Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Supplement: Book Covers for The War Of The Worlds

H.G. Wells' science-fiction alien invasion classic The War Of The Worlds (1898) has been continuously in print for over 100 years. Many of you will be familiar with Wells' basic premise because of the 2005 Spielberg adaptation, with its often chilling 9/11 imagery and channelling of that terrorist attack's trauma.  The 1953 film version, which deservedly won an Oscar for its special effects, dispensed with Wells' iconic image of the martians' tripod fighting machines, substituting green-tipped, cobra-head manta-rays instead and throwing in an atomic bomb.  For me, however, Wells' vision of our wholesale destruction at the hands (or should that be tentacles?) of alien invaders was first impressed upon me by Jeff Wayne's 1978 concept album, featuring the vocal talents of Richard Burton.  If you've never listened to it - you should.  It can still raise a few goosebumps even now.

Wells describes the martian invaders' fighting machines thus: 

"And this Thing I saw! How can I describe it? A monstrous tripod, higher than many houses, striding over the young pine trees, and smashing them aside in its career; a walking engine of glittering metal, striding now across the heather; articulate ropes of steel dangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage mingling with the riot of the thunder. A flash, and it came out vividly, heeling over one way with two feet in the air, to vanish and reappear almost instantly as it seemed, with the next flash, a hundred yards nearer. Can you imagine a milking stool tilted and bowled violently along the ground? That was the impression those instant flashes gave. But instead of a milking stool imagine it a great body of machinery on a tripod stand..."

What's wonderful about Wells' invaders is their simplicity, their iconicity, which offers illustrators ample room for invention and personal style - without obfuscating Wells' original vision of these otherworldly machines.  I've gathered together a collection of book covers from different time periods and countries illustrating the alien tripods for your perusal. Among my favourites is Virgil Burnett's oh-so elegant iteration of Wells' fighting machine and the Danish 1941 cover art that evokes an after-image of Nazi insignias.  Enjoy!

Frank R. Paul (1927) English

Caney (1913) English

Edward Gorey (1960) English

Mike Trim (1978) English

E. P. Jacobs (1986) French

Meinert Hansen (2008) English

Virgil Burnett (1962) English

Anthony Schiavino (2009) English

George Underwood (1975) English

J. Speenhoff (1899) Dutch

Saint-Justh (1964) French

V. Noskov (1956) Russian

Tim Gaydos (1977) English

Unknown (1934) Irish

Unknown (1938) English

Unknown (1941) Danish

Unknown (1939) Dutch

Alvim Correa (1945) Russian

Unknown (1954) Dutch

Unknown (1962) Spanish

Unknown (1964) English

Peter Edwards (1966) Swedish

(back cover)

Unknown (1983) Russia

Unknown (2008) English

Unknown (2008) Spanish

And there are many more book covers  here.


  1. I KNEW you'd know the album, Steve :D

    "The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one he said - ahhhhhhhhhh-ahhhh!"

  2. And don't forget 'My life shall be forever Autumn'. I remember seeing this for my 18th at the O2 arena :)

  3. The '53 film holds up really well. Worth a watch if you're into Sci-fi flicks of that era!

    I just wish Ray Harryhausen had gone on to make his version. The brief test footage of the alien emerging from the craft is wonderful!

  4. Yes - I really like the 53 version and that Harryhausen footage is very, very cute. The other great 50s sci-fi is This Island Earth:

  5. i like its versions .they are astonishing and very sophisticated.

    animation course in chandigarh

  6. Hello my name is Kyle and I have a War of the worlds 10 cent magazine with great cover art it is like the one you have titled 1938 unknown, I have been trying to find more information about this magazine, history - rarity - value - ect.
    Thank you for any help you might be able share