Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Artilleryman

Today it's 75 years since Orson Welles' version his namesake's War of the Worlds was broadcast on the radio. Yes, it is today. They broadcast it the day before Halloweeen.

Perhaps this helped to explain the panic the original broadcast cause, which wasn't as bad as the myth suggests.

In Jeff Wayne's musical version it's little David Essex who plays him. He gets a song about his Brave New World. He actually sounds quite a nice chap.

Orson Welles' version by contrast is not in the least bit cuddly.

Welles adapted the book in the dark days between Hitler being appeased at Munich and invading Poland, and this shows in how he adapts the character. He appears at 39:35 in this recording, wandering in the ruins of Newark. Here Wells' strange dreamer he has morphed into a fascist gloating over the death of liberal America, and then fantasizing about getting hold of some Martian weaponry himself.

The original artilleryman was less fascistic, but he was certainly no liberal either. We meet the character for the first time after the Martians have just wiped out the soldiers sent to surround their first cylinder.

In reality the Victorian British Army only ever played away, but in literature they were very busy on home ground. It all started with the 1871 novella The Battle of Dorking, which suggests that Bismark's Germany follows up its defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian war with a surprise attack on Blighty. Fiendish Hun technology defeats the Royal Navy and Britain becomes a Kraut colony.

This was followed by The Great War In England (1894), and others, culminating in P G Wodehouse's The Swoop! in 1909 in which no less than eight foreign armies, plus the Swiss Navy, invade whilst the population is more interested in the Test Match score.

The War of the Worlds tapped into this vein of paranoia. Wells being Wells though he also spliced in images of colonial conquest, giving the Martians weapons that were as far beyond what was known at the time as the Maxim gun was beyond the ken of the Zulus it was being turned on in Africa.

Wells' artilleryman is a Working Class bloke who drops his "h"s and doesn't seem too upset that the world he knew has ended. "Life is real again" he says. Nor does he seem to mind much that "There won't be any more blessed concerts for a million years or so; there won't be any Royal Academy of Arts, and no nice little feeds at restaurants."

Then he comes to his great plan. A world underground where he's in charge, everyone obeys orders and nobody wastes any valuable time on stupid arts and stuff. And finally Wells comes to the killer
point. The Artilleryman is actually too lazy to have dug more than a few feet of tunnel.

Now tunnelling is hard, I should know, but I think if a load of blood sucking Martians were after me I'd make a bit of an effort.

So who do we know who likes to talk about the end of the world? Who crows about the end of the big corporations, the death of reality TV, the demise of Z list celebrity; but who can't actually be arsed to do any of the hard work involved in building a better world?

Hmm, let me think.

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