Horrifying 1906 Illustrations of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds


H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds has ter­ri­fied and fas­ci­nat­ed read­ers and writ­ers for decades since its 1898 pub­li­ca­tion and has inspired numer­ous adap­ta­tions. The most noto­ri­ous use of Wells’ book was by Orson Welles, whom the author called “my lit­tle name­sake,” and whose 1938 War of the Worlds Hal­loween radio play caused pub­lic alarm (though not actu­al­ly a nation­al pan­ic). After the occur­rence, reports Phil Klass, the actor remarked, “I’m extreme­ly sur­prised to learn that a sto­ry, which has become famil­iar to chil­dren through the medi­um of com­ic strips and many suc­ceed­ing and adven­ture sto­ries, should have had such an imme­di­ate and pro­found effect upon radio lis­ten­ers.”


Sure­ly Welles knew that is pre­cise­ly why the broad­cast had the effect it did, espe­cial­ly in such an anx­ious pre-war cli­mate. The 1898 nov­el also star­tled its first read­ers with its verisimil­i­tude, play­ing on a late Vic­to­ri­an sense of apoc­a­lyp­tic doom as the turn-of-the-cen­tu­ry approached.

But what con­tem­po­rary cir­cum­stances eight years lat­er, we might won­der, fueled the imag­i­na­tion of Hen­rique Alvim Cor­rêa, whose 1906 illus­tra­tions of the nov­el you can see here? Wells him­self approved of these incred­i­ble draw­ings, prais­ing them before their pub­li­ca­tion and say­ing, “Alvim Cor­rêa did more for my work with his brush than I with my pen.”


Indeed they cap­ture the nov­el­’s uncan­ny dread. Mar­t­ian tripods loom, ghast­ly and car­toon­ish, above blast­ed real­ist land­scapes and scenes of pan­ic. In one illus­tra­tion, a grotesque, ten­ta­cled Mar­t­ian rav­ish­es a nude woman. In a sur­re­al­ist draw­ing of an aban­doned Lon­don above, eyes pro­trude from the build­ings, and a skele­tal head appears above them. The alien tech­nol­o­gy often appears clum­sy and unso­phis­ti­cat­ed, which con­tributes to the gen­er­al­ly ter­ri­fy­ing absur­di­ty that emanates from these fine­ly ren­dered plates.


Alvim Cor­rêa was a Brazil­ian artist liv­ing in Brus­sels and strug­gling for recog­ni­tion in the Euro­pean art world. His break seemed to come when the War of the Worlds illus­tra­tions were print­ed in a large-for­mat, lim­it­ed French edi­tion of the book, with each of the 500 copies signed by the artist him­self.

wells illustrated

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Cor­rêa’s tuber­cu­lo­sis killed him four years lat­er. His War of the Worlds draw­ings did not bring him fame in his life­time or after, but his work has been cher­ished since by a devot­ed cult fol­low­ing. The orig­i­nal prints you see here remained with the artist’s fam­i­ly until a sale of 31 of them in 1990. (They went up for sale again recent­ly, it seems.) You can see many more, as well as scans from the book and a poster announc­ing the pub­li­ca­tion, at Mon­ster Brains and the British Library site.


Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

The War of the Worlds: Orson Welles’ 1938 Radio Dra­ma That Pet­ri­fied a Nation

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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