"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 80
There's something about the closing post of a readalong/listenalong which makes me feel like a speech is in order, and I'm not that great at public speaking, as it is. But I'm not going to let that stop me from thanking everyone who contributed his thoughts to this short series: Angie, Brandon, Bob, Darwin and Mrs. Darwin, LTG, Sheila, and the mysterious Star Crunch, who stumbled into lurkerville as suddenly as he (or she?) stumbled out of it. My first foray into Old Time Radio wouldn't have been half as wonderful without you!
Our last play isn't going to be a Horror story, although its fitness for the Horror genre remains open to debate. I chose it because I've been curious about it for years, and I figured there was no better time to enjoy it at last. If you haven't heard it yet, here is your last chance before our discussion . . .
The first time I learned about this broadcast, I was in uni, studying H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds for a paper called "Literature and Visual Media". I still recall the incredulous sounds my classmates made when our lecturer (also known on this blog as The Good Professor) explained that a significant number of the first listeners truly thought that Martians were attacking--and they echoed in my memory while I listened to the first half of the play with a rather critical ear.
If I had been alive in 1938 and had "station surfed" into the first forty minutes of the broadcast, would I have been as easily convinced that an alien invasion were really happening? People who have known me for a while would say that the answer is yes . . . but they'd chalk it all up to my gullibility without givingOrson Welles any credit at all. And I think that Welles deserves a lot of credit: there is something about the first half of the play which is so ordinary that it's also convincing.
We've heard radio-within-radio before in this haphazard blog series, but the other plays always made it clear that we were listening to other characters listening to the radio. Mercury Theatre on the Air doesn't give us a similar sense of distance from its broadcasts-within-the-broadcast. So those who know that it's a play essentially become the first characters, while those who don't know it's a play can be excused for believing it isn't. I can imagine a television programme with good production values being able to achieve the same effect--though it might be harder now that we expect to recognise the news anchors and reporters who interrupt our shows with urgent special reports. (Imagine what a good cameo could do . . .)
But the story isn't told entirely through news bulletins and interviews. Eventually, Professor Pierson takes over as a narrator and we lose the sense of immediacy built up by the first half of the play. At first, I wasn't too happy about that, and I doubted that I'd enjoy the "straight" drama after all the action-packed scenes that had come before. But then the artilleryman started rambling and I couldn't believe what I was hearing . . .
I might as well confess now that I sometimes read conspiracy theory blogs for kicks. No, not the Catholic conspiracy theory blogs (though Bl. Anne Katherine Emmerich's locutions are right up my alley), and not the "prepper" conspiracy theory blogs (though I find their hobby very interesting), but those by bloggers who see a worldwide catastrophe as both inevitable and one of the best possible things that could happen in their lifetimes. And frankly, the way they talk about people who are not on the same page as they, whom they anticipate having to kill in order to protect their own family members, is exactly like the way the artilleryman talks about people whom he imagines would be happy to live as pets to the Martians in exchange for being regularly fed. He, too, relishes the idea that he and other "strong men" will one day get to turn the tables on the Martians and their weaker Earthling brothers alike. Because there are only the elect and the reprobates, you know, and the former should act accordingly. I shouldn't have been so surprised when I learned that the two most dedicated among the aforementioned conspiracy theory bloggers were also Calvinists.
We never do learn the artilleryman's reaction to the news that the Martians have died, brought low not by the strength and ingenuity of mankind, but by "the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared . . . the humblest thing that God in His wisdom put upon this earth." I'd be more interested to the aforementioned bloggers' reactions to this play, but I guess I should just be grateful that they don't read my blog.
What are your thoughts on the War of the Worlds broadcast?
1) On a scale of 1 to 10, how believable do the news bulletins seem?
2) Do you think that the play should have stuck to a single format instead of having the second half be so strikingly different from the first?
3) If you've read H.G. Wells's novel, do you think Orson Welles was right to give the artilleryman such a big role in the script?