The Plot (Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature)
The story is told retrospectively by an unnamed narrator, an educated, philosophically trained man who witnessed many of the events he describes and reports them as recent history. The first signs of an invasion from Mars come when astronomers note a series of spectacular explosions on the planet. Experts, however, think they were caused by meteorites or volcanic eruptions; no one suspects any danger. Only later does it become known that climatic changes steadily had made Mars less hospitable for its inhabitants, and they were looking to Earth as their only refuge. The explosions were the firing of ten projectiles, each containing a small Martian invasion force, at Earth.
The first cylinder-shaped projectile lands southwest of London, on a summer night. By morning, it has attracted a crowd of curious onlookers. In the early evening, the cylinder opens to reveal a grotesque, octopus-like figure the size of a bear, its body glistening like wet leather. The crowd retreats in shock. By dusk, an official deputation arrives, waving a white flag. The authorities have decided that the Martians are intelligent creatures and wish to communicate with them. A devastating beam of heat shoots out from the invaders’ cylinder, destroying everything it touches. Forty people lie dead, and the narrator flees in terror.
This sets the pattern for the next few days. The Martians appear to be unstoppable. They construct huge tripod-shaped machines, higher than a...
(The entire section is 559 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Horsell Common. Rough, wooded landscape in Woking, on the edge of one of London’s dormitory towns, where the first Martian cylinder comes down. It is a hint of wildness close to the heart of Victorian domesticity where the narrator and his fellows first have to come to terms with the nature of the invasion. The narrator, who writes about science, maintains a dispassionate voice, observing, reporting, and rarely judging, so the reader gets a clear record of how the Martians emerge from their cylinder, which is dug into a sandy pit. This pit is at first an amphitheater for the observers and later a trench within which the attackers prepare their weapons.
Fleeing the destruction, the narrator embarks on a zigzag odyssey through the suburbs southwest of London, an area which highlights the destructive threat of the Martians by being supposedly safest and most prosperous.
*Weybridge. Prosperous Surrey town on the River Thames where the narrator witnesses the first of the Martian war machines to be destroyed by a lucky artillery shot. This victory, however, is offset by the appearance of the curate, a weak and cowardly figure who is used to represent some of the worst aspects of human character.
*London. Great Britain’s capital city. The narrator’s own eyewitness account of the invasion cannot encompass the whole picture that Wells wants to present, so he interpolates the story of the narrator’s cousin in...
(The entire section is 627 words.)
Ideas for Group Discussions
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Discussion
Ideas for Reports and Papers
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
For Further Reference
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Costa, Richard Hauer. H. G. Wells. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1985. Praises the novel’s vivid imagery, its superb characterizations, its antiutopian theme, Wells’s scientific knowledge of life on Mars, and his extraordinary sociological grasp of his own times.
Hammond, J. R. An H.G. Wells Companion: A Guide to the Novels, Romances, and Short Stories. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1979. Describes Wells’s ability to describe startling events happening to ordinary people, his remarkable anticipation of how crowds react to events of mass destruction, his superb evocation of actual settings, and his literary style. Includes a...
(The entire section is 281 words.)