Here at the end of what I’m calling “Version 1.0” of The (De)collected War of the Worlds—which is to say, my initial plan for something that will feel coherent and balanced—I’d like to offer a personal reflection on the project. I am a firm believer in the idea that some of the most effective scholarship involves affective investment, and the process of designing and executing TDWW has challenged me emotionally as well as intellectually and physically. After nearly 175 hours of content creation and site construction (not including preliminary and archival research, reading, or planning), I find myself staggering back and staring at this thing, that, like so many experiments, has taken on a life of its own.
I blame H. G. Wells, of course. Though I’ve been a fairly avid fan of SFF since around third grade, I never thought to pick up Wells’s work until the final year of my undergrad days. My interests in British literature and visual rhetoric culminated in a thesis proposal that would examine the comics series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill through the lenses of Victorian visual culture and adaptation theory. I spent my winter break reading half a dozen late-Victorian novels from which this maddeningly intertextual comic draws, and of course ended up working almost exclusively with the shortest one: The Invisible Man. Griffin’s invisiblity presented an intellectually seductive problem: How does one depict the unseeable?
I soon became fascinated by invisibility and undepictability in literature, and the difficulties those deliberate narrative choices pose for adapters working in visual media. When I undertook my master’s degree in comics studies, late-Victorian undepictability rose to the forefront of my scholarly interests. I explored works by Stevenson, Conrad, and Stoker, and ultimately returned to Wells for my master’s thesis, which analyzed over 110 years of illustrations and visual adaptations of the novel. Beginning with Warwick Goble’s illustrations for Pearson’s Magazine, I traced how artists in all media have taken on the task of depicting alien life and technology that Wells deliberately described as incomprehensible and nigh-undepictable.
And I thought I was done with Wells, or at least that he would take a backseat to other nineteenth-century literature for a while. Surely I was done with The War of the Worlds! It was a great text as a visual adaptation scholar, but I’d spent so much time with it already, and when it came to Wells I favored The Invisible Man, anyway. Indeed, in coursework for my PhD I wrote a paper on undepictability in The Invisible Man and The Picture of Dorian Gray. And after that I set Wells aside again…. until I proposed a course on late-Victorian periodicals, and really, how could Wells be excluded?
Reenter The War of the Worlds, this time in all its serial glory. Alongside my students I spent more time with Goble and dug into the Pearson’s text: short and hasty and wonderful in ways I have since come to love more than I’d thought possible. And the semester was over, and I set Wells aside, and I taught three courses with no Wells whatsoever, and I…
…went to the British Library and the Bodleian and examined (among many other texts) archival copies of Pearson’s Magazine and first editions of The War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man, and once you’ve touched and smelled and taken notes on these things, you have to do something with them.
So here it is. I’ve done something. I hope that it’s something interesting, and useful, and maybe even insightful at times. I hope I’ve put just enough of myself into it to hint at how much of this novel is now in me and what it’s done to me. I’m sure it has errors and holes and failings. I’ll be able to correct some of them in time, but not all. This is a (de)collection: a bringing-together and exploding-apart, endlessly revisable, for good and for ill.
Maybe now I’ll take some time away from Wells for a bit. Maybe we should see other people for a while. I’ve started this thing with Stevenson and I’m not sure where it’s going yet, but I feel pretty good about it. H. G. and I will find our way back to each other. We always do.
Acknowledgements / Accusations:
To Dr. Mita Mahato at the University of Puget Sound, for advising that fateful undergrad thesis;
To Drs. Chris Murray and Keith Williams at the University of Dundee, for pushing me toward The War of the Worlds when I had no special interest in it;
To Harold Poskanzer, for his exhaustive online repository of book covers and illustrations from The War of the Worlds;
To HathiTrust and Indiana University, for the facsimiles;
To the University of Florida Graduate School and Department of English, for that stuff that talks and makes the world go ’round;
To Dr. Terry Harpold, for encouraging me to recklessly bite off more than it is advisable to chew;
To Helen Scott at the Bodleian Libraries, for understanding the importance of magazine covers and advertisements;
To Dr. Hélène Huet and the students of HUM 6836, and to Emily Brooks, Shannon Butts, Spencer Chalifour, Andrea Medina, and Caleb Milligan, for their incisive critique and moral support;
To my long-suffering spouse, friends, family, and colleagues, for humoring me;
To Warwick Goble, for creating a series of illustrations that took me 10,000 words to describe and H. G. Wells 115 words to dismiss;
And to that irresistible rogue, H. G. Wells, who would probably loathe this entire enterprise.