The Cold War in The War of the Worlds

Although written before the Cold War, HG Well’s The War of the Worlds is almost clairvoyant in the way it echoes the foundations of the tense conflict that took the earth to the brink of nuclear annihilation. The Cold War brought with it the same suspense that the Brits endured in War of the Worlds, only the world was threatened to be destroyed at the hands of men wielding nuclear power as oppose to a Martian invasion. One of the most interesting comparisons between the factual and fictional conflicts is the importance of information, and misinformation.

Partly what made the Cold War such a terrifying experience for the majority of civilians, was the harrowing silence. On both sides, the USA and the USSR, a silence descended as the iron curtain was drawn closed. In retaliation to this silence, both sides prepared for the worst. War. In The War of the Worlds, a similar silence creates an equally frightening experience. The intensity that is created while the inhabitants of Woking wait for their extra-terrestrial cylinder to open is nail-biting.  At the moment the cylinder opens, “The little group of black specks with the flag of white had been swept out of existence” (page 27). Marking the swift incineration of peaceful civilians. It was a similar real fear for the people living through the political instability of the cold war. The fear that out of the silence would emerge a nuclear heat that would to sweep them from existence.

Sight plays an important part in the narrative, with the harrowing opening “this world was being watched” (page 1).  Wells writes, “intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this Earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us”. Although written about the Martians, you can almost imagine both the Russian and the American governments of the time secretly drawing up their own schemes for ideological domination. Both the USA and USSR employed espionage tactics by using spies to uncover secrets and information, silently observing their enemy. The idea of being watched continues throughout the narrative when the Martians are concealed in their pit “the Martians did not show an inch of themselves…apparently they were busy getting ready for a struggle” (page 40). This continues the idea of not being able to see your opponent, but being aware that they are plotting against you.

Furthermore, newspapers are a fundamental part of the novel, representing the importance of communication and information in a modern society. As the novel moves forward, the mention of newspapers shrinks drastically. You can measure this using the Voyant tool. This is the result of the Martians invading British information, and sabotaging their main forms of communication. By limiting what information the humans could convey to one another, the Martians were able to come so close to global domination. This highlight the importance of information in fighting modern day wars. They are more effectively won through collapsing the others infrastructure than storming the gates.

The similarities are numerous, despite Well’s novel pre-existing the cold war. Perhaps this is due to humans sharing with the Martians an innate desire to conquer other civilizations. After all, Wells highlights at the beginning of the novel the dark history that shrouds British imperialism. I don’t know what is scarier, heat rays wielded by Martians, or nuclear weapons in the hands of men.

 

My Experience at Penguin Random House

Being a History and English Literature student at University, I decided it was time to dedicate some thought into my future. I had by this point whittled down my desires to focus on a career that was primarily literature or writing based.

Fortunately, in October 2016, I was given the opportunity to spend some time on a work placement with Penguin Random House based in London. Having not the slightest knowledge beforehand of what the demands of a publisher would entail, I was a completely blank slate.

Eager for experience, I didn’t specify a particular area of interest, and so I ended up in the Children’s Marketing and Publicity division. My first false preconception, it that everyone would be middle aged, wearing suits and matching pompous sneers as they carelessly threw hopeful manuscripts into bins. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The dress code is casual, so casual that I felt overdressed playing it safe in a shirt and jeans. Furthermore, 90% of the people I got talking to where in their mid-twenties (and I was networking all over the office), and super friendly. So friendly, that I still stay in contact with the majority of the people I worked with to this day.

Naturally, as free labour you are toward the bottom of the pile, and are responsible for the more mundane tasks, such as dispensing people’s mail and running out to purchase stationary. However out of you 8 hour day, these mind numbing processes take up about an hour, maybe two tops. The rest of the responsibilities I was issued were fairly un-standardized and interesting. Like I said earlier, you are essentially team bitch of the department, which means every person in that department emails you every time they want something done. This means you’ve got people from marketing, sales, publicity, and editing sending you emails from all corners of the office begging for your help. Prioritizing these is possibly the hardest task of all, because naturally you don’t want to let anyone down. Regretfully, I couldn’t please everyone, despite staying late where possible. But hey, that’s life I suppose.

The jobs ranged greatly, from checking Jacqueline Wilson’s fan mail (people send her weird stuff), to setting up online competitions, and attending book signings. I managed to spend a lot of time with one of the editors at Penguin Random house, and even aided him with judging a short story contest that was run for charity. Although the role I was given was broad, it’s very easy to streamline yourself into a particular area to better familiarize yourself with a specific role. For example if you are interested in editing, it’s very easy to get chatting to one of the many editors who are floating round the office and offer them your help. I even went for a few drinks with one of them at the end of the day to pick his brain.

I couldn’t recommend the experience enough, especially if you are on the cusp of dedicating your future to publishing. It’s super easy to apply,  You can find the applications clicking here.

If you guys have any questions feel free to drop me an email, as I am aware I have kept this very short and sweet. Also I still stay in regular contact with the people I worked with, so anything I can’t answer I can for sure try and pass on.

Thanks for reading!

The Great War and the War for Middle-earth

I have always been fascinated by the effect that an author’s own personal experiences can have on their literature. In most cases there is evidence of the author’s life seeping into the narrative, having most works being inspired by the changing world around them. Tolkien (shown here on the right in his military uniform) is no exception to this. In many ways, the fantasy world populated by dwarfs and elves is not far from our own history. Or at least the history that Tolkien himself experienced.

“One of the greatest influences on the epic battle for Middle Earth is what Tolkien saw during the Great War. In 1916, instead of bravely facing down a horde of Orcs clad head to toe in the black armour of Mordor, himself wielding a legendary elvish weapon, Tolkien sat in a mud-filled trench on the River Somme, clutching at his Webley service revolver, preparing to face the onslaught of German guns. It was his

experiences in this bloody conflict that inspired many of the heroic battles that take place in The Lord of The Rings. 

The filthy conditions that Tolkien endured lead him develop “trench fever”, and in turn earned him a ticket home from the front to recover. It was during his time in hospitals that he embarked on his fantasy adventure and began writing The Lost Tales.

During his time in hospital, the horrors of the frontline haunted him, and in turn began to plague his writings that would form the foundations of the Lord of the Rings. The threat from the demonic overlord

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Sauron has many similarities with Kaiser Wilhelm the II’s desire for the dominion of Europe. One of which, is the vivid imagery used to describe the wastelands of Mordor which echoes the blood soaked terrain of the western front. “It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire, ash, and dust. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume” (page 261). No doubt the latter part of his quotation is a reference to the use of chemical weapons during the Great War.

Tolkien based many of his characters on his experiences on the front line. From the charming hobbits who dwell in the shire, to the demonic nazgul depicted to the left. Tolkien said “My ‘Sam Gamgee’ is indeed a reflexion of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war”. This serves as a harrowing reminder that the trials and tribulations of characters such as Samwise Gamgee, and the brave men of Rohan and Gondor, may seem far away in distant fiction to the majority of us; but for Tolkien, his writings are based upon the hardships of real soldiers.

Tolkien may have lifted a lot of his fiction from his own experience of the Great War. However, although his writing resonates from real life, Tolkien has made the conflict in his novels far more comforting than the war that he himself experienced. This relates to the idea of Romance, where an author makes the fantasy vaguer which allows readers to insert their own thoughts and anxieties into the text. After all, to envision yourself cutting the head of an orc is far more inviting than Tolkien’s reality of taking the life of another human being.

I found the following biography most helpful in identifying key inspirations from the Great War: Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth. For personal reference it can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Tolkien-Great-War-Threshold-Middle-earth/0007119534

 

 

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