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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1. Throughout his career, Wells was concerned about the ethical uses of technology and scientific knowledge. How are his ideas reflected in The War of the Worlds? (A good place to begin your research is Isaac Asimov's "The Science Fiction Breakthrough" and Rosalynn D. Haynes's H. G. Wells, Discoverer of the Future. Wells's own Experiment in Autobiography provides insight into what he hoped to say in his novels about the ethical use of advanced technology.)

2. Compare The War of the Worlds to another famous outer-space invasion book, such as John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids (1951). How are the books similar? How are they different? Does the second author seem to be responding to any particular aspect of Wells's novel?

3. What was the state of military preparedness in England in the late 1890s? Is Wells accurate in his depiction of the military of his time?

4. What were the most significant theories about life on Mars in the 1890s? Who first suggested that there were canals on Mars? Why did people think these canals were made by intelligent beings? Who were the most important scientists to speculate that there was intelligent life on Mars? How much does Wells borrow from the scientific speculation about Mars?

5. The War of the Worlds was written during a turbulent period of Wells's life. Why did he write the novel? How did he come to choose the subject? What was the critical reaction to the book? How did the general public respond? Were these responses what Wells had hoped for?

6. The War of the Worlds is full of dramatic scenes of people fleeing the Martians, such as in chapter 16 of book 1, when the Narrator's brother flees London. Are there any historical parallels to these scenes? How accurate does Wells's "exodus" seem when compared to the mass movements of real-life people running from invaders? For examples, you might research Afghans who fled the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, South Vietnamese who fled the North Vietnamese capture of Saigon in the 1970s, Manchurians who fled the Japanese invasion during World War II, or Georgians who fled Atlanta during General Sherman's invasion in the Civil War.

7. Research and report on the actual panic that occurred in the northeastern United States when Orson Welles's adaptation of the novel was broadcast over the radio in 1938.

8. Compare Wells's novel, Orson Welles's 1938 radio adaptation of the novel, and George Pal's motion-picture version. How well do the adaptations capture the major elements of the book, such as characterization, plot, and themes? What ideas does each work seem to be trying to communicate? Which communicates its ideas best? Which is the most entertaining?

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