The War of the Worlds was published by H. G. Wells in 1898. It was first published in serial form in the Pearson’s Magazine of the U.K. Then it was published by Cosmopolitan Magazine in the United States. The War of the Worlds was a ground breaking science fiction novel. The novel fell under the category of Scientific Romance when it was published, joining novels by Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle.
The War of the Worlds begins with astronomers watching a war in progress on Mars. Ten cylinders are launched towards Earth. The first one lands in a small town near the Narrator of the story. He gives a first person account when the Martians leave the cylinder and begin their path of destruction. By the end of the book London has been evacuated and thousands of humans are dead with massive loss of property. The book follows the failing of the government in stopping the Martians and keeping people together. This was before the World Wars, which proved the government was stronger than H. G. Wells gave it credit for.
While the Narrator works his way to London, where he thinks to find safety, he sees death and destruction left by the Martians. Then he is trapped in a house near their camp so he can witness their cruelty to their prisoners.
After he finally makes his way out of his hiding place, the Narrator discovers that although people weren’t able to stop the Martians, bacteria did. This is a classic book that many movies and stories have used for inspiration throughout the years.
Book I: The Coming of the Martians
In the last years of the nineteenth century, Earth was being watched carefully by the inhabitants of Mars. Mars is much older than Earth, therefore any life there would have begun at the time Earth was leaving it’s molten stage. So Mars is reaching its “last stage of exhaustion.” It’s oceans are drying and it’s snow caps are melting. Naturally the inhabitants of Mars are looking for a new home. They look in their telescopes at Earth with its verdant landscape and oceans and begin to plan. They harden their hearts. They consider the inhabitants of Earth to be monkeys.
“Then came the night of the first falling star.” Mars sent vessels to Earth. They were cylinders with an end that screwed off. The Narrator and his friend, Ogilvey are watching the vessels opening along with a few other people, in a small town in southern England. The men of the village assume the occupants of the cylinders are dead since no one could survive the intense heat. They gather around to see the dead Martians. About a half dozen local men of importance set up a perimeter to keep people back so they can investigate. The men haven’t been able to figure out how to open the cylinder.
That evening the cylinder begins to open. The men are excited and order everyone to keep clear and not frighten the aliens. They expected to see something humanoid, but what they saw coming out was not humanoid. First came “two luminous disks,” followed by something like little gray snakes “coiled up out of the writhing middle.”
“A big grayish rounded bulk, the size, perhaps, of a bear, was rising slowly and painfully out of the cylinder. As it bulged up and caught the light, it glistened like wet leather.” The rounded face had a mouth under the eyes, “the lipless brim of which quivered and panted, and dropped saliva. The whole creature heaved and pulsated convulsively.” It’s mouth was shaped like a V and it didn’t have a chin. There were also groups of tentacles.
All the other spectators had already run away, so the Narrator was the only person left when the Martian struggled out of the cylinder. When it hit the ground, he ran, too. Soon the men gathered the courage to make contact with the alien. A delegation waved a white flag before them and began to march back to the landing site.
The Martians attacked with a weapon that set all forty men on fire and proceeded to destroy the nearby buildings. The narrator escaped because he wasn’t close. He ran again towards home. When he tells his wife about the horrors of the Martians, he assures her they can’t get out of the pits made by their crafts. He thinks they may just kill anyone who tries to get near them. He also assures her that Ogilvy told him Martians can’t survive on Earth because of the difference in gravity. They would weigh three times as much on Earth as they did on Mars. What he didn’t take into account was the rich oxygen atmosphere of Earth giving them more strength, and also the “mechanical intelligence” of the Martians.
People who didn’t witness the Martians don’t believe it and think its a hoax. When the military arrives the people are sure they can handle the problem. Saturday starts like any other day until the military engages the Martians. Soon the narrator loses confidence in the ability of the military to stop the threat. The Martians were using their Heat Ray to destroy everything in their path.
The narrator acquires a cart and horse, gathers his wife and heads of Leatherhead where he has family and far away from the Martian landing site. After leaving his wife in Leatherhead the narrator heads back to return the horse and cart. He is also curious about the Martians. He doesn’t want to miss their defeat.
Along the way he encounters a “monstrous tripod, higher than many houses.” It crashes through trees and frightens his horse. The cart tips over and the horse is killed. There is a terrible storm going on and the narrator hides from the tripods. Afterwards he starts into to town on foot and trips over the dead body of the landlord of the Spotted Dog Pub. This was the man he had borrowed the cart and horse from. He finally makes it back to his own house. There he crouches by the staircase with his back to the wall shivering from the cold and fear.
The next morning while the narrator is viewing the damage from a window of his house he sees a soldier wandering into his garden. The narrator invites him in for tea and learns that the man is the last remaining man in his troop. The Tripod Martians killed everyone else with their Heat Rays. He was spared because his horse fell on him and the Maritain walked past him.
After looking at the devastation from his window, the narrator decides to go to Leatherhead, get his wife and head to Newhaven, then out of the country. Meanwhile, the soldier plans to head to London so he can join his platoon. They pack some food for the trip and start out together.
Since they are trying to avoid the Martians, they take a long way. They meet up with three cavalrymen and are told to go to Weybridge where they will see the brigadier general.
As they travel, they see charred bodies and artillery batteries setting up. An evacuation is in process in Weybridge. The occupants still aren’t taking it seriously. They are sure the military will stop the Martians, until the troops near them are attacked. Soon the army is quiet and the Martian Tripods use their Heat Ray to destroy everything. The Narrator jumps into the river Thames for safety, but soon the water begins to heat. One of the Tripods goes down and the Narrator swims over for a closer look.
The Narrator crawls out of the river and collapses on the bank. There he sees the damaged Tripod being removed by the other Tripods. The attack of the Martians pauses while they begin a new strategy. The humans use the time to build up their defenses.
After finding a small boat the Narrator takes the river toward London. After taking a rest on the shore, he wakes to find a curate nearby. The curate is in shock and questioning God’s plan. He thinks the Martians are part of the Final Judgment. Although the Narrator tries to calm the curate’s fears, he also reminds him they must move since the military is headed their way.
Meanwhile, in London, the younger brother of the narrator is experiencing the invasion from a different perspective. The information is coming from the newspapers. Although titillated by the sensational news Londoners go about their daily business confident the military will take care of everything. Then the refugees begin to drift into London.
The brother thinks to join the fighting and picks up a newspaper to learn what is happening. The Martians are now using “enormous clouds of a black and poisonous vapor by means of rockets.” He is reading the paper in his room and soon hears the footsteps of many people fleeing their apartments. The brother gathers all the cash he has and sets off.
Back to the Narrator. The Martians have gone back on the offensive. They move in a line, each Tripod about a mile and a half from its neighbor. The battles aren’t going well for the humans. Two battalions go down. The Narrator and the Curate hide in some bushes, but soon they see the Black Smoke releasing. The Narrator knows its a poisonous gas that stays in the area for a few days unless the Martians spray a steam that clears the air. When is dissipates the gas leaves a fine powder. The Smoke is very heavy. People in high places can avoid it. The Narrator and the Curate hide out in an abandoned house.
The Martians continue their advance. The Narrator points out that at that time they didn’t know what the Martians ate. When the military doesn’t use weapons they send the smoke, when it does they use the Heat Ray. The army begins to fall apart. Sailors mutiny. Then the government falls, but first they try to evacuate London. The Black Smoke pours through the streets of Richmond.
The Narrator’s brother picks up the story again. He starts by recounting the events in a city dissolving. The Police are the first to go, then the railways. The Narrator’s brother takes a bicycle when he aids a group in robbing a bicycle shop. The bike he takes has a slow leak in the tire, so it doesn’t go very far. He goes the rest of the way on foot. Along the way he sees three men trying to steal a pony and carriage from two ladies. He attacks the robbers and the women get away. Unfortunately the brother discovers he is outnumbered. Just when he thinks he will not win the fight, one of the women come back with a gun. She scares off the robbers and the brother continues on the journey with the women.
The woman who helped him is Miss Elphinstone. She and her sister in law, Mrs. Elphinstone are traveling to find the woman’s husband, who is a doctor. Although Miss Elphinstone is frightened she is still calmer than her sister in law, who moans and calls for her husband. The brother tells the women that he is proficient with a gun, so they need not worry. He is lying.
They pass evacuees. Although all of them are different they share a common thread. They are all terrified. The brother tries to help a man who has fallen in the street and in danger of being trampled while he tries to pick up all his money that fell from the bag he was carrying. The man tries to bite the brother. Through all this the words, “Way! Way! The Martians are coming!” reverberate.
Miss Elphistone helps the brother get them through the crowd. When they reach the other side they finally rest. Suddenly the brother sees people fleeing from “unknown dangers before them, and going in the direction from which my brother had come.”
The Martians concentrate on destroying the human’s ability to retaliate. They focus on the military, communication, and transport. Meanwhile, ship captains are charging exorbitant fees for transportation and those who can’t pay to drown. Humans are devoid of humanity.
The Narrator’s brother and the women have their horse appropriated by the Committee of Public Supply and continue to the shore on foot. The seventh cylinder has fallen. At the shore the brother buys passage for the three of them. He sees the Thunder Child, a naval ship attack two Tripods that are trying to attack the vessels leaving. The ship brings them down allowing the ships to escape. The brother looks back on England and sees something”flat and broad and very large” flying over it. “And as it flew it rained down darkness upon the land.”
Book II: The Earth Under the Martians
The second book opens with the Narrator and the Curate hiding out in an empty house. After a few days, a Martian clears the Black Smoke and the two men sneak away. Along the way, they see the destruction caused by the war. They hide from a Tripod. But later they see another Tripod plucking fleeing people up and dropping them into a basket attached to it’s back.
The Narrator and the Curate hide out in a ditch the rest of the day and start out at night. They come to a house in Sheen where they stop to forage for food. Suddenly part of the house collapses and the Narrator is knocked unconscious. When he wakes up the Curator warns him not to make a sound. With the light of day comes the realization that a cylinder has hit the house and they are surrounded by Martians.
They find a peephole and begin to gather data about the Martians. The Narrator says that the Martians are headed with tentacles coming out of them. They are sustained on blood from living creatures that they inject into their veins. Martians also don’t sleep, they are all one gender, and they don’t have microorganisms. The Narrator thinks they communicated through telepathy.
The Narrator and the Curate take turns looking out the peephole. As the days pass the Narrator becomes more and more disgusted with the Curate. The Narrator complains that the Curate does nothing but sleep, eat and cry. Meanwhile, they see the Martians taking humans into the pit. Then one day the Narrator see the Martians eat a boy. He decides to try to dig a tunnel so they can escape, but it collapses.
By the eighth day, the Curate loses his mind. He begins to yell about the wrath of God and complains that he wants more food. The Narrator knocks him unconscious but unfortunately, the Martians hear all the noise. They send a mechanical tentacle through the peephole. Since the Narrator has hidden under coal in the basement the tentacle goes past him but it takes the Curate.
On the eleventh day, the Narrator emerges. He doesn’t find any food left in the pantry. It was taken by the Martians. For the eleventh and twelfth days, he goes without food and water. On the fifteenth day, he hears a dog barking and correctly reaches the conclusion that the Martians have left the crater. He leaves and sees the devastation left by the Martians. The people are all dead. But the air is clean.
The Narrator finds a garden and eats some vegetables. He begins to head west but is diverted by the rising water. The Martians left behind a red weed that is growing and clogging up the river. So the Narrator heads east toward London. Here the Narrator points out the invasive red weed died off quickly because of an infection the plants of Earth are immune to.
As the Narrator continues on his journey he begins to think he may be one of the last humans on Earth. He wonders if the Martians left to find food in Paris or Berlin. As he makes his way he starts to feel human again. In his despair, he hears some frogs croaking and thinks they are survivors and so is he.
He is confronted by a man on the trail and is surprised to see the artilleryman who he had parted ways with in Weybridge. The artilleryman begins to tell the Narrator that the Martians will win. He thinks they will domesticate humans. But he has a plan to go underground and avoid capture. He shows the Narrator the tunnel he is halfheartedly building. Mostly he digs for awhile and then begins to drink. The Narrator continues on his journey.
As he walks the streets of London the Narrator sees death and destruction everywhere. He sees a Martian Tripod that has fallen over. Finally, he comes up to the crater made by the Martians and sees them all dead. They were killed by the same bacteria that killed the red weed. The Narrator is happy about the destruction of the Martians even at the loss of so many humans. But he is saddened because he thinks his wife is dead.
For three days the Narrator wonders around in shock. He is taken in by some people who tend him. They tell him Leatherhead was destroyed. He decides to go home and check out the damage. Along the way he sees England starting to rebuild. They received outside aide shipped in.
When he finally makes it home, he is surprised to see his home exactly as he left it. Suddenly he hears his wife coming in and rushes to her to catch her faint.
In the Epilogue the Narrator ties up the story. He recounts the lessons learned from the Martians. They were able to autopsy a Martian and learn from that, they also are trying to crack the weapons used so they can duplicate them. Humans also learned they are not alone in the universe. The Narrator thinks some of the Martians landed on Venus and that may be a possible relocation for humans when Earth is not habitable. The Narrator is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He still sometimes pictures the dead and is surprised to find his wife’s hand in his.
Narrator – The book is from the unknown Narrator’s point of view. He is an average Englishman in the late 1800’s. He has a modest house in a suburb where he drinks tea, gossips with his neighbors and reads books. He and his wife have no children at home. They appear to be in their late forties maybe early fifties, but that is just a conjecture. It is the curiosity of the Narrator that keeps the story moving along. The Narrator travels from his small town to London. Along the way he sees the battles and witnesses horror after horror. He is pushed to act in ways he would never have expected himself to act before the Martians land. In the end the nightmare of dead bodies and humans being eaten by Martians leaves him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He often envisions the horrors laid over the peaceful world after the Martians are defeated.
The Narrator’s Brother – Another unnamed character. He begins the story living in a small apartment in London. When the Martians attack he steals a bicycle and leaves the city. Along the way, he comes across a young woman and her sister in law being accosted. He helps them and then travels with them to the beach. There they board a ship heading for safer shores.
The Martians – The Martians have destroyed their own planet and have decided to relocate to Earth and possibly Venus. On Earth they find humans who although make good food, don’t want to give in easily. They look like huge gray blobs. Their anatomy is made of a large head with tentacles. They make mechanical devices to move themselves around. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for mankind, they are allergic to Earth. Shortly after what they think is a victory, they are defeated by germs.
The Artilleryman – When the Narrator first meets the Artilleryman he is a dedicated soldier. His entire artillery was destroyed by the Martians leaving him alive because he was trapped under a fallen mule. The Narrator finds him wandering into his garden and helps him. The next day the two men head towards Weymouth which they hope is the front line against the Martians. There they separate with the Artilleryman staying with the army. The next time the Narrator meets the Artilleryman he is once again the last man standing. Now his opinion has changed. Instead of helping to defeat the Martians he thinks to make an underground community of chosen people that will remain out of the Martians view.
The Curate – The Narrator acquires the Curate near the Thames. The Curate irritates the Narrator constantly. At a time the Curate thinks the coming of the Martians is a punishment sent by God. When the two men hide out in a house, the Curate spends his time sleeping and eating more than his share of the supplies. Finally, the Curate completely loses his mind and begins to shout which alerts the Martians to their location. The last the Narrator sees of him was when he was captured by the Martians.
Herbert George Wells Biography
Herbert George Wells or H. G. Walles was an English author and political philosopher, most famous for his science-fiction novels with these prophetic depictions of the triumphs of technology as well as the horrors of 20th-century warfare. Wells was born in Bromley, Kent, England in 1866 and educated at the University of London.
He worked as a drapers apprentice, tutor, bookkeeper and professional journalist until 1895 when he decided to become a full-time writer. In the next 50 years, he produced more than 80 original works.
His novel “The Time Machine” mixed science, action and political commentary. Later works in this genre are: “The Invisible Man” (1897), “The War of the Worlds” (1898) and “The Shape of Things to Come” (1933), each of these fantasies was made into a motion picture.
Wells fathered 4 children with his second wife, Amy Catherine Robbins. He also wrote novels devoted to character delineation. Among these are “Kipps” (1905) and “The History of Mr. Polly” (1910), both of which depict members of the lower middle class and their confused and often humorous attempts to better themselves.
Many of Well’s other books can be categorized as thesis novels. After World War I, Wells wrote an immensely popular historical work, “The Outline of History”, (2 vol. In 1920).
Throughout his long life, Wells was deeply concerned with and wrote voluminously about the problems of contemporary civilization. For a time he was Fabian socialist.His later works were increasingly pessimistic, castigating world leaders of the period and expressing his doubts about the ability of humankind to survive.
Wells had diabetes and co-founded of the Diabetic Association in 1934, a foundation which is still the leading support for people with the disease in the U.K today.
In 1946 at age 79, Wells died of an unspecified cause which is now believed to have been a heart attack. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered over the sea. A commemorative plaque still stands at his former home in Regent’s Park.