The Sunday evening “news report” interrupted a program of dance music with warnings of explosions on Mars. But it was actually a scripted broadcast of H. G. Wells’ 1898 novel, “The War of the Worlds,” that scared millions that Halloween night.
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 New Jersey farmlands tonight are the vanguard of an invading army from the planet Mars.
Soon, eyewitness accounts were describing shocking details. Martian invaders were causing American deaths, scaring millions of listeners out of their wits. Some called police stations. Others organized prayer groups, or started packing suitcases for an escape . . . before realizing everything had been part of an elaborate Halloween hoax.
When the dust settled, a little known twenty something actor and producer apologized for abusing the public’s airwaves and trust. Three years later, the same young man would release his film masterpiece Citizen Kane, perhaps the best movie ever made.
This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure you that “The War of the Worlds” has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be. . . . We couldn’t soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night . . . so we did the best next thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears.
Martians Among Us
As Dave Bradstreet write in Star Struck, our new book:
This wasn’t the last time the red planet next door aroused our fascination or phobias. “Mars has become a kind of mythic arena onto which we have projected our earthly hopes and fears,” said the late astronomer Carl Sagan.
We Earthlings have long viewed our planetary neighbor through a jumble of fiction and fact. Today, multiple Mars missions are gathering more facts than ever before. We haven’t uncovered any Martians so far, but the scientific research we’re doing fascinates me more than any science fiction.
Fictional Martians had scared Earthlings for centuries, but one sci-fi writer changed all that.
Ray Bradbury did more than any other writer to take science fiction into the cultural mainstream, helping change our negative attitudes with his Martian Chronicles, published in 1950. These aliens looked great, with their “fair, brownish skin” and “yellow coin eyes.” They sounded good too, with their “soft musical voices.”
You can read all about humanity’s fear and affection for Martians in Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos (Zondervan, Sept. 2016). You can order your own copy here.