I have assumed that I don't need to spoiler any of this, given the publication date.

In HG Wells' "The War of the Worlds", the way the Martian tripods move is first described in this quote:

"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."

I have seen a number of depictions of the Martian tripods over the years (I live near Woking, so possibly more often than most, especially this year) but never one that actually seems to have taken this description on board. Has anyone imagined (and depicted the tripods as moving like) a milking stool tilted and bowled violently along the ground?

The only reference I could find to the walking mode of tripods on this site (The first walkers?) seems to have assumed they did walk in the traditional way.

Disclaimer: I haven't heard the famous radio play in full, which may describe them this way, but I'd prefer a visual representation.

  • 1
    War of the Worlds radio broadcast on YouTube.
    – Joe L.
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 13:13
  • 6
    You might be interested in these illustrations from 1906 by Henrique Alvim Corrêa, which HGW himself praised.
    – Joe L.
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 13:24
  • I'm not certain how we could prove that anyone "imagined" them that way other than, of course, practically everyone who read the description and got a picture of any sort in their head.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 22:37
  • @JoeL. thanks, I hadn't seen those! That article actually links to some original illustrations by Goble with unarticulated legs (johnguycollick.com/…) which are the closest yet to what I'm after.
    – tardigrade
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 8:27
  • @tardigrade: Funny - I saw those but for some reason the unarticulated legs just didn't register.
    – Joe L.
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 13:53

3 Answers 3


Warwick Goble's 1897 illustrations in Pearson's magazine show Wells' Martian war-machines with stiff, non-articulated legs as first described in the original book.

enter image description here

But it should be mentioned that Wells was rather inconsistent in his descriptions of the Martian war-machines. In book I, chapter 12:

When, half suffocated, I raised my head above water, the Martian’s hood pointed at the batteries that were still firing across the river, and as it advanced it swung loose what must have been the generator of the Heat-Ray. In another moment it was on the bank, and in a stride wading halfway across. The knees of its foremost legs bent at the farther bank, and in another moment it had raised itself to its full height again, close to the village of Shepperton.

It's possible they have more than one means of travel. The stiff-legged milking-stool roll for moving quickly across level ground, and an articulated walking mode for negotiating obstacles such as rivers and rough/hilly land.

  • Accepted - unless someone finds a video or animation, I think this is probably as close as we'll get. Thanks!
    – tardigrade
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 15:32
  • 1
    Its also thought that Wells included a section in a later edition of the WoW in which the narrator castigates the artists who drew bad impressions of the tripods without having seen them moving, as a "take that" to the illustrator of the first edition. Commented Dec 1, 2019 at 16:16
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    Found it: "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 there his knowledge ended. He presented them as tilted, stiff tripods, without either flexibility or subtlety, and with an altogether misleading monotony of effect." Book II chapter 2. Commented Dec 1, 2019 at 16:19

I'd like to mention that in that chapter where he describes the odd movement of the machines, that that was not their actual way of moving, that description was just the impression he got from the machine as it was only momentarily shown through the lightning flashes. They probably moved one leg at a time as they walked or moved like a man on crotches. Two front legs stepped at the same time, then the middle leg.

The fighting-machines were coordinated and animated to an extraordinary pitch...

he says in the chapter "What we saw from the ruined house"

I can't imagine how intelligent martians could build a machine that moves like a milking stool bowling along the ground. seems very clumsy and not very animated and coordinated at all.


The BBC adaptation aimed to be as true to the book as possible, time period and visuals enter image description here

  • 2
    Those leg movements don't look like a milking stool bowled along the ground though.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Dec 1, 2019 at 13:32
  • 1
    @Randal'Thor It's also not period, nor particularly true to the book.
    – richardb
    Commented Dec 1, 2019 at 17:03

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