The War of the Worlds Critical Overview
by H. G. Wells

The War of the Worlds book cover
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Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

The War of the Worlds was published early in Wells’s career, at the tail of a string of successful novels that are still considered classics today: The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), and The Invisible Man (1897). Critics of the time were split between finding the book a marked improvement on his earlier works and a repeat of the same old formula. For instance, John St. Loe Strachey, in a review in the English magazine The Spectator, notes that “One reads and reads with an interest so unflagging that it is positively exhausting. The War of the Worlds stands, in fact, the final test of fiction. When one has taken it up, one cannot bear to put it down without a pang.” In addition, an unsigned review in the American publication The Critic concludes that “The author has written an ingenious and original work. . . . The book has the tone of intense modernity, with notes of convincing realism and morbid horror.” Academy starts its review with “Mr. Wells has done good work before, but nothing quite so fine as this.” Basil Williams, writing in Athenaeum, finds the prose to be too flat to make the story exciting: “There is too much of the young man from Clapham attitude about the book; the narrator sees and hears exciting things, but he has not the gift of making them exciting to other people.”

In the decades that have passed, The War of the Worlds has come to be considered one of Wells’s best books, if not his best one. One problem that modern readers might have in appreciating the story is that it has been retold frequently in many different forms so that it seems all too familiar. As Richard Hauer Costa puts it in his 1967 study of Wells’s career,

The War of the Worlds is the archetype of all B-Grade films which present giant creatures from another world who invade the earth armed with death-ray guns. The imagery of the novel is so vivid that it is no wonder film scenarists have always thought of outer-space invasions in Wellsian terms.