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Fighters from Mars, or The War of the Worlds in and near Boston

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21 April 2009 | 11:04 pm

After my survey of the plethora of The War of the Worlds-related material out there, I decided that I want to do my project on the unauthorized American reprints that occurred in December 1897/January 1898. I've discussed this here before, but there were essentially four early serializations of the novel:
  • Pearson's Magazine, London (April-December 1897)
  • The Cosmopolitan, New York (April-December 1897)
  • New York Evening Journal (December 1897-January 1898)
  • Boston Post (January-February 1898)
The first two were authorized and overseen by Wells; the last two were not. In fact, the last two changed the location of the stories to match their places of publication. They also changed the titles: it ran as Fighters from Mars, or The War of the Worlds in the Journal and as Fighters from Mars, or The War of the Worlds in and near Boston in the Post. In both American dailies, the novel was followed by Garrett P. Serviss's unauthorized sequel, Edison's Conquest of Mars, where Earth strikes back against the Martians.

Studying how novels were serialized is apparently a bit of a booming field in literary studies these days; you can gain an insight into how a piece would have been seen by examining all the material that appeared around it. And I thought the idea that the story had been appropriated and reshaped from its earliest days was fascinating; I remember a friend complaining when the Spielberg film came out that it had changed the setting, but this seemed only natural to me.

The only problem with my decision was getting the papers. The Journal is available on-line-- starting from the beginning of January 1898. That gave me the second half of the novel only. The Post has not been digitized at all, as best I can tell. (There is a website that has transcribed the first issue of Fighters, but no more.) However, flipping through the PDFs I had of the Journal, I realized that the Spanish-American War had been brewing while the novel was running. I had the beginnings of an argument...

I put in some requests through our interlibrary loan department for the microform reels of the Journal and the Post back in early March, and though my request for the Post was rejected, I received the New York Journal and Advertiser just before spring break, and I looked at it soon after.

It's not the same thing as the Evening Journal. It almost is. Same publisher. Same news stories. But where the Evening Journal has fiction selection, the Journal and Advertiser has classifieds. (There were, however, ads suggesting the reader of the Advertiser pick up its sister paper and read Fighters from Mars.) I put in a request for the proper paper. Rejected again.

At this point, I was getting desperate. I really wanted to do my project on these early serializations. UConn's libraries actually has a complete run of Cosmopolitan, but that just struck me as profoundly less interesting. Who wants the authorized version when you can read the unauthorized one? The thing is, all of these papers are available in New England libraries; they just won't loan them. The Boston Post, for obvious reasons, is available in Boston, just two hours from here. Was I going to Boston?

I knew it would be a day-trip, so I pursued every avenue. The ILL people told me that getting scans was unlikely, and that they could follow up some things more closely. Prof. Tom Recchio told me that it would be perfectly all right to do Cosmopolitan, but I could someday later do the Post if I was still interested. But try as I might, I could not dissuade myself from going to Boston.

I planned on going last Wednesday, but a glimmer of false hope from the ILL folks caused me to push it back. In the meanwhile, I went to Tom's talk on amateur dramatic adaptations of Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford in the early 20th century (fascinating stuff, by the by), and a comment he made about the Spanish-American War gave me my thesis-- the war, he said, was when imperialist authority shifted from Britain to America. Of course! And the entire thing was prefigured in the serialization! In the British version, Earth does not strike back; it's impotent. So it's up to the Americans to carry out the counterstrike that the ineffective old regime cannot.

So, last Friday, I went. I got up early, and I drove to the terminus of one of the "T" lines, where I parked my car. I had to take the Massachusetts Turnpike (or the MassPike, as the locals say), which is a toll road, and I paid to park my car in the station lot. I road the train in to the center of Boston, arriving promptly at 9am-- the hour the Boston Public Library opens.

They had it. Oh, they had it.

I looked at my microform reel until noon, jotting down the pages I wanted to copy. I wanted all of the ads that appeared ahead of time, the whole first issue in which a chapter appeared, any page on which part of the story showed up, the first page of any issue containing the story, and anything else interesting I could find-- usually material about the building tensions with Spain over Cuba, but also stuff about the Hawai'ian annexation, the power of electricity, and so on. (And I must say that turn-of-the-century newspapers were far more entertaining than our own. Giant frogs riding bicycles!)

After I ate lunch (at the overpriced library cafe), I spent the afternoon making copies. I worked from 12:30pm to around 3:30pm, I think, making exactly 204 copies. The microform staff seemed to be trying not to snicker. One lady stared at my pile of papers inquisitively, but never actually asked, so I never actually said.

Mission accomplished, I departed Boston. The first time I have ever been, and all I saw was the library, and what lay between it and the subway station (which is not much). It took me three hours to get back to Vernon; traffic on the MassPike was awful. On the upside, when I stopped at a Connecticut rest stop, there was a Boy Scout troop giving out coffee and food as a fundraiser. I bought a hot dog and donated a bit; I'm a sucker for the Boy Scouts.

I spent most of Saturday putting my photocopies into a binder with slip sheets to keep them organized. (I didn't want to punch holes, for fear I would lose something important.)

I brought it to class on Monday, since it was my week to present. "You've got a dissertation here," said Tom admiringly as he paged through my binder. That might or might not be true, but it's certainly something I can do a lot with, I hope. Only one article has before been published on these early serializations, and it pretty much says little more than "They exist."

I've been spending the last couple days tying up Fighters from Mars. It's a lengthy task, but with an e-text of the original novel as a starting point, I'm already a third of the way through. Even if my eyes do hurt every time I work on that tiny, tiny print. It's a useful way to see the differences-- there's a lot of passages cut, usually ones with 1) science 2) details about ordinary people and 3) problematic actions by the narrator. There's also added material, however: as the tripods destroy Concord, Lexington, and Waltham, we get a blow-by-blow description of every single famous building and monument that they obliterate with their heat-rays. It's the birth of the modern alien invasion or disaster movie, essentially; this book revels in seeing iconic sights destroyed. (Though I dispute the iconicity of the Waltham Watch Company main factory, even if there are usually 400,000 watches "in the course of construction at the same time in the factory.")

It's going to be a great paper.

I've just got to write it first...


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Comments {1}

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from: anonymous
date: 15 July 2012 07:20 am (UTC)

I found it to be an exhaustively boring read and why on Earth my instructor made me write a paper on a stretched theory by ANOTHER student is beyond me.

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