The war of the worlds

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German First edition, Perles, both cover versions, Vienna, 1901

The War of the Worlds ( Engl. Original title: The War of the Worlds ) is one of the most famous and important works of H. G. Wells . The book was published in 1898, and several editions followed. The German translation by Gottlieb August Crüwell was published in 1901. War of the Worlds became famous as a radio play in 1938 on the eve of Halloween based on a script by Howard Koch and later in several film adaptations (first in 1953).


Attack of the Martians in War of the Worlds , book illustration by Alvim Corréa , 1906

In this work by HG Wells, which was published in 1898 and is fundamental to science fiction , Martians attack the United Kingdom in three-legged war machines in order to conquer the earth, which is rich in raw materials and water. The terrestrial military is hopelessly inferior to the alien invaders and has to watch the cities being destroyed. Only the bacteria of the earth can the Martians defeat due to their inadequate immune system .

War of the Worlds was designed as a satire on the colonial politics of the Empire and exchanged the roles of conquerors and victims to the detriment of the British. An additional nasty swipe was the fact that the most primitive forms of life known at the time saved the British Empire.

radio play

The book was staged by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater as a radio play in the form of a fictional report based on an adaptation by Howard Koch , which the American radio station CBS broadcast on the evening before Halloween on October 30, 1938. For this purpose, the location was moved from England to Grover's Mill ( New Jersey ) in the USA and the story was adapted accordingly.

Effect of the radio play from 1938

According to newspaper reports, the radio play led to severe irritation among the population of New York and New Jersey, who in part considered the radio play to be an authentic report and considered an actual attack by aliens to be credible. This was because Welles used a new type of recording: he recorded the radio play the day before and then had music under it. As a result, the recordings looked like the normal radio program, in which the presenter occasionally interrupts to spread the latest news about the invasion. The coverage of these incidents made the show and with it the young Orson Welles world famous.

The more recent communication science research literature, however, clearly questions a possible mass panic . Today it is assumed that it was an invention of the daily press, behind which on the one hand there may have been sensationalism and on the other hand the intention to brand the young competing medium radio as irresponsible. Against the depiction of a mass panic, which was mainly spread by the tabloid New York Daily News , also speaks that Welles' program, according to a telephone survey carried out at the time of the broadcast, achieved an audience rate of just 2 percent, which nevertheless corresponded to around 2.6 million listeners. At most some (28%) of these listeners are said to have fallen for the radio play; the number of calls on the CBS station was higher than usual, but reports of suicides or even the treatment of shock patients could not be verified. In addition to the sensation-seeking press reports, a study by the demoscopist Hadley Cantril published in 1940 is responsible for the legend of the mass hysteria , which shows numerous methodological errors.

“It was a shock to us that HG Wells' old classic, the role model for so many stories and even comic strips, triggered such reactions among the listeners. The invasion of Mars monsters was just a fairy tale for us. "

- Orson Welles

Orson Welles and his screenwriter Howard Koch used the spectacle as a career opportunity. Welles later stated that he did not expect the radio play to be a success and therefore made the reference to Halloween in order to at least somehow attract attention. Koch, who had already written the script for the radio play in 1938 , also worked on the subject for the documentary film The Night That Panicked America in 1975 , which describes the radio program and the public reaction.

Further radio play implementations and their effects

On February 12, 1949, the Quito radio station broadcast a version of the story relocated to Ecuador. In order to increase their impact, the country's socialist parties were attacked at the same time by replacing the Spanish expression Marcianos with Marsistas (which acoustically cannot be distinguished from the word Marxistas ). As a result, there was a tremendous panic in the capital, which turned into anger when the fictional character of the show emerged. An angry mob gathered in front of the radio station and set it on fire, killing six.

In 1977 the WDR broadcast a German adaptation of the radio play by Howard Koch and the translation by Robert Schnor . The US-American production was partly retained in the original and translated by German speakers using the so-called voice-over process . Speakers directed by Klaus Schöning :

The well-known German radio journalists Dieter Thoma and Lothar Dombrowski acted as moderators and announcers in the studio, who thus apparently brought real news about the invasion. Despite the multiple interspersed references to the fictional character and despite the clearly audible age of the original recording, there were many worried calls when it was first broadcast.

In 1997 a new recording of the radio play followed, directed by John de Lancie and with speakers from the television series Star Trek (including Leonard Nimoy , Gates McFadden ) as part of the LA Theater Works.

On Halloween 2010, the Hamburg radio station Oldie 95 broadcast a German version of the original US version. At UFOs over the Elbe , the story was transferred to Hamburg. Both the original locations of the Hanseatic city and the original presenters and on-air elements were used, so that actually concerned Hamburgers called the police after broadcasting on VHF 95.0.

In 2017, an elaborate German-language version of the audio book, which is closer to the original version of the novel, was published by Lübbe Audio . Speakers included Sascha Rotermund , Santiago Ziesmer , Till Hagen , Peter Kirchberger and Andreas Fröhlich .

Further processing

In 1953 the book was made into a film under the direction of Byron Haskin , with a plot set in the USA. Since the animation of the three-legged fighting machines was considered technically impossible or at least priceless ( stop-motion did not seem realistic enough), flying machines were invented in their place, the design of which is one of the most famous spaceship designs in science fiction. The George Pal production received an Oscar in the Visual Effects category in 1954 . In Germany it was released in cinemas under the title Battle of the Worlds .

In 1957, 19 years after the radio play, the CBS broadcast a documentary on Halloween in its Westinghouse Studio One series about the first broadcast of War of the Worlds : "The Night America Trembled". The re-enacted studio scenes from 1938, including the mini orchestra and sound maker, appear particularly detailed in this broadcast, produced by the electronics company Westinghouse and interspersed with advertising for electrical appliances and nuclear power.

Christopher Priest's 1976 novel Sir Williams Machine links the plot of Wells' novels War of the Worlds and The Time Machine .

In 1978 the concept album Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of the War of the Worlds by Jeff Wayne was based on the novel, but also deviated from it in parts. Richard Burton acted as narrator in the original version and Curd Jürgens in the 1980 German version . In the German version, the narrated texts and the information in the cover including the individual song titles were translated, but the original lyrics of the songs were retained. Musicians include Justin Hayward , Chris Thompson , Phil Lynott and David Essex . Also in 1978 the radio presenter Frank Laufenberg recorded this musical version with German spoken texts and broadcast it on various radio stations in Germany. Here, too, the songs remained in the original English.

From 1988 to 1990 the American television series " War of the Worlds " was produced. It continues the action from Battle of the Worlds .

The film Independence Day of Roland Emmerich was based in large sections of the plot of War of the Worlds , but can not be called a film adaptation of the book, but depending on the perspective rather than plagiarism or as a tribute to Wells' original.

Another satirical adaptation is the film Mars Attacks! (1996) by Tim Burton , in which all previous film adaptations on the subject of "Mars attacks the earth" are satirized . The solution to the problem is original: an ancient country and western song in which the country singer Slim Whitman yodels and thus makes the brains of the Martians burst.

In 2005, HG Wells' The War of the Worlds by Timothy Hines and War of the Worlds by Steven Spielberg were published. Spielberg's work was set in the 21st century, while Timothy Hines' film is set in the Victorian 19th century and is the closest film to the novel with a running time of 180 minutes. The author has partly taken complete dialogues word for word from the novel.

Steven Spielberg's film adaptation was parodied in the film Scary Movie 4 (2006).

In the Halloween episode War of the Worlds (OT: Treehouse of Horror XVII ; Season 18 ) of the US animated series The Simpsons , which is held in sepia brown tones , both the radio play and the corresponding reactions of the population are broadcast in the Springfield of the 1930s.

The idea of ​​three-legged aliens was used by John Christopher in his trilogy of novels The Three-Legged Monsters , also known in Germany as The Three-Legged Rulers .

The second volume in the comic series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen put the heroes, including characters from HG Wells, into the war of the worlds .

In the novel Otherland by Tad Williams , a part of the protagonist is put into a computer-generated simulation of the destroyed after the attack London.

The three-legged, alien "Strider" of the 2004 first-person shooter " Half-Life 2 " and the "Annihilator Tripods" of the strategy game " Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars " published by EA Games can be understood as an allusion to the aliens in the novel become.


After a short story by Manly Wade Wellman : Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds (German: Sherlock Holmes versus Mars ) was published in 1975, which described the Mars invasion from the perspective of another contemporary witness, the detective Sherlock Holmes , one was published in the USA in 1996 Anthology War of the Worlds - Global Dispatches compiled by Kevin J. Anderson with 19 (fictional) eyewitness reports, for example Albert Einstein , Jack London , Rudyard Kipling , Winston Churchill , Pablo Picasso , Leo Tolstoy , Mark Twain or Jules Verne , like this one Witnessed Mars invasion.

This collection has not yet been translated into German. In addition to the events that Wells reports on, it describes the Martian invasion in numerous other places around the world and a changed history of the 20th century after mankind adopted the technical achievements of the Martians and the development of the world took a completely different course, with an earlier independence of China (due to the annihilation of the European occupying powers in China by the Martian invaders), an early Russian democracy (due to the death of Stalin in the fight against the Martian machines), a discovery of the connection between gravity and time (due to the one trapped in a war machine Albert Einstein).

Film adaptations


  • 2001: Justice League: Secret Origins (the pilot of Justice League is loosely based on HG Wells' novel)
  • 2012: War of the Worlds: Goliath 3D (animated sequel to HG Wells' classic)

Special offers:

  • 1975: The Night That Panicked America (The night the Martians attacked America)
  • 1998: Martian Mania: The True Story of The War of the Worlds (When the Martians Came)
  • 2008: UFO Files, Episode 2: "Beyond The War of the Worlds" ("War of the Worlds")
  • 2011: Great Books: The War Of The Worlds (Great Books: War Of The Worlds)
  • 2013: War of the Worlds - Orson Welles shocks America: The War of the Worlds


English editions

German editions

Novel translations


  • Illustrated classics # 6: The War of the Worlds , International Classics, Hamburg 1956 ( Classics Illustrated # 124, USA 1955).
  • Amazing Adventures # 18–39 featured Killraven, a 21st century freedom fighter against a second Martian invasion, USA 1973–1976.
  • Marvel Classics Comics # 14, comic book adaptation of the novel The War of the Worlds , USA 1977.
  • DC Showcase # 3: Superman - War of the Worlds , Panini Comics , 2002 ( Superman: War of the Worlds , Elseworlds - History of DC Comics , USA 1999).
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Volume II , a comic strip written by Alan Moore and drawn by Kevin O'Neill, USA 2002–2003. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen # 2: War of the Worlds was published in Germany by Panini Comics in 2009.
  • War of the Worlds , Dark Horse Comics , USA 2005/2006.
  • Second Wave: War of the Worlds , six issues, Boom! Studios , USA 2006.
  • In a modified form, a version of the story was also published in the Funny Pocket Book # 139 with the title Voll in Fahrt ( Ehapa-Verlag , Leinfelden-Echterdingen 1989, pp. 149-207).

List of radio plays

Audio books


Web links

Commons : War of the Worlds  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: The War of the Worlds  - Sources and full texts (English)

Individual evidence

  1. It was also broadcast shortly after the Munich Agreement and at a time when live reporting was emerging, according to John Houseman: "The Men from Mars", Harper's Magazine , December 1948.
  2. ^ Reports appeared in the London Times : "Panic Caused by Broadcast" of November 1, 1938, 1.
    R. de Roussy de Sales: Un cas d'hallucination collective en America: les Martiens envahissent le New Jersey . L'Europe nouvelle 21, November 19, 1938, 1269-1270.
    Christoph Drösser: Did Orson Welles' radio play "War of the Worlds" trigger mass panic in the USA in 1938? Die Zeit , March 21, 2015.
  3. ^ Jefferson D. Pooley: Checking Up on The Invasion from Mars: Hadley Cantril, Paul Felix Lazarsfeld , and the Making of a Misremembered Classic . In: International Journal of Communication 7 (2013) . S. 1920-1948 . See also: Jefferson Pooley, Michael Socolow The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic . In: Slate , October 28, 2013.
  4. ^ Mathias Schulenburg: In the beginning there was a magic box. In: Deutschlandfunk broadcast “Calendar Sheet”. May 6, 2015, accessed May 7, 2015 .
  5. Jiri Hanzelka / Miroslav Zikmund: South America - With the head hunters . People and World Berlin, 1958.
  6. Source is missing!
  7. HG Wells, mediabühne, Sascha Rotermund, Santiago Ziesmer, Till Hagen: The War of the Worlds - Part 01 to Part 04: Collectors Box. Bastei Lübbe, 2017, ISBN 978-3-7857-5513-6 .
  8. The Night America Trembled in the Internet Movie Database (English) Documentary fiction by CBS / Westinghouse from 1957 (English).
  9. Critique of War of the Worlds (3-part radio play by Oliver Döring) . In: Popshot . ( [accessed on August 16, 2018]).