Tripod (The War of The Worlds) - Novel


The tripods walked on three tall, articulated legs, had a grouping of long metallic tentacles underneath, a flexible appendage holding the heat-ray projector, and atop the main body a hood-like head that housed a single Martian. H. G. Wells first describes the tripods in detail early in the novel:

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... Seen nearer, the Thing was incredibly strange, for it was no mere insensate machine driving on its way. Machine it was, with a ringing metallic pace, and long, flexible, glittering tentacles (one of which gripped a young pine tree) swinging and rattling about its strange body. It picked its road as it went striding along, and the brazen hood that surmounted it moved to and fro with the inevitable suggestion of a head looking about. Behind the main body was a huge mass of white metal like a gigantic fisherman's basket, and puffs of green smoke squirted out from the joints of the limbs as the monster swept by me.

The War of the Worlds

Another eyewitness described them as "Boilers on stilts, I tell you, striding along like men."

A London newspaper article in the novel inaccurately described the tripods as "spider-like machines, nearly a hundred feet high, capable of the speed of an express-train, and able to shoot out a beam of intense heat". Ironically, earlier newspaper articles under-exaggerated the Martians as being "sluggard creatures". The main character witnessed the tripods moving "with a rolling motion and as fast as flying birds".

The tripods are armed with a Heat-Ray, which is fired by a camera-like mechanism held by an articulated arm and Black Smoke, a type of poison gas which is deployed by cylinders, not unlike a soldier's bazooka. It can also discharge steam through nozzles that dissipates the Black Smoke.

It is still a matter of wonder how the Martians are able to slay men so swiftly and so silently. Many think that in some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition, much as the parabolic mirror of a light-house projects a beam of light. But no one has absolutely proved these details. However it is done, it is certain that a beam of heat is the essence of the matter. Heat, and invisible, instead of visible light. Whatever is combustible flashes into flame at its touch, lead runs like water, it softens iron, cracks and melts glass, and when it falls upon water, incontinently that explodes into steam.

The War of the Worlds

Their tentacles, which hang from the main body, are used as probes and to grasp objects. The tripods also sometimes carry a metal cage or basket which is used to hold captives so the Martians could later drain their blood via pipettes. The height of the tripods is unclear, a newspaper article describes them to be more than 100 feet tall (30 m). However, they can wade through relatively high water. HMS Thunder Child, a Royal Navy Torpedo Ram engages a trio of tripods pursuing a refugee flotilla heading to France off the coast of England and is eventually destroyed by the Martian Heat Ray.

In the book the tripods are delivered to Earth in massive cylinders, shot from a sort of gun from Mars (in the PC game adaptation, the Martians refer to this device as a "large-scale hydrogen accelerator"). Once they arrive on Earth, the machines are quickly assembled. A London newspaper article cites unnamed authorities who believed, based on the outside size of the cylinders, they carried no more than five tripods per cylinder.

The depiction of the tripods in any medium only very rarely takes into account, according to the book, that the Martians never made use of the wheel and made singularly little use of the fixed pivot. This is in accordance with a lack of such joints in the Martians themselves — who are tentacled invertebrates — but makes designing a feasible walking machine difficult. When one of them is brought down by its leg being smashed, its Martian driver is able to repair it within a day.

The original conceptual drawings for the tripod machines, drawn by Warwick Goble, accompanied the initial appearance of The War of the Worlds in Pearson's Magazine in 1897. When Wells saw these pictures, he was so displeased that he added the following text to the final version of his book:

I recall particularly the illustration of one of the first pamphlets to give a consecutive account of the war. The artist had evidently made a hasty study of one of the fighting-machines, and it was there that his knowledge ended. He presented them as tilted, stiff tripods without either flexibility or subtlety, and with an altogether misleading monotony of effect. The pamphlet containing these renderings had a considerable vogue, and I mention them here to warn the reader against the impression they may have created. They were no more like the Martians I saw in action than a Dutch doll is like a human being. To my mind, the pamphlet would have been much better without them.

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