The War of the Worlds

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

War of the Worlds was written in response to several historicalevents. The most important was the unification and militarization of Germany,which led to a series of novels predicting war in Europe, beginning with GeorgeChesney's The Battle of Dorking (1871). Most of these werewritten in a semi - documentary fashion; and Wells borrowed their technique to tiehis interplanetary war tale to specific places in England familiar to hisreaders. This attempt at hyper - realism helped to inspire Orson Welles when thelatter created his famed 1938 radio broadcast based on the novel.
There was a specific event that inspired Wells. In 1894 Mars was positionedparticularly closely to Earth, leading to a great deal of observation anddiscussion. Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli had reported seeing "canali" on Mars, meaning"channels," but the term was mistranslated as "canals,"leading to much speculation about life on the red planet. [Although scientistswere able eventually to photograph what seem to be large stream beds on Mars,these are on a much smaller scale than the blobs and blotches which misledSchiaparelli into thinking he had seen channels.] One of the 1894 observers, aM. Javelle of Nice, claimed to have seen a strange light on Mars, which furtherstimulated speculation about life there. Wells turned Javelle into Lavelle ofJava, an island much on people's minds because of the explosion there in 1883 ofMount Krakatoa, which killed 50,000 people and drastically influenced Earth'sclimate for the next year.
Wells became famous partly as a prophet. In various writings he predicted tanks,aerial bombing, nuclear war, and - - in this novel - - gas warfare, laser - likeweapons, and industrial robots. It was his tragedy that his most successfulpredictions were of destructive technologies, and that he lived to experiencethe opening of the atomic age in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Wells was to become famous as a socialist and a utopian, but his science fictionnovels are almost uniformly pessimistic about human nature and the future.
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Part I: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 9, Chapter10, Chapter 11Chapter 12 Chapter 13,Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16Chapter 17
Part II: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 9, Chapter10

Part I
Chapter 1: The Eve of the War
The original broadcast in RealAudio format. From whatperspective is humanity viewed? What qualities in the Martians make themdangerous to humanity? Mars' reddish color led to speculation that it had at onetime held more oxygen in its atmosphere, now locked up in iron oxide. Wells'treatment of it as an old and nearly - exhausted world was commonplace at thetime he was writing, and his adoption of this view influenced much later Martianfiction. The American bison seemed poised on the brink of extinction in 1898,though it has since been brought back; but the dodo was entirely killed off byEnglish explorers of Mauritius in the 17th Century, becoming in fact synonymouswith extinction, as in the expression "dead as a dodo." In the 18thCentury the British almost eliminated the native inhabitants of Tasmania, anisland off the coast of Australia, when they turned it into a penal colony.Wells several times draws parallels between the Martians' treatment of Earth andBritain's treatment of its colonies. The use of gigantic guns rather thanrockets to launch space vehicles may have been inspired by Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon (1865). In Orson Welles' production,the narrator is Ogilvy, the astronomer, introduced against the background of theticking clockwork described here. What effect does it have on the novel to havean ordinary, unnamed narrator, not technically trained and often far from thecenter of activity? What irony is created by the topic of the series of papershe is writing? The bicycle had been recently invented, and Wells was learninghow to ride one during the writing of the novel.
Chapter 2: The Falling Star
In the second paragraph, what evidence is there that Wells is trying to avoidmaking his narrator a perfect observer? Why do you suppose he does this? How isOgilvy's first reaction to the movement of the cylinder top ironic? In theabsence of broadcasting, the telegraph was the fastest means of communication,and ordinary people received the news by one of several different editions ofnewspapers during the day. What error do the first reports of the landingmake?
Chapter 3: On Horsell Common
What methods does Wells use to make these events seem realistic?
Chapter 4: The Cylinder Unscrews
What is a Gorgon, and why might Wells have chosen to compare the Martians toone? In what way does Wells make his narrator distinctly unheroic?
Chapter 5: The Heat - Ray
X - rays were discovered by Roentgen in 1895; and novelists immediately beganimagining all manner of other rays which could be used as weapons; but Wells isprobably thinking here as well of ancient accounts of "Greek fire"projected against enemies to terrifying effect. What is the narrator's reactionto the attack?
Chapter 7: How I Reached Home
Wells' description of psychic numbing as a result of trauma seems very modern.Why is it important that the narrator not be an omnicompetent swaggering hero inthe Arnold Schwarzenegger mold? What seems to be the narrator's attitudes towardworking class people? Gravity acts "like a cope of lead" on theMartians; this phrase recalls the punishment of hypocrites in Canto 23 of Dante's Inferno, in which the damned are forced to wear weighty leadencapes. What does this following phase imply about the state of the world afterthe Martian invasion: "in those days even philosophical writers had manylittle luxuries"? How does Wells once again compare the Martian invasionto British colonialism?
Chapter 8: Friday Night
"Canard" usually means "malicious lie," but here it means"hoax." Note that until the 1960s "love - making" meant prettymuch the same thing as "courting;" it would be a mistaken to envisionactivity any more passionate than hand - holding and the murmuring of sweetnothings. "Trenching on Smith's monopoly" means that the enterprisingnewsboy is encroaching on the business of the newsstand officially establishedat the train station. Maxim guns, invented in the 1880s, were the first trulyautomatic machine guns.
Chapter 9: The Fighting Begins
Wells jokingly calls the milkman's cart his "chariot," comparing it toPhoebus Apollo's chariot, because both appear at dawn. (Click here for various pictures of Apollo.) What is the significanceof the pun "fishers of men - - fighters of fish" (hint: see Matthew4:19)? What act of realistic cowardice does the narrator commit in the last partof the chapter? What is the eventual fate of the landlord in a laterchapter?
Chapter 10: In the Storm
In what way does the shape of the cylinders reflect the form of theircreators?
Chapter 11: At the Window
What technique does Wells use to emphasize the thoroughness of the destruction?The phrase "pillars of fire" at the end of the chapter is Biblical,ironically echoing the pillar of fire which led the Hebrews out of Egypt inExodus 15:21 22.
Chapter 12: What I Saw of the Destruction of Weybridge and Shepperton
What is unusual about the sound of the attack the narrator is caught in? WhenWells calls the beam - weapon a "camera" he is thinking of the large,box - like contraptions common his day, always mounted atop tripods to ensuretheir stability during the long exposure times they required.
Chapter 13: How I Fell in with the Curate
A curate is a sort of assistant clergyman. Wells had a low opinion ofconventional religion. The disastrous Lisbon earthquake of November 1, 1755 wasfamous partly because the Catholic church claimed it was caused by thewickedness of the inhabitants. More skeptical minds, like Voltaire, argued thatLisbon was the most orthodoxly pious of cities, and its destruction on a Sundaymorning argued rather for a lack of divine justice. Just as had hisEnlightenment predecessors, Wells refuses to read religious meaning into anatural disaster. What does the clergyman's reference to Sodom and Gomorrahmean? (Hint: see Genesis 18:20 - 28.) See Revelation 14:11 for the source of thisquotation: "The smoke of her burning goeth up for ever and ever!" Howis the clergyman interpreting the attack of the Martians? See also Revelation6:16 - 17. Why does he call the Martians "God's ministers?"
Chapter 14: In London
At this point, the narrative switches to events in London, told second - handthrough the experiences of the narrator's brother. Can you think of reasonsthat Wells chose not to continue with the same first - person narrative technique?A "crammer" is a tutor specializing in preparing students for exams.What prevents many Londoners from immediately reacting to the Martianinvasion?
Chapter 15: What Had Happened in Surrey
Analyze the paragraph beginning "No doubt the thought that wasuppermost." How does it view humanity? What is foreshadowed by the sentencein parentheses? A "kopje" is a small hillock or mound. The gas usedby the Martians was seen as more prophetic than the fantastic heat - rays, forpoison gas was used widely in World War I. Why would a gas like this be aparticularly frightening weapon?
Chapter 16: The Exodus from London
The first cylinder had landed Thursday, the fighting began Friday, and the panicin London described in Chapter 14 had begun on Saturday morning. We are now atthe dawn of Monday. What evidence is there that panic is overriding civilizedbehavior in this flight from the Martians? How does the brother rescue a lady,and what is the consequence to himself? In what ways does this scene contradictour usual expectations of a hero saving a lady in distress? Note how the deathof the "eagle - faced" man is made emblematic of insane greed. Humanityis not at its best in these scenes. When the brother is giving advice to MissElphinstone toward the end of the chapter about escaping their pursuer, how doeshe avoid the stereotyped "kill or be killed" dilemma which plays so great a role in fiction?
Chapter 17: The "Thunder Child"
The home counties are the rural counties southeast of London. The "Pool ofLondon" is the port on the Thames. What effect might the constantrepetition of specific place names have had on Wells' first readers?"Chaffering" is haggling, bargaining. Ostend is a seaport across thechannel in Belgium.
Book II: The Earth Under the Martians
Chapter 1: Under Foot
We return now to the narrator, trapped in the empty house at Halliford with thecurate. The narrator is no swaggering hero, but feels superior to the curate.Note the "unaccountable redness" on the river, reminiscent of blood;it will be explained later.
Chapter 2: What We Saw from the Ruined House
Wells had first imagined future humans as essentially giant brains in "TheMan of the Year Million" (1893) and The Time Machine (1895), based on the Darwinian observation that humanity had evolved in thedirection of larger and larger brains. Since Mars is an "old" planetit follows that its inhabitants are similarly "old," further alongthis path of evolution. At the end of the paragraph reading "And this wasthe sum of the Martian organs," Wells added this sentence to latereditions: "The bare idea of this is no doubt horribly repulsive to us, butat the same time I think that we should remember how repulsive our carnivoroushabits would seem to an intelligent rabbit." How does this addition alterthe emotional impact of the paragraph? It was common in the nineteenth centuryto assume that sexual desire was a "lower" emotion, associated withanimals, which we might hope to evolve away from. This seems to have happened tothe Martians. Has the result been beneficial? Explain. The "certainspeculative writer of quasi - scientific repute" is Wells himself, of course. Telepathy is posited here despite the lack of a plausible scientifictheory to explain it. Wells' lead was to be followed by a great many SF writerslater. Otto Lilienthal (1848 - 1896) was the most important pioneer in gliderbuilding. The "Handling Machine" is an early example of a robot,though the word was only invented in 1921 by Karel Capek and not applied tomachine/human creations until later.
Chapter 3: The Days of Imprisonment
In the 1953 film of War of the Worlds, the narrator was madea single man and the curate replaced with an attractive young woman.
Chapter 4: The Death of the Curate
Note how "the death of the curate" is referred to frequently in thenarrative in indirect or passive ways. Why do you think Wells does this? InIsaiah 63 there is developed an image of God's wrathful vengeance as theoperation of a wine press: the wine is blood. In Greek mythology Briareus was amany - headed, many - handed giant.
Chapter 5: The Stillness
In a contemporary action novel, this chapter would probably be reduced to a lineor two. What effect does it have? How is "the death of the curate"referred to? What other invader does the narrator discover has accompanied theMartians?
Chapter 6: The Work of Fifteen Days
Navvies are manual laborers. Why is it a hopeful sign that the Red Weed dies soquickly and thoroughly?
Chapter 7: The Man on Putney Hill
"Biscuits" is the British word for cookies. Note how "the killingof the curate" is referred to impersonally again here, as "theformer." Does the killing haunt the narrator? Explain. What effect does thenarrator says the war with the Martians has had on human attitudes towardanimals? How does this passage fit in with his comments about animals at thebeginning of the novel? The artilleryman is the opposite number of the cowardlycurate. Why does he say "This isn't a war?" Why does the artillerymanwelcome the collapse of civilization? Can you compare him with any group in ourcontemporary culture? What is his attitude toward human beings? He is theancestor of many figures in contemporary post - disaster novels. What convincesthe narrator that the artilleryman is crazy? How does his behavior contradicthis words? Playing "for parish points" means that they are pretendingthat they will inherit all of London and are gambling for its districts, orparishes. What is the function of the artilleryman in the novel?
Chapter 8: Dead London
A "chemist's shop" is a drugstore. Why is the title of this chaptersomewhat ambiguous? Samson was the amazingly strong hero of a number of storiesin Judges 13:1 - 16:31. What stops the narrator from committing suicide? Can youcompare the death of the Martians to any other similar lethal encounter in worldhistory? "The destruction of Sennacherib" is a reference to the poemby that title by Lord Byron. A sudden miracle killed his whole army overnight.The phrase "that would fight no more for ever" is a reference to theoften - quoted 1877 speech of the Nez Perce Chief Joseph upon his surrender to theU.S. Army: "I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed.. .. Hear me,my chiefs, I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands Iwill fight no more forever." What effect does this comparison of theMartians to the defeated Native Americans have?
Chapter 9: Wreckage
Why does the narrator know nothing of the next three days? How does the rest ofthe world respond to England's plight. "Corn" is grain, usually wheat.What Americans call "corn" the English call "maize." Why isthe narrator so upset by learning that Leatherhead has been destroyed? Whattechnological side - benefit have humans derived from the invasion? Why does hemention the burial of "the landlord of the Spotted Dog?" What isironic about the paper he finds on his desk? How does this incident reflect changing attitudes about the future of humanity in the late nineteenth century?What effect would it have had on the novel to develop his reunion with his wifemore fully, in traditional fashion.
Chapter 10: The Epilogue
Why is it significant that no Martian bacteria were ever discovered? When aplanet is "in conjunction" it is on the opposite side of the sun fromEarth. Ronald Reagan once mused that an invasion from space might unifyhumanity, as it does here. What do you think of this theory? What long - termhope does the possibility of travel hold out for humanity, according to thenarrator?
Many of the notations are based on (but do not quote verbatim) those in theOxford annotated edition of The Time Machine and War ofthe Worlds, edited by Frank D. McConnell.

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