It’s often really difficult for someone to pinpoint their all-time favourite story or book, but I’ve got this one covered. It’s easily War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. For its day, that was some revolutionary writing, and I’m pretty sure is what started the whole sci-fi genre, as well as a global obsession with aliens.
What I love most about this story, though, is surprisingly not even part of the book. It’s what actor/producer/director Orson Welles did with it. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s the brief version.
He freaked out a whole country! Seriously, people were panicking and fleeing towns and everything, just because he adapted the story to a radio script and presented it as a news broadcast. However, most of the country missed all of the numerous announcements that this broadcast was going to be fictitious, because of how most of the country listened to one program on a different station until whatever time, and then switched over to Welles’ station to listen to the second-most-listened-to program. Only by the time they got there, all they were hearing was a reporter halfway through a report of aliens emerging from a ship and killing humans left, right, and centre.
That’s what I love most about this story. The fact that a book was, essentially, brought to life. So many people thought the country was actually being invaded by aliens from Mars, and Orson Welles actually got into a lot of trouble over it, because of damages and rioting and just generally causing public distress. In his defence, though, he did make numerous announcements before the program that it was fictional. Was it really his fault that no one heard that? Think of it like this: you see someone about to walk into a street of heavy traffic. You yell at them to stop, but they don’t hear you, keep walking, and get hit by a car. Then you’re the one being blamed for their injuries. Hey, you warned them, right? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
Although, on the other hand, a lot of people wonder if Welles timed the program specifically so that people would miss the announcements. Now, I think Orson Welles was one of the most brilliant, gifted, and intelligent people to ever grace entertainment, but I also think there’s a strong possibility that he planned the whole thing to play out exactly as it did.
But that just makes me love it more! And I’ve always wanted to be able to do something like that. To write something that people became completely engrossed in and believed to be actual events. Except there was no internet in Welles’ day, so he had the advantage of no one being able to jump online and check to see if neighbouring towns were being devastated by aliens. I’m pretty sure I’d be exposed immediately. All it would take is one kid with an iPhone to search Google and then post all over Reddit that it’s all fake.
Pity. It would have combined both my loves for story-telling and freaking people out.