Does that title above look a little off to you? It should. H.G. Wells’ science fiction classic War of the Worlds has been adapted many times since the novel’s original released in 1898. Fighters from Mars, however, is one of the earliest versions serialized in a newspaper or magazine and is most definitely not a faithful reproduction of the original. To find out why, we have to go back to when War of the Worlds first appeared in print.
The public got their first glimpse of War of the Worlds in 1897 when it appeared in Pearson’s Magazine (London, England), a full year before the novel’s publication. From April to December 1897, British readers were entertained each month with a serialized version of Wells’ story of Martians attacking England and creating a swath of destruction from Woking to London. In the U.S., around the same time, Wells’ story was reprinted in The Cosmopolitan: A Monthly Illustrated Magazine (Rochester, New York). Serialized stories were a major source of entertainment back in those days, not to mention a great way to promote a soon-to-be released novel and boost circulation of magazines and newspapers at the same. They were the “must-see-TV” of their generation and H.G. Wells’ tales were already popular among readers due to the serialization of his previous book, The Time Machine, in the National Observer in 1895.
As leading publishers of “yellow journalism” during the late 1800s, emphasizing sensationalism over accuracy or facts with the objective of selling as many newspapers as possible, the Boston Post (Boston, MA) and New York Evening Journal (New York, NY) were eager to jump in on the hype. High circulation trumped honest journalism and War of the Worlds fit the bill perfectly, so both newspapers sought permission from Wells to reprint it. Wells agreed with the proviso that his story not be altered in any way. That last instruction apparently ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. Instead, both newspapers adapted Wells’ story by having the Martians invading their respective cities.
In the Journal, Martians begin their attack in New Jersey before making their way to New York City.
In the Post, the Martians land in Concord head to Boston via Lexington, the same route as British troops took during the Revolutionary War in 1776 (Mollmann, 2010). Both newspapers also opted for a punchier title. The Journal went with the long-winded Fighters from Mars, or The War of the Worlds published daily from December 15, 1897 through January 11, 1898. The Post, not to be outdone and to distinguish itself from New York, decided to go with Fighters from Mars, or The War of the Worlds in and Near Boston published from January 10 through February 3, 1898. Makes for really impactful promotional ads.
Mr. Wells was none too pleased, asserting that “this manipulation of my work in order to fit it to the requirements of the local geography” is a “serious infringement of my copyright” (The Critic, 1898, Mar. 12, p. 184). The papers also amplified the story’s terror and destruction while editing out the “boring parts” such as the narrator’s detailed description of his surroundings as he is fleeing the Martian attack. (Hughes, 1966). Considering the less-than-stellar reputation of these newspapers, it probably should not have come as much of a surprise to Wells that they decided to adapt the story to their local audience.
Post editors went a step further employing Fighters from Mars as a vehicle to influence public opinion of current events, specific in support of the war with Spain to protect U.S.’s $50 million per year investment in sugar trade with Cuba. On February 15, 1898, about a month after the last installment of Fighters, the U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana Harbor. Most agree that this event precipitated the Spanish-American War (April 25-December 10, 1898). As Mollmann (2010) theorizes, Fighters in a way foreshadowed the war with Spain while at the same time encouraging support for conflict. The promotional advertisement shown on the left for Fighters from Mars provides ample evidence.
Like a good blockbuster movie (and keeping the possibility of war top of mind, perhaps?), Fighters spawned a sequel, Edison’s Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss, which recounts Earth’s retaliation against the Martians for attacking Earth with Thomas Edison leading the invasion of Mars. The story began publication in both newspapers the day after the final installment of Fighters.
If you enjoy reading Fighters from Mars and Edison’s Conquest of Mars, the adaptions do not end there. Wells’ tale of Martian invasion has generated numerous adaptions from films to comic books. Drop by the Library of Congress’ Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room to peruse these comic book renditions of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Some are faithful to the original story, others are not, but all are immensely entertaining. Feel free to add to this list in the comments and search the Library catalog for more.
Classics Illustrated no. 124 (1955)
This is a retelling of H.G. Wells’ original story. It is most notable for Lou Cameron’s artwork, especially his rendering of the Martian pods which is considered by many to be the definitive representation of the Martians. So much so, that when artist Ken Stacy was approached to illustrate a new edition several decades later, he refused pointing out that “there’s no way I could do it any better.” (Jones, 2011, p. 147)
Marvel Classics Comics no. 14 (1976)
Comic book legends Gil Kane, famous for bringing back the Green Lantern and The Atom during the Silver Age of comics, and Dave Cockrum, most well-known for Legion of Superheroes (first appearance Adventure Comics no. 247) provided the artwork. Chris Claremont, best known for his work on Uncanny X-Men from 1975-1991, provided the script. Classics Comics was Marvel’s attempt to emulate Classics Illustrated‘s idea of adapting literary classics into graphic novels.
War of the Worlds 1988 (Eternity Comics)
Writer Scott Finley was determined to “create something more that an anemic picture book suitable for your plastic sleeve pile…but not suitable for reading” (Eternity Comics, 1988, v. 1, introduction). Rendered in black and white, this version involves a supposedly ancient underground race of beings who rise from the Earth to attack the local citizenry of the Scottish Highlands circa 1913. The story, published by Eternity Comics, spanned six issues. Warning, this adaptation is not suitable for children since it reads more like a horror comic than a sci-fi fantasy epic.
No discussion of War of the Worlds would be complete without mentioning the 1938 radio broadcast made famous by Orson Welles’ dramatic reading. He recounted the New York Evening Journal’s Fighters from Mars version of events that allegedly caused some to panic because they thought the Martian invasion was real. Of course, the newspapers blew the situation out of proportion to make headlines.
Oh, and again, H.G. Wells was “perturbed” with the changes made to his story. Also, he thought that the radio dramatization should have been “presented as fiction and not as news.” Check out Page from the Past: War of the Worlds blog for more details.
Hughes, D. Y. (1966). The War of the Worlds in the Yellow Press. Journalism Quarterly 43, no. 4, 639–46.
Jones, William B. (2011). Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.
Mollmann, S. (2010). The War of the Worlds in the Boston Post and the Rise of American Imperialism: ‘Let Mars Fire’. English Literature in Transition 1880-1920, v. 53, no. 4, 387-412.
Wells, H. G. (1897). “The War of the Worlds.” Cosmopolitan, pages listed in table of contents under Fiction in each volume:
Wells, H. G. (1897). “The War of the Worlds.” Pearson’s Magazine:
- Vol. 3, Jan-Jun 1897; pp. 363-373, 487-496, 598-610
- Vol. 4, Jul-Dec 1897; pp. 108-119, 221-232, 329-339, 447-456, 558-568, 736-745
*The Chronicling America online collection of historic newspapers is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program that is jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Pro-tip: When searching in Chronicling America, be sure to try both the spellings “theatre” and “theater” in order to get the most thorough results.