Blog Post #3: H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds

The venerable group that’s taking on H.G. Wells’ science-fiction masterpiece War of the Worlds is none other than myself (jamescassar), Eric (ericweitzner), Ally (allyouellette), and Yura (yurakim). Our project will be available over at (eventually).

Check out our collection of texts, both visual and digital, after the jump!
Print Editions (in order by catalogued publication date)

1) The War of the Worlds (Tauchnitz, 1929)
Judging by the title page, this version of Wells’ novel seems to be a member of an encyclopedic collection of the work of both British and American authors. In fact, it seems that the Tauchnitz family of publishers seemed to accomplish this lofty goal up until the mid-20th century, through a giant bibliography collected in 1988 by the Bowdens, immortalized online here.
This aside, the edition is actually a facsimile, or “preservation photocopy” of the original, as a page after the text of the novel explains, completed by BookLab, Inc in 1995. This must be the case for many volumes of older works in the UVA Library System independent of Special Collections. Regardless of that, the text appears to be a faithful reproduction of the original (yet inaccessible) source material.
However, there’s one anachronism that takes away from the magic of surveying a visually antiquated book. At the very end of the narrative, a page seems to showcase the  photocopiers in the mid-Nineties, and there seems to be a misprinted page of text. It’s an interesting blunder, but it hinders the seamless transition from source to simulacrum.

2) The War of the Worlds (Buccaneer Books, Inc., 1983)
Buccaneer Books could very well have been a budget-minded publisher back in 1983 — and this served them well, apparently enough to warrant still remaining in business. As for this version of The War of the Worlds, it’s incredibly associated with this economy-grade mentality. The title page alternates between utilitarian serif font (and a big, ugly company logo in Times New Roman), a trend which continues throughout the rest of the printing. There are virtually no frills at all here, just Wells’ original prose typeset and repackaged. This pattern reprises two decades later with the equally frugal Bantam Classics reissue. However, a minimalist presentation does lend more attention to the text itself than any auxiliary additions.

3) A Critical Edition of The War of the Worlds: H.G. Wells’s Scientific Romance with Introduction and Notes by David Y. Hughes and Harry M. Geduld (Indiana University Press, 1993)
When a novel is repurposed under the label of an university press, it usually is accompanied by excessive academic commentary. Naturally, this version of the text functions in this manner. The novel is preceded by a myriad of essays that outlines the work’s critical and popular reception in its original context, as well as a dissection of the book’s central themes and historical background. However, academic text is amply supplemented with interesting and rare visual material — including a map of the plot’s Martian invasion, Wells’ sketch of the alien creature, and a scattering of promotional material for the book’s eventual radio/TV programming progeny (including one of the electronic editions surveyed – Orson Welles’ radio special).
This critical text is both substantive and authoritative — delving not only into literary but biographical analysis of Wells and the sociopolitical climate that shaped his science-fiction story — and a definite resource for the Wells scholar or curious reader.

4) The War of the Worlds – A Critical Text of the 1898 London First Edition, with an Introduction, Illustrations, and Appendices (McFarland, 2001)
Like the previous text, this edition attempts to serve as a Wellsian authority. The introduction to the text depicts how Wells originally serialized his work in Pearson’s Magazine during most of 1897 and then later revisited it to publish it in book format the following year. Leon Stover, the editor of this version, includes a very detailed bibliography that notes and references Wells’ own articles and musings on the novel, and what he suspects may have influenced Wells’ writing.
Both critical editions do focus more on visual representations of Wells’ world — here best displayed through a collage of Martian profiles — but this particular version couples visuals with a related page of the novel’s text on the facing page. This duality makes for a more natural, simultaneous reading experience that varies a scholar’s experience with the century-old tale.

5) The War of the Worlds (Bantam, 2003)
Unlike the preceding editions, this was the only one not procured from the stacks in Alderman. It lacks the signature red leather binding of most texts in the library and offers a view of the novel from a consumer perspective. Its jacket artwork is bombastic and futuristic, but its mass-market paperback build is clear from its cheap price. This “cheap” nature carries over into the text’s presentation as usual — which borrows Buccaneer’s penchant for Times New Roman, but uses the age-old font for the entire text, titles and all. This lazy design is reproduced with the novel’s back cover, which probably mimes the text from the 1988 Bantam issuing of the novel. The unedited blurb references the semicentennial of the original broadcast of Welles’ legendary radio special of the novel — which aired in 1938. Quality control qualms aside, for entry-level readers of classic, public domain works in an affordable format, this is a definitive edition.

Check out electronic editions of The War of the Worlds (some may surprise you) below!
Electronic Editions (in order of original date of release)

1) Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds radio broadcast (1938)
Imagine being a rural farmer in the late 1930s. You turn on your radio to relax after a long day in the fields, content that you and your cows have completed a good day’s work when an official sounding newscast informs you that the world is being invaded by Martians. Naturally, you panic. This is what happened when Orson Welles (unfortunately unrelated to H.G. Wells because that would be entirely too rad) ran his 1938 radio broadcast on Halloween Eve. The broadcast interspersed quotations from Wells’s original text with news bulletins, interviews, commercial breaks, references to authority figures, and universities. Welles changed the setting to a more local anonymous town in New Jersey, and changed some other town names. Despite the artistic license Welles took in his interpretation, the radio broadcast remains true to the essential plot points in the original text.

2)  War of the Worlds (1953)

The first of two film versions adapted from the Wells’s text, this film makes an attempt to modernize Wells’s work. Well, modernize as much as the 1950s can. While it is more faithful on the whole to the source material, the narrative looks at events collectively as opposed to focusing on the experience of Wells’s narrator alone. Interestingly, this version of the text came out in the midst of the Red Scare and McCarthyism.

3) Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds (1978)

The second audio version of the text gives you a little more musicality with a reading of the text. Actually, a lot more musicality in the form of prog-rock (that’s progressive rock for the uninitiated and yes, it is characteristically synth-heavy with songs clocking in at 20 minutes on average- think 70s Pink Floyd). This version was the #38 best selling album in the UK  which gives a pretty good indication of its popularity and commercial appeal.

4) Project Gutenberg HTML version (1992)

What would any post on electronic editions of the text be without mention of Project Gutenberg? The advantages of a straight HTML version of the text are found mainly in the accessibility of the text. It’s online. It does not have to be downloaded. You can scroll up through the entire length of the text and search for specific terms. But the bare-bones presentation gives the impression that one is reading a non-fiction article instead of a science-fiction masterpiece. And, real talk, staring at screens for extended periods of times is bad for the eyeballs.

5) War of the Worlds (2005)

The second of the two cinematic versions of the text is a Hollywood action-adventure-apocalypse blockbuster. With an all star cast featuring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning this movie is the most stylized version of the text we found. It is also, sadly but somehow predictably, the version which deviates the most from the original source material. Modern day Hollywood gave the anonymous narrator a name and a child and anchors the audience in the relationship of the two. While in some ways this makes the text more approachable (the protagonist is not only fighting to save planet earth and return home to his wife but also has a little girl to keep safe!) it forces the audience to re-assess the motivations of the character in ways that are not true to the original text.

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