Reputation and Range

Warwick Goble (1862–1943) is best known as an illustrator of children’s books. Usually classified as one of the artists who helped to create the ‘Golden Age’ of illustrated juveniles, his books were primarily published in the Edwardian period, with others appearing after the Great War (Houfe, 154). His art was primarily decorative and usually in colour; lyrical, poetic, and always intended to provide pleasing entertainment in the nursery, his work secured him great success. His best books in this idiom were his versions of Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies (1909), Grace James’s Green Willows and Other Japanese Fairy Tales (1910), and Mrs Craik’s Fairy Tales (1914); he also illustrated a series of travel and topographical works for adults. These contributed to the development of fine colour-books in the early part of the twentieth century, and Goble became a household name.

His modern reputation is less secure, with critics divided equally between praise and condemnation. Michael Felmington (1988), for example, regards him as a poor draughtsman whose drawing was ‘feeble’, lacking in ‘power and descriptive skill’ with no sense of space or perspective (52) According to this critic, his work was purely derivative and only gained favour because he practised in a style which loosely resembles the imagery of Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac. Others, however, are more positive. Jeff Menges (2016) insists that Goble was far from second-rate, a rival to the greater names of Rackham and Dulac and one whose art is interesting, primarily, for its synthesis of Eastern influences, creating a version of Art Nouveau which drew upon Japanese and Oriental sources (91).

Menges highlights the many qualities of Goble’s children’s books, but the artist’s earlier work, created in the Nineties, is virtually unknown. Before he found his place designing for a juvenile audience, he drew illustrations which are quite unlike his pictures for children. These were usually black and white, journalistic images, printed in grayscale from original drawings and paintings, and published in The Illustrated London News, The Pall Mall Gazette and The Windsor Magazine. Arguably his best designs from this period, and the ones which completely reverse our expectations, are those produced for the first, serial appearance of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, which was issued in Pearson’s Magazine in 1897 and published concurrently in the United States in Cosmopolitan.

These dramatic, unsettling illustrations are in my view his most important work; although practically unknown to modern audiences and eclipsed by other, more favoured representations of Wells’s novel, Goble’s response is a challenging treatment of the Martians’ invasion and its consequences.

Illustrating Wells

The War of the Worlds appeared in its illustrated form in Pearson’s and Cosmopolitan from January to December, 1897. Some of the images were republished in the American single volume of 1898, but in Britain the first book edition, again in a single volume, was without Goble’s imagery. Thereafter his contribution sank into obscurity and it was not until 2015 that a modern re-print was published in the United States. The original art-work, painted in watercolour and gouache and perhaps in grisaille, is no longer in existence, and we have to judge Goble’s graphic effects purely from grayscale reproductions.

The decision to illustrate Wells’s novella, as it was originally, was made by the magazine’s editor and publisher, Arthur Pearson. Goble, then only a journeyman professional, had already contributed a number of designs and was selected, in all likelihood, purely on the basis of competence. However, The War of the Worlds is a challenging text, demanding far more than straight forward skills, and Goble’s interpretation far exceeds the pedestrian. Faced with the complications of a novel story, he creates a visual montage which illustrates and interprets its source material, adding nuances of his own and enhancing its effects by offering new strata of meaning and implication. Unimpeded by consultation with either Wells or Pearson, who seem to have had no influence whatever, he was left to interpret as he saw fit, approaching the material in the manner of a Pre-Raphaelite illustrator; like Dante Rossetti and George Du Maurier, for whom illustration was always an exercise of personal insight, he used the text as a ‘hint and an opportunity’ (W. M. Rossetti, 189), a chance to ‘allegorize’ (Reid, 31), or re-visualize the writing in his own, idiosyncratic terms.

This self-confident approach is manifest in his creation of some of the most startling illustrations of the entire Victorian period. Wells is credited with the invention of the science-fiction tropes of alien invasion, but Goble’s task, as the inventor of images to accompany the text, is barely less radical. With no visual exemplars to draw upon, Goble creates a novel style to encompass material that extends from the war-machines to the visceral destruction of late Victorian England, as well as giving visual form to ‘the actual Martians’.

From Realism to Expressionism

Wells’s text derives much of its power from its movement between realism, the common events and settings of everyday life, and the unexpected. As in Gothic fiction, the effect of the aberrant is amplified by its juxtaposition with the real, siting the strange within the textures of the mundane. Wells presents the Martian invasion in a journalistic style as events that are literally happening, and Goble reinforces this calculated discordance in a style that fuses reportage with an expressionistic treatment of the weird.

Goble underscores the novel’s contemporaneity by visualizing the settings, costumes, décor and trappings of present-day England in 1897. Windsor, the Houses of Parliament, Putney Bridge and a variety of Surrey landscapes are shown with topographical exactitude, and the illustrator also details the male and female costumes of the period along with realistic descriptions of domestic interiors. This information uses a documentary approach to report the story as if it were an account in illustrated papers such as The Graphic or The Illustrated London News. Wells refers to a number of journals – notably The Times and The Daily Telegraph (Pearson’s Magazine 3:494) – and Goble presents his images in the manner of on-the-spot, war-time centre-folds.

Goble’s strategy, in parallel with the author’s, was designed to unsettle the original viewer by showing events in practical, everyday terms, importing the apocalyptic into the reading experience of the bourgeois readership. Placed between articles which are indeed mundane, Goble’s bold designs intrude unexpectedly into the consumer’s space. The Martians’ impact is highlighted in a series of dramatic oppositions. In The dull radiation arrested him (PM 3:369), the illustrator contrasts Oglivy’s everyday costume made up of jacket and cap with the sinuous lines of heat emanating from the pit. His facial expression, possessed with horror, completes the effect of jarring uncertainty as prosaic normality is confronted with the unknown. This strategy is developed throughout the illustrations, and as the narrative unfolds the artist explores the various ways in which the strange, manifested in terrible destructiveness, overcomes the normal. The first application of the heat-ray is represented in a series of designs which depict a key moment; the narrator, dumbfounded, is witness to its power:

Forthwith flashes of actual flame, a bright glare leaping from one to another, sprang from the scattered group of men. It was as if some invisible jet impinged upon them and flashed into white flame. It was as if each man were suddenly and momentarily turned to fire … I saw them staggering and falling … All I felt was that this was something very strange. [PM 3: 488 –89].

Goble responds to the ‘strange’ experience by showing a moment of horrifying contradiction: ordinary men on fire (PM 3: 489). Their agony is vividly conveyed in their convulsive gestures; white flame, as specified in the text, is highlighted in gouache, while grey smoke emanates from the people who are shown at the very moment of their dying; a corpse, still smouldering, is positioned in the foreground to amplify the horror. Visceral, ugly, discordant, and overwhelmingly urgent, the illustration stresses the immediacy of a moment which is terrifyingly unexpected and impossible to predict. Wells destroys the complacency of the everyday, and Goble reinforces his messages by deploying an imagery that is both violent and incongruous.

Left: The dull radiation arrested him. Right: Each man turned to fire. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Equally contradictory is the representation of the Martian war-machines. Unlike later illustrators, such as Henrique Alvim-Carrea (1906) or Edward Gorey (1960), Goble matches the author’s description in detail. His starting point is the narrator’s first sight of the tripods:

And this Thing I saw! How can I describe it? A monstrous tripod, higher than many houses, striding over the young pine-trees, and smashing them aside in its career: a walking engine of glittering metal, striding now across the heather; articulate ropes of steel dangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage mingling with the riot of the thunder. A flash, and it came out vividly, heeling over one way with two feet in the air, to vanish and reappear almost instantly as it seemed, with the next flash, a hundred yards nearer. Can you imagine a milking-stool tilted and bowled violently along the ground? That was the impression those instant flashes gave. But instead of a milking-stool imagine it a great body of machinery on a tripod stand. [PM 3: 603]

Goble focuses on the clumsiness of the machines’ gait. Wells describes their movements, in an unsettlingly domestic metaphor, as resembling ‘a milking stool tilted and bowled violently’, and the illustrator repeatedly accentuates their vertiginous, tottering progress across the landscape. The point, of course, is the mismatch between the deadliness of their attacks and their stumbling, almost humorous awkwardness. This is especially apparent in the illustration showing them walking out to sea and again in the moment where a machine turns towards London. Convulsively marching on three legs, the tripods are the embodiment of mechanical, robotic unease: tri-pedal in a world where bilateral symmetry is the norm, they symbolize abnormality and strangeness. Goble further privileges the mismatch between the stiffness of the gait and the flexibility of the ‘articulate ropes of steel’ (PM3: 603). The artist intensifies the swaying, thrashing movement of these appendages, which seem organic rather than mechanical, appearing to contradict the mechanism of the legs.

The overall effect is one of contradiction and cognitive uncertainty, forcing the reader/viewer to contemplate an object that unites the living with the non-living, the technologically advanced with the primitiveness of squid-like tentacles. Wells describes the machines as unlike anything on Earth, and Goble highlights their otherworldliness by visualizing their incongruities. In the words of Michael Livingstone, he presents a ‘wholly unnatural construction’ which is used to confront the reader/viewer with the ‘entirely foreign, entirely alien’ (56).

Left: They gibber and grow fiercer. Middle: They were all stalking seaward. Right: Two Martians slowly waded. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

This fusion of opposites confounds our understanding and immerses the interpreter in the experience of alienation – of contemplating a reality which is in the process of transformation as the Martians replace the expected and conventional with a new, alternative order. The reality of humankind is subverted as the normal classifications of experience are overturned. Reality itself becomes impossible to read – and Goble presents several illustrations in which the collapse of normality is given a visual form. In another movement and Wiped out! exemplify this process of collapse, showing crises of conflict where the participants are dissolved into an expressionist vision. Conventional descriptive methods are of no use, Goble implies, and it is only in the form of writhing, abstract forms that the self-legible intensity of the critical moment can be captured.

The illustrations thus provide a powerful montage which navigates the space between realism and order and distortion and the collapse of the everyday. The physical intensity of the visualization projects the written text: surprisingly modern in effect, Goble’s designs mediate between late-Victorian realism and a new sense of abstraction.

‘Disgust and Dread’: Visualizing the Martians

The terror of alien invasion is reinforced by the horror of the Martians’ physical form, which embodies an anxious contemplation of the foreign unknown. Wells’s description of the Martians, like his description of their war-machines, is a combination of specificity and ambivalence. The narrator, overcome with traumatic shock, provides most of the information. His report appears early in the novel, as ‘The Cylinder Opens’:

A big greyish rounded bulk, the size, perhaps, of a bear, was rising slowly and painfully out of the cylinder … Two large dark-coloured eyes were regarding me steadfastly. The mass that framed them, the head of the thing, it was rounded, and had, one might say, a face. There was a mouth under the eyes, the lipless brim of which quivered and panted, and dropped saliva … A lank tentacular appendage gripped the edge of the cylinder; another swayed in the air. [PM 3: 372]

He goes on to note ‘the peculiar V-shaped mouth’, the ‘extraordinary intensity of the immense eyes’ and the ‘fungoid …oily brown skin’ (PM3:372): it seems precise, but Wells complicates the situation for his illustrator by including a series of qualifications – ‘perhaps’, ‘one might say’, and the indeterminate ‘thing’. Goble’s response, nevertheless, is carefully calculated: presented with a suggestive field of possibilities, he focuses on the narrator’s emotional response. This is partly horror but mainly revulsion, summed up as ‘disgust and dread’ (PM">3: 372).

These two terms inform the illustrations, which make the Martians as repulsive as possible. Goble does not represent the description given in Chapter 3 until Chapter 11, matching it with a retrospective analysis, but his full page design, They were the most unearthly creatures, exemplifies the narrator’s disgust; the large eyes and rounded body are represented, but the main emphasis is on the tentacles. These are described in the text as ‘lank’ – long and limp; in the illustration, by contrast, they are anything but inert, and thrash convulsively. Indeed, in Goble’s designs the focus of the Martians’ repulsiveness is in their appendages. In part squid-like, being a combination of a crustacean and an invertebrate – and subsequently described as ‘octopuses’ (3: 287) – the Martians appearing in the illustrations are made to seem disgusting by making their tentacles wormy. Goble emphasises this feature throughout, invoking a fearfulness based on association – the workings of worms in the grave, the idea of worms as an unseeing primitivism which somehow links humanity to its primeval origins and, for some at least, the physical revulsion of being touched by these earthy creatures.

Left: Suddenly he vanished. Middle: The handling machine. Right: It was like a black worm. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

This ‘strange horror’ (PM3: 372) is introduced in an early enhancement of Wells’s writing, which describes the death of the shop-man who is pulled into the pit. The narrator notes only that he sees the man’s head ‘bobbing up and down’, but the illustration, Suddenly he vanished, greatly intensifies the moment by showing the figure being pulled down into a seething mass of tentacles. This is not a matter of octopus arms or squid tentacles, but a veritable can of twitchy arabesques: the very embodiment of alien otherness.

Other illustrations assert the same sort of physical repulsiveness, and the horror is brought to a climax in the scene where the narrator is imprisoned in the ruined house. Hiding from the Martians, he narrowly escapes their touch, which Wells describes as ‘an elephant’s trunk’ and also, perhaps in acknowledgement of Goble’s visualization throughout the novel, as a ‘black worm swaying its blind head to and fro’ (PM4: 565). Text and illustrate converge in perfect harmony, and Goble further accentuates the nastiness of the moment by showing the narrator recoil in disgust as the black worm moves over him.

Goble’s Influence

Goble’s illustrations for The War of the Worlds are effective interpretations of the source material, highlighting the strangeness of the Martians and their bizarre technology. His images create an odd effect, reinforcing and expanding what is already an intense and unsettling text; a genuinely imaginative response, they are unlike any other illustrations of the period. Interestingly, Wells’s attitude to the work was ambiguous; in the first (un-illustrated) book edition he inserted a line in which the narrator claims that illustrations appearing in ‘pamphlets’ (that is, magazines) had ‘done a lot of harm’ to understanding of the Martians, although he later revised his opinion, noting in 1920 that Goble was ‘gifted’ and had ‘done a very good job’ (qtd. Beck, 138–141). Wells generally preferred the 1906 illustrations of Alvim-Correa, despite the fact that this series has an inappropriately comic tone, depicting the war-machines as bug-eyed cartoons.

Goble’s impact at the time of publication was likewise unremarkable, but his long term influence is substantial. His visualization of the tripods as blank, implacable machines moving awkwardly across the landscape has informed practically every subsequent response, both in graphic interpretations, and in cinema. Although Byron Haskin dispenses with the tripods’ legs in his vivid film version of 1953, the machines’ strange gait is restored in Steven Spielberg’s recent ‘re-imagining’ (2005), which also fuses the mechanical and the organic while making Martians themselves deeply repellent. Goble’s influence is similarly to be found in Edward Gorey’s illustrations (1960) and throughout the comic-book treatments of the forties and fifties. Never to return to this sort of work, Goble’s dynamic and overpowering designs for The War of the Worlds have had a much wider significance than he, or his contemporaries, might have imagined.

Works Cited and Consulted

Beck, Peter J. The War of the Worlds: From H. G. Wells to Orson Welles, Jeff Wayne, Steven Spielberg and Beyond. London: Bloomsbury, 2012.

Broks, Peter. ‘Science, the Press and Empire: Pearson’s Publications, 1890–1914.’ Imperialism and the Natural World, edited by John M. MacKenzie, 141–163. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990.

Davidson, Brett. ‘The War of the Worlds Considered as Modern Myth.’ The Wellsian 28 (2005): 39–50.

Du Maurier, George. ‘The Illustrating of Books from the Serious Artist’s Point of View.’ The Magazine of Art (1890): 349–53; 371–75.

Felmington, Michael. The Illustrated Gift Book, 1880–1930. Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1988.

Haskin, Byron. The War of the Worlds. Paramount Pictures, 1953.

Houfe, Simon. The Dictionary of Nineteenth Century British Book Illustrators. Woodbridge: The Antique Collectors’ Club, 1996.

James, Grace. Green Willow and Other Japanese Fairy Tales. Illustrated by Warwick Goble. London: Macmillan, 1910.

Kingsley, Charles. The Water-Babies. Illustrated by Warwick Goble. London: Macmillan, 1909.

Livingstone, Michael. ‘The Tripods of Vulcan and Mars: Homer, Darwin, and the Fighting Machines of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds.’ The Wellsian 32 (2009): 54–60.

Menges, Jeff A. 101 Great Illustrators from the Golden Age, 1890–1925. New York: Dover, 2016.

Peppin, Brigid and Micklethwait, Lucy. Dictionary of British Book Illustrators: The Twentieth Century. London: John Murray, 1983.

Reid, Forrest. Illustrators of the Eighteen Sixties. 1928; reprint, New York: Dover, 1975.

Rossetti, W.M. Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His Family Letters, with a Memoir.. London: Ellis & Elvey, 1895.

Spielberg, Steven. War of the Worlds. Paramount Pictures, 2005.

The Water Babies.’ The Burlington Magazine 16 (October 1909–March 1910): 169–70.

Wells. H.G. ‘The War of the Worlds.’ Cosmopolitan Magazine. New York: Schlicht & Field, 1897.

Wells. H.G. ‘The War of the Worlds.’ Pearson’s Magazine. London: Pearson, 1897.

Wells, H. G. The War of the Worlds. London: Heinemann, 1898.

Wells, H.G. The War of the Worlds. Illustrated by Warwick Goble. New York: Calla Editions, 2015.

Created 25 October 2017