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The Planet Mars (War of the Worlds)

War of the Worlds Broadcast, 1938

Oct 30

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Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"Ladies and gentlemen, I have a grave announcement to make. Incredible as it may seem, both the observations of science and the evidence of our eyes lead to the inescapable assumption that those strange beings who landed in the Jersey farmlands tonight are the vanguard of an invading army from the planet Mars."

~ The War of the Worlds Broadcast, CBS, October 30, 1938

Since the 1880s when the canals on Mars were first observed, people have been speculating about the existence of Martian life. In literature, Martians have been depicted as various animal forms, humanoids, and gaseous clouds, and in a range of colours - grey, green, red, and even blue! In H.G. Well's 1897 novella, The War of the Worlds, Martians are described as having “a big grey rounded bulk” that “glistened like wet leather,” large dark eyes, tentacles and mouths, “which quivered and panted, and dropped saliva." In the famous 1938 broadcast of the radio play adaptation of Well's story (which caused a regional panic when US listeners assumed they were hearing a news broadcast), Martians were reported to have landed in various places, and after emerging from their cylindrical space ships, to have begun killing people with a Heat-Ray! 👾

The Planet Mars (War of the Worlds)

On October 30, 1938, a radio broadcast of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds panicked thousands of people in the United States who believed that the broadcast was relaying real news about an actual Martian invasion.

The War of the Worlds was an episode of the American radio drama anthology series Mercury Theatre on the Air, directed and narrated by Orson Welles as part of the Columbia Broadcasting Corporation's Hallowe'en broadcasting.

The first two thirds of the 60-minute broadcast were presented as a series of simulated "news bulletins," which suggested that an alien invasion by Martians was in progress. Compounding the issue was the fact that the Mercury Theatre on the Air ran without commercial breaks, adding to the program's quality of realism.


In the days following the adaptation, however, there was widespread outrage. The program's news-bulletin format was decried as cruelly deceptive by some newspapers and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast.  

H. G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds (1898) and its various adaptations have had an extraordinary influence on science fiction writers for more than 100 years. Wells' Martians are a technologically advanced species with an ancient civilization. They resemble cephalopods, with large, bulky brown bodies and sixteen snake-like tentacles, around a quivering V-shaped mouth.  In the novel, they invade Earth because Mars is dying, and they need a warmer planet. They attack cities in southern England, including London, with a deadly heat-ray and they also employ chemical warfare, using a poisonous "black smoke."


In the end, mankind is saved by Earth bacteria, which kill the Martians within three weeks of their earth landing.

H.G. Wells may be been influenced by the the concept of a Martian civilization based on the erroneous belief that there were canals on Mars.  A network of long straight lines in the equatorial regions of Mars were first described by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli during the planetary opposition of 1877, and confirmed by later observers.  But by the early 20th century, improved astronomical observations revealed the "canals" to be an optical illusion.  

For a history of martians in literature, click the vintage trading card from the 1962 series Mars Attacks  - a set of trading cards by pulp artist Norman Saunders, which were considered controversial for their  mix of horror, comedy and science fiction art.

The Planet Mars (War of the Worlds)
The Planet Mars (War of the Worlds)

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