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

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The War of the Worlds

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 575 words.)