illustration of a large alien vehicle, a tripod, attacking a city with lasers

The War of the Worlds

by H. G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds

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Thinking about an account of the discovery of Tasmania by Europeans, Wells’s brother suggested the idea for this story: What if other creatures, as superior to humans as Europeans were to Tasmanians, were observing us with plans of conquest?

From that germ came the idea for this, the fourth of a group of early novels that established Wells’s fame and popularity.

Soon after the observation of flashes of light on Mars, strange cylinders fall to earth around London. The spaceships and the small craft they send forth destroy Earth’s most modern armies with weapons beyond human science.

Told from the point of view of a man living near London, the story is in the form of an eyewitness account of the Martian landings and attacks. The scenes of devastated cities were to become real less than twenty years later in the wreckage of World War I. The heat ray of the Martians sweeps all before it.

Wells depended on the scientific theories of his day for his story: In keeping with the notion that Mars was an older planet than the Earth, the Martians have evolved further than humanity. Their bodies show the effects of this evolutionary specialization: They cannot even digest food but must drink the blood of other creatures. They have become, in a sense, prisoners of their machinery. Without their vehicles, they are nearly helpless in the Earth’s heavier gravity.

After human science fails to stop the invaders, the Martians’ own “progress” defeats them. Having no resistance to earthly bacteria, they succumb to disease. Since the appearance of this landmark novel, humans have gained a new view of the universe: The possibility of intelligent life in the depths of space becomes (and remains) a captivating idea.


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 map showing the sites of the Martian invasion.

McConnell, Frank. The Science Fiction of H. G. Wells. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981. Compares the novel’s themes to Wells’s work as a scientific journalist. Discusses the narrative’s image patterns, contrasting the novel with other tales of invasion, the uniqueness of Wells’s description of the Martians, the role of the curate, and the relationship between realism and fantasy in Wells’s fiction.

Mackenzie, Norman, and Jeanne MacKenzie. The Life of H. G. Wells: The Time Traveller. Rev. ed. London: Hogarth Press, 1987. Compares the novel to scientific theories of catastrophe and stories of the apocalypse. Emphasizes the moral tone of the novel, written at a time when there was much discussion of a decadent England.

Smith, David C. H. G. Wells: Desperately Mortal. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986. Emphasizes that the novel was written at a time when Germany was challenging England as a world power and invasion was on peoples’ minds. Explains Wells’s scientific knowledge, the precision of the plotting of the Martian invasion and of Wells’s descriptions.

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Critical Evaluation