Can someone please help me understand the story, "The Star," by H.G. Wells

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

H. G. Wells's "The Star" falls under the sub-genre of apocalyptic fiction, but it approaches its topic in a very scientific manner.  In fact, this scientific perspective is what lends the narrative verisimilitude. For, throughout the story, the words "scientific," "astronomical" "instruments," "measurements," "observatories," and the like are employed by Wells. The reader is tempted to give further credibility to the story because of the description of the "master mathematician's" calculations and cataclysmic prediction. In addition, emotional words contribute to the atmosphere of danger:

And in a hundred observatories there had been suppressed excitement, rising almost to shouting pitch, as the two remote bodies had rushed together; and a gather photographic apparatus...and this appliance and that, to record this novel astonishing sight, the destruction of the world.

Certainly, there is a great build-up of apprehension with the warnings of the mathematician's calculations, the descriptions of the "star of the coming doom's" dangerous growth, and movements, the tension of those who consider the worry "a foolish panic," and the global effects of the star's heat as

in a rudderless confusion a multitude of men and women open sea.

And, so, when the moon intervenes between the burning star and the earth--"the black disc"--although there are days of darkness that follow, the danger has passed. A "new brotherhood" emerges, then, to study the geological changes. "It concerns itself only with the coming and passing of the Star" as they study geothermal changes, and the effects of rain and burning upon the earth.  

However, "the Martian astronomers" who also study this star, interpret the flying, burning star as having done "astonishing... little damage" upon the earth, and

the only difference seems to be a shrinkage of the white discoloration (supposed to be frozen water) round either pole.

This description of the perspective of the Martians in the final paragraphs is in great contrast to the apocalyptic fires and flooding felt by those in the Eastern Earth where people have panicked, been injured, and died. Thus, the human perspective is, indeed, humbled as its grand delusions are exposed in Well's ending that places the "human catastrophe" at "a distance of a few million miles," certainly a perspective that points to man's follies. 

fekneim | Student

Apocalyptic fiction, such as H. G. Wells’s short story The Star, is as old as the written word. Whether the end comes through an atomic accident, alien invasion or natural disaster, virtually every annihilation tale, from Christian end times narratives to Stephen King’s masterpiece The Stand, follows a very predictable outline. The Star can be considered the prototype for the disaster/survival subgenre of SciFi, and it may have been an early draft for Wells’s own masterpiece, The War of the Worlds. In The Star, Wells codified the stereotypical disaster story with predicable situations in specific order:

• “The Precipitating Event” portends approaching disaster, as when the star appears at edge of solar system and crashes into Neptune, igniting a new star.

• “The Dawning of Concern” is the moment when someone realizes it might have harmful consequences; “Do we come in the way? I wonder —.”

• “The Scoffing” during which people are able to put a beneficial or benign spin on the event; it’s a good omen, a romantic night light, an icebreaker at a dance. ,

• “The Proof of impending disaster” that is ignored or refuted, in this case, the master mathematician’s calculations show the star will intersect Earth’s path.

• “The Laughter Stops” as the situation gets worse and people can no longer deny what is happening. The Star appears larger and closer every night and small calamities start to happen.

• “Panic Propagates” as around the world people realize catastrophes are out of control and

• “Plans for Saving the Earth/humanity” are formulated and abandoned, such as mass migration out to sea or rockets to other planets for example.

• “The Resolution” as the star recedes from Earth and things calm down.

• “Acceptance of ‘the new normal’” as grateful survivors get back to the business of life.

Compare these stages to other catastrophe books and films and it is apparent that Wells’s outline for disaster is unchanged after more than 100 years.