The Very First Illustrations of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1897)


H.G. Wells’ tales of fan­tas­ti­cal inven­tions, nev­er-before-seen beings, time trav­el, and alien inva­sion prac­ti­cal­ly cry out for visu­al and son­ic accom­pa­ni­ment. Of all the oth­er artists’ inter­pre­ta­tions of his 1898 nov­el The War of the Worlds, Orson Welles’ infa­mous Hal­loween 1938 radio broad­cast remains best known, but var­i­ous illus­tra­tors have also brought the sto­ry of mer­ci­less­ly destruc­tive Mar­tians’ arrival on Earth to equal­ly vivid life. Last year, we fea­tured Brazil­ian illus­tra­tor Hen­rique Alvim Cor­rêa’s hor­ri­fy­ing work for the 1906 edi­tion; today, we go back before The War of the Worlds’ first edi­tion to behold the aliens as ren­dered by War­wick Gob­le.


“I’m doing the dear­est lit­tle ser­i­al for Pear­son­’s new mag­a­zine,” Wells wrote to a friend, “in which I com­plete­ly wreck and sack Wok­ing — killing my neigh­bours in painful and eccen­tric ways — then pro­ceed via Kingston and Rich­mond to Lon­don, which I sack, select­ing South Kens­ing­ton for feats of pecu­liar atroc­i­ty.” That dear­est lit­tle ser­i­al, after its 1897 run in Pear­son­’s Mag­a­zine in the U.K. and Cos­mopoli­tan in the U.S., appeared the next year in book form as The War of the Worlds, a com­mon pub­li­ca­tion pro­ce­dure for pop­u­lar Eng­lish-lan­guage nov­els in the 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry.


“The sto­ry is still a bit rough round the edges,” writes sci-fi author John Guy Col­lick, but “what makes the mag­a­zine spe­cial are the fan­tas­tic illus­tra­tions by War­wick Gob­le. These are the first pic­tures of the Mar­tians and their tripods and, I think, the best.” He prais­es their low-tech style and their faith­ful­ness to the text: “in the nov­el Wells is at pains to point out that the Mar­t­ian legs are rigid,” not artic­u­lat­ed as the films and oth­er illus­tra­tions have tend­ed to por­tray them.” The Mar­tians them­selves he con­sid­ers a “bit too cute, though they are the first attempt to visu­alise beings from anoth­er world,” and these depic­tions of ter­ror from anoth­er plan­et (more of which you can see here) cer­tain­ly marked a depar­ture in Gob­le’s chil­dren’s book-ori­ent­ed career. Even an artist of whim­sy has to cause a few night­mares once in a while.


Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hor­ri­fy­ing 1906 Illus­tra­tions of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds: Dis­cov­er the Art of Hen­rique Alvim Cor­rêa

The War of the Worlds on Pod­cast: How H.G. Wells and Orson Welles Riv­et­ed A Nation

Orson Welles Meets H.G. Wells in 1940: The Leg­ends Dis­cuss War of the Worlds, Cit­i­zen Kane, and WWII

H.G. Wells Inter­views Joseph Stal­in in 1934; Declares “I Am More to The Left Than You, Mr. Stal­in”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Kinetic Gothic Tank says:

    Wells opin­ion of the illus­tra­tions as insert­ed into the book, after­ward…

    “I recall par­tic­u­lar­ly the illus­tra­tion of one of the first pam­phlets to give a con­sec­u­tive account of the war. The artist had evi­dent­ly made a hasty study of one of the fight­ing-machines, and there his knowl­edge end­ed. He pre­sent­ed them as tilt­ed, stiff tripods, with­out either flex­i­bil­i­ty or sub­tle­ty, and with an alto­geth­er mis­lead­ing monot­o­ny of effect. The pam­phlet con­tain­ing these ren­der­ings had a con­sid­er­able vogue, and I men­tion them here sim­ply to warn the read­er against the impres­sion they may have cre­at­ed. They were no more like the Mar­tians I saw in action than a Dutch doll is like a human being. To my mind, the pam­phlet would have been much bet­ter with­out them”

  • Jimbo Slice says:

    I’m glad that the only com­ment here points out that Wells him­self in fact WASN’T at pains to point out how the machines where rigid and not artic­u­lat­ed and in fact was try­ing to empha­sise exact­ly the oppo­site and how dis­s­a­point­ed he was with these illus­tra­tions for not real­is­ing that, that he felt the need to add an extra verse into lat­er addi­tions of the book to high­light how out of touch these illus­tra­tions where from his vision.

    It’s always amus­ing to me when the “experts” get it wrong! One day some­one will learn to at least apply a basic amount of research to arti­cls like this before pub­lish­ing them giv­en that this infor­ma­tion real­ly isn’t dif­fi­cult to find (In fact all you need to do is read any mod­ern pub­li­catin of the back to see the para­graph above to learn Mr Wells’ oppin­ions on the mat­ter).

  • Matt Wingett says:

    Hi, thanks for putting these pic­tures up. I have an orig­i­nal set of Pear­son­’s with these in, but am struck by how much clear­er your images are. Did you process them after scan­ning, and if so, how? Would love to know to enhance my images. Thanks! Matt

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