Saturday, June 24, 2006

The War of the Worlds - H G Wells

I've never read H G Wells' The War of the Worlds before, although I have read Mr Brightling Sees It Through (his novel of the First World War period) before. Nor have I seen either of the film versions of Wells' classic novel.

Wells' story is told by an unnamed narrator, who is essentially a fictionalized version of Wells himself, who witnesses the aftermath of a meteor landing on Horsell Common, near London. However, it is quickly revealed that the meteor is no meteor at all, but a space-going cylinder launched from the planet Mars. Attempts to communicate with the octopus-like inhabitants of the ship prove not only fruitless but ultimately fatal, as the would-be communicators are incinerated by a laser-like Heat-Ray which is projected from the ship's impact crater. The Martians then assemble enormous three-legged "fighting machines" which go out into the surrounding human communities armed with both the heat-ray and a chemical weapon which creates the deadly "Black Smoke", and wreak havoc and murder. More capsules land in the English countryside around London and the invasion spreads. A frantic mass evacuation of London begins; amongst the fleeing swarms of humanity is the narrator's brother, who eventually escapes across the English Channel to France. One of the tripods is destroyed in Shepperton by an artillery battery, and two more are brought down in the Tillingham Bay by the torpedo-ram HMS Thunder Child before the vessel is sunk, but soon all organized resistance has been beaten down and the Martians hold sway over much of southern England.

The narrator finds himself unexpectedly trapped in a house after another of the Martian capsules lands in its garden and partially destroys the house. He is able to secretly watch the Martians at close quarters, including their use of captured humans as a food supply through the direct transplanting of their blood. The narrator is not alone however; he is in the company of a curate whose intellect has been damaged by the trauma he experienced during the attacks, and whose irrational behaviour finally causes him to be discovered and dragged away by the Martians. The narrator narrowly avoids the same fate, and the Martians eventually abandon their encampment. The narrator then travels into the largely deserted London where he discovers that the invaders have abruptly succumbed to terrestrial disease-causing microbes, to which they have no immunity.

For those interested in discovering more about Wells' story, a collection of essays:
The War of the Worlds: Fresh Perspectives on the H G Wells Classic is available (the book also contains the complete text of Wells' novel).

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