Saturday, October 25, 2008

Power of Imagination

How powerful is your imagination? Do you think you could let your imagination get the best of you? If you watch a scary movie do you believe or fear that the events could happen to you?

The night before Halloween, October 30, 1938, Orson Welles and the cast of the Mercury Radio Theater on the Air were waiting to begin their broadcast. Unfortunately for the American public they were unaware that this broadcast would be an elaborate hoax. The broadcast was an adaptation of H.G. Well’s The War of the Worlds.

Orson Welles's War of the Worlds record

Background of H.G Wells’s The War of the Worlds

H.G. Wells is best known for his science fiction novels such as The Invisible Man, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Time Machine, and The War of the Worlds.
The War of the Worlds tells the story of an alien invasion to the planet Earth. The aliens invade Earth because their own resources have been exhausted. They set down in the English countryside and sweep through destroying everything in their path. Humans seem unable to stop or defeat the alien invaders or specifically the Martians. It is only in the end of the book that the Martians succumb to a common germ.

There are many theories on what inspired Wells to write this book. Here are two links that discuss such criticisms:

Study Guide for H.G. Wells: The War of the Worlds (1898):

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (words on us):

The War of the Worlds Book Cover Collection :

Alien tripod illustration by Alvim Corréa, from the 1906 French edition of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds".

The Broadcast

The evening of October 30, 1938 millions of Americans tuned in to The Mercury Theater on the Air to listen to a radio broadcast. The Mercury Theater on the Air often broadcasted plays. Orson Welles often directed and even starred in some of them. This particular evening they did a version of H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. Orson Welles adapted it to make it more modern and also made one crucial change, it would reflect a news broadcast about Mars invading the planet.

At the beginning of the broadcast it is stated that this was a play or fictious. Unfortunately if you were not paying attention or tuned in later you could have missed this important announcement. The broadcast continued with dance music playing and then a series of important news bulletins interrupted the music. The first news bulletin stated that a strange explosion occurred on the planet Mars. Then the music would continue. Then more interruptions, one by Professor Pearson, played by Orson Welles, discussing some scientific facts about Mars and that a meteorite had landed in Princeton, New Jersey. The announcer stated that soon there would be a report from an on scene reporter. The reporter described that the meteorite was explained as a metal cylinder and that when it opened up strange creatures had emerged. The creatures began killing people and an explosion is heard and the connection is lost.

Photo of Orson Welles

As the American public tuned in and listened to the broadcast they actually thought the events on air were true and actually happening. People began packing their belongings, gathering their loved ones and hitting the road. Others hid in cellars, took arms, and prayed. The American public did not realize that they had fallen for an elaborate well -executed hoax.
News of the public panic was broadcast via an actual news broadcast. This caused an even bigger out cry as people phoned in to government officials to regulate radio broadcasting so that this could never happen again.

Broadcast of The War of the Worlds. This is only the first nine minutes but the rest of the broadcast can be found on

YouTube Orson Welles War of the Worlds (part 1):

The Mercury Theater on the Air:

War of the Worlds eComic:

Newspaper cover

War of the Worlds Lesson Plan

Grade: 8th Grade

Knowledge: The students learn about radio broadcasts as a form of entertainment and the power of imagination.
Skills: The students learn how to draw an illustration by listening to the radio broadcast of The World of the Worlds.
Attitude: The students appreciate listening to broadcast and interpreting what they hear into an illustration.

Prior Knowledge: None Required.

Prepare Ahead: The teacher should have a copy of The War of the Worlds broadcast by The Mercury Theater on the Air. The teacher should also supply notebook paper in case students want to write down ideas for their illustrations.

Visual Aides: Illustrations of The War of the Worlds

Exemplars: The teacher should have their own illustration.

Supplies: White paper, colored pencils, markers, pencils, erasers, notebook paper, audio device, a copy of the broadcast of The War of the Worlds.

Standards: Content Standard 1. Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes. Content Standard 3. Choosing and evaluating a range of a subject matter, symbols, and ideas. Content Standard 5. Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others. Content Standard 6. Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines.

Questions Leading to Discovery: Start the lesson off by explaining to the students that in the 1930’s people would gather around the radio to listen to broadcasts as a form of entertainment. No televisions, no DVD players, game consoles, or computers were invented yet. Ask the students if they could imagine living in a world with no such entertainment. Next explain that what you are about to play is The War of the Worlds radio broadcast. At the time that it aired it caused great panic in the American public and that they actually believed that this was really happening. Ask the students if they think that they could fall for such a hoax.

Activity: The students will listen to the broadcast of The War of the Worlds. They will take notes while listening to aide in their ideas for their illustrations. They will create an illustration based off of the radio broadcast.

Reflection: The students will critique each other’s work. They will guess what scene each illustration is from.

Evaluation: The lesson is successful when the students can demonstrate listening skills by creating an illustration of The War of the Worlds.

Studio Activity

You can create your own illustration of The War of the Worlds. To hear the broadcast from The Mercury Theater on the Air you can go to the website which I will put another link here:
Listen to the broadcast, take notes if needed. Grab some paper, and illustrate a scene from the broadcast. You can make it in black & white or add color to it. Now go turn off the t.v., computer, gaming system, and/or ipod!

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