiding over a conservative parliament, the first ever wireless communication is sent over open sea, and the general public are now enjoying the first horseless taxicabs in London. The British Empire was the predominant colonial and naval power on the planet, busy invading other countries and terrifying populations. There was also 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.
It is into this setting that The War of the Worlds crash lands. It is "one of the earliest stories that detail a conflict between mankind and an extraterrestrial race", and was received very favourably by both readers and critics. It's one criticism was the "brutal nature" of some of the events described, and I would have to agree - every reading and subsequent listening of the soundtrack really does still stun me - the terror of the events that unfold, the chaos, the violence of some of the characters, and the nasty side of human nature - it's all there, and it's startlingly real.
Perhaps the most famous interpretation of Wells's incredible work was Orson Welles' 60 minute radio broadcast. The first two thirds of this being presented as a news bulletin. As one can imagine, in an era without mobile phones or computers, this radio drama caused absolute panic and outrage amongst listeners who truly believed the events being described to them.
It is by imagining this original broadcast, and the feelings it provoked, that I listen to my audio version nowadays. And despite the book being written so many years ago, in a time without the technology we have in abundance, and the special effects we are now bombarded with at the movies, it still is a scary, hideously thought provoking event being chronicled.
From the martians from Mar's first landing on Horsell Common, close to Wells's home in Surrey, we are taken on a journey of destruction, struggle and calamity. Travelling through space in cylinders, after being fired from huge space guns from the surface of Mars, the martian invasion then proceeds with total disregard to human life. Heat rays, poisonous gas, black smoke, rockets and the dreaded red weed strategically destroy infrastructure, armament stores, railways and telegraph lines. The British Empire is almost totally destroyed - red weed spreads over the English landscape, suffocating everything in its path - and the "muscle-like" martian machinery cuts unmerciful swathes through everything in its path.
The War of the Worlds struck fear into hearts all those years ago - I encourage you to pick up H.G. Wells' unforgettable novel, and draw your own parallels to today's world, take a journey back in time, into the future - ULLA!!!
Fell in love with music of 'War of the World's. Have the ORIGINAL two LP set with illustrated jacket. Bought it on CD when that was released.
Saw stage production a few years' ago, conducted by Jeff Wayne, & thought it to be fantastic!