Edward Gorey Illustrates H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds in His Inimitable Gothic Style (1960)

The sto­ry of mali­cious space aliens invad­ing Earth has a res­o­nance that knows no nation­al bound­aries. In fact, many mod­ern ver­sions make explic­it the moral that only fight­ing off an exis­ten­tial threat from anoth­er plan­et could uni­fy the inher­ent­ly frac­tious human species. H.G. Wells’ 1898 nov­el The War of the Worlds, in many ways the arche­typ­al telling of the space-invaders tale, cer­tain­ly proved com­pelling on both sides of the pond: though set in Wells’ home­land of Eng­land, it made a last­ing impact on Amer­i­can cul­ture when Orson Welles pro­duced a thor­ough­ly local­ized ver­sion for radio, his infa­mous War of the Worlds Hal­loween 1938 broad­cast. (Lis­ten to it here.)

And so who bet­ter to illus­trate a mid-2oth-cen­tu­ry edi­tion of the nov­el than Edward Gorey? He was born in and spent near­ly all his life in Amer­i­ca, but devel­oped an artis­tic sen­si­bil­i­ty that struck its many appre­ci­a­tors as uncan­ni­ly mid-Atlantic. His work con­tin­ues to draw descrip­tions like “Vic­to­ri­an” and “goth­ic,” sure­ly under­scored by his asso­ci­a­tion with the British lit­er­a­ture-adapt­ing tele­vi­sion show Mys­tery!, for whose title sequences he drew char­ac­ters and set­tings, and the young-adult goth­ic mys­tery nov­els of Anglophile author John Bel­lairs. The Gorey-illus­trat­ed War of the Worlds came out in 1960 from Look­ing Glass Library, fea­tur­ing his draw­ings not just at the top of each chap­ter but on its wrap­around cov­er as well. Though out of print, you can find old copies for sale online.

Gorey had begun his career in the ear­ly 1950s at the art depart­ment of pub­lish­er Dou­ble­day Anchor, cre­at­ing book cov­ers and occa­sion­al­ly inte­ri­or illus­tra­tions. In addi­tion to Bel­lairs’ nov­els, he would also go on to put his artis­tic stamp on such lit­er­ary clas­sics as Bram Stok­er’s Drac­u­la and T.S. Eliot’s Old Pos­sum’s Book of Prac­ti­cal Cats, bring­ing to each his sig­na­ture com­bi­na­tion of whim­sy and dread in just the right pro­por­tions. Giv­en the inher­ent omi­nous­ness and threat of The War of the Worlds, Gorey’s dark side comes to the fore as the sto­ry’s long-legged ter­rors arrive and wreak hav­oc on Earth, only to fall vic­tim to com­mon dis­ease.

Gorey’s War of the Worlds illus­tra­tions also seem to draw some inspi­ra­tion from the very first ones that accom­pa­nied the nov­el upon its ini­tial pub­li­ca­tion as a Pear­son­’s Mag­a­zine ser­i­al in 1897. You can com­pare and con­trast them by brows­ing the high-res­o­lu­tion scans of the out-of-print 1960 Look­ing Glass Library War of the Worlds at this online exhi­bi­tion at Loy­ola Uni­ver­si­ty Chica­go Dig­i­tal Spe­cial Col­lec­tions, in part­ner­ship with the Edward Gorey Char­i­ta­ble Trust.

Though con­cep­tu­al­ly sim­i­lar to the illus­tra­tions in Pear­son’s, drawn by an artist (usu­al­ly of chil­dren’s books) named War­wick Gob­le, they don’t get into quite as much detail — but then, they don’t have to. To evoke a com­plex mix­ture of fas­ci­nat­ed antic­i­pa­tion and creep­ing fear, Gorey nev­er need­ed more than an old house, a hud­dle of sil­hou­ettes, or a pair of eyes glow­ing in the dark­ness.

via Heavy Met­al

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

Hear Orson Welles’ Icon­ic War of the Worlds Broad­cast (1938)

The Great Leonard Nimoy Reads H.G. Wells’ Sem­i­nal Sci-Fi Nov­el The War of the Worlds

Hear the Prog-Rock Adap­ta­tion of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds: The 1978 Rock Opera That Sold 15 Mil­lion Copies World­wide

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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