Apocalypse When?

More fascinating lock-down literature this week – listening, rather than reading though. In its many forms over the years, H.G. Wells’ alien invasion epic ‘The War of the Worlds’ has provided a rich source of inspiration for film-makers on both the large and small screens. Ranging from Byron Haskin’s 1953 movie, to Steven Speilberg’s 2005 version and, on TV the 2008/2009 and more recently, the 2019 series (neither of which I have seen). I’ve also listened to several radio dramatisations of it as well. As a kid in the 1960’s, the 1953 movie really got to me: the killing of the group of men soon after the Martian craft landed seemed horribly cruel and marked out the alien invaders as cold and heartless (which is exactly as Wells described them). There were three scenes in the Speilberg version that stood out for me: the destruction of the flyover near the beginning of the movie and the blazing railway train at the road crossing, which was horrifying in so many ways. Bleakest of all though was the sight of countless bodies floating down the river, witnessed by Dakota Fanning’s character. Again, another moment when you realise that the invaders are ruthless, cold and inexorable.

Both movies are set, for purely artistic reasons I’m sure, in the USA, whereas the first person narrative in the book is set in South East England (the Martian invaders were obviously attracted by the convenient rail links to London). Like all good story-telling, in both the book and the films, we see the effects of the invasion in individual incidents and on individual people.

However, while these pictures are made for us, to experience in the cinema or at home, they compare poorly with the pictures created in our minds by a good story-teller. It’s often been said that radio has the best pictures and Michael Bertenshaw’s narration of pretty much the unabridged book has the best pictures of all (sorry Mr Speilberg). It is a combination of master story-telling, a ripping yarn and top-notch voice acting. If you want to have a listen, it can be found on BBC Sounds:


It’s a great example of what good audiobooks can do and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Incidentally, I have a paperback copy of the novel with Eddie Izzard’s autograph in it – strange, but true.

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