I recently stumbled on this incredible The War of the Worlds cover collection. I’m not sure how I found it, but I keep going back to look at it again and again. My first time viewing the collection, I thought it was fun but didn’t give it much thought. But every time I’ve been back since I see something new and fascinating.
The, interesting in his own right, Dr. Zeus has assembled a stunning collection of images of The War of the Worlds book covers—spanning from 1898 to the present.
What’s fascinating to me about seeing all these covers together is how aptly the collection illustrates the way in which different historical periods and cultures interpret the same work. There are covers that look like Russian poster art, Art Nouveau, 1950s pulp styles, psychedelia, minimalism, futurism, expressionism—and more than a few that make you wonder if the illustrator had any idea what the book is about. There is even a fantastic Edward Gorey version!
T. S. Elliot once said that “every age gets the Shakespeare it deserves”; and this phrase has been appropriated and paraphrased endlessly. I refuse to do it again here in reference to Wells, but Elliot was definitely on to something. I think the key word in the phrase that often gets lost in translation is “deserves”. Interpretations of long-cherished works often implicate the adaptors more than they reveal anything new about the original work. Does Spielberg’s War of the Worlds plumb hidden depths in Wells or simply reflect post 9/11 obsessions?
Cultural analyses aside, Dr. Zeus should be commended on a fantastic resource—particularly for book collectors. I would love to see more people leap in with this kind of online project. Off the top of my head, I could name a dozen books I’d like to see this kind of visual comparison done on. If collectors even just scanned their own books and put them up as a research guide—or shared them with like collectors to aggregate versions of the same book. There’s got to be a Wiki or some other kind of collaborative tool for this kind of thing, right?