The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The plot of War with the Newts is comparatively simple. What makes the book provocative and memorable are its multiple satiric targets and wealth of satiric detail. The story opens with J. van Toch, a crusty, disenchanted sea captain, a parody of a character out of a Joseph Conrad sea story, who is looking for pearls somewhere west of Sumatra. The Ceylonese pearl fisheries have been depleted, so he has to find new ones. When he learns that terrified Bataks will not dive at Devil Bay, he investigates and discovers that the supposed sea devils there are actually newts, a species of giant salamander. The newt population has been kept down by sharks, but when Captain van Toch provides knives and harpoons with which to kill the sharks, the grateful newts supply him with a fortune in pearls. The newts also show a genius for underwater engineering and build breakwaters to keep out sharks.

Once they are safe, the newts multiply rapidly. When there are no more pearls left in Devil Bay, Captain van Toch (who is Czech, despite his Dutch-sounding name) goes to Prague to negotiate with Bondy, a financier, to export newts to other pearl islands and to establish newt farms.

When Captain van Toch dies, his “old, exotic, colonial, almost heroic style,” in the manner of Jack London and Joseph Conrad, is ended, and unscrupulous businesspeople take over. Soon the pearl market is glutted. The newts are proliferating so rapidly that the Salamander...

(The entire section is 408 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In 1917 Karel Capek got his first job as a journalist and it is fair to say that, while his journalistic prose is invariably artistic, his...

(The entire section is 987 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Capek's mock-journalistic adventure story is a hard-hitting but hilarious anatomy of what, in one of his artistically most successful films,...

(The entire section is 198 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

After the publication of War with the Newts, when Hitler's campaign of political and military intimidation continued unopposed, it...

(The entire section is 1767 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

War with the Newts did not spring out of nowhere either in intellectual or literary terms. Its themes and narrative treatment have...

(The entire section is 363 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

There seem to have been only two attempts at adaptation of this satirically entertaining and complex novel. In 1958 Kenneth Sylvia reworked...

(The entire section is 49 words.)