60 pages • 2 hours readH. G. Wells
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The War of the Worlds is a landmark science fiction novel published in 1897 by English author H. G. Wells. Its nameless narrator provides a firsthand account of the arrival of Martians in the area surrounding London and their subsequent devastation of central England. Vastly outmatched by Martian technology, human civilization is brought entirely to its knees in a matter of days, although the Martians are totally eradicated by terrestrial bacteria before they can expand their devastation beyond Great Britain. Although other novels had featured a hostile alien invasion before, The War of the Worlds is the first widely successful example of this genre, and it remains a core text in the science fiction canon.
American director Orson Welles adapted The War of the Worlds and narrated the famous radio broadcast in 1938. Welles posed the fictitious episode as a news broadcast and allegedly incited panic among listeners that Martians were invading.
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This study guide refers to the 2007 Signet Classics paperback edition.
The SuperSummary difference
The novel is divided into two books, each of which is subdivided into chapters. Book 1, which comprises about two thirds of the novel’s length, begins with the narrator reflecting on how unprepared and unsuspecting the world was before the invasion. Having witnessed the launching of the Martian spacecraft, the narrator becomes one of the first on the scene at the initial landing site, which happens to be quite close to his home. Although the Martians are sluggish, they quickly demonstrate their immense technological superiority by massacring any humans who get in their way. Humanity’s curiosity and peacefulness quickly gives way to attempted retaliation, but the British military is all but powerless against Martian weaponry. The narrator gets his wife out of the area but then becomes stranded in the fray without her. He falls in with an artilleryman whose company was decimated by the Martians, and they travel together until the artilleryman finds another company en route to London. After narrowly escaping another massacre, the narrator meets a curate, and the two become companions.
In the final chapters of Book 1, the narrator provides the story of his younger brother, who experienced the invasion from London and gets caught up in the torrential exodus from the panicking city. After saving two women from an attempted robbery, he travels with them, convincing them to join him in heading to the sea and seeking passage out of the country. They achieve this, and their vessel narrowly escapes an attack by the Martians in which the mightiest ship of the British navy is destroyed, albeit after taking out two Martian fighting-machines itself.
Book 2 returns to the narrator’s story. He and the curate take shelter in a house on the outskirts of London and become trapped there when another Martian spacecraft crashes overhead. Unable to escape without being detected by the Martians working outside, they remain captive for over two weeks, though the curate, who has become insensible to the point that the narrator must knock him unconscious to prevent him from alerting the Martians, dies on the ninth day when a Martian discovers his body, removes it, and presumably harvests his blood.
On his 15th day of confinement, the narrator discovers the Martians have abandoned the area. He emerges and finds the area empty of Martians but unrecognizable, ruined by their weapons and teeming with a red weed brought from their planet. Just outside London, he again encounters the artilleryman, who has deserted his unit and begun digging a tunnel to the London sewers where he dreams of establishing an underground society of resistance. Though initially inspired by the artilleryman’s ambition, the narrator leaves him after discovering he is more focused on reveling in spoils he has looted from the abandoned city. He arrives in London the next day, where he discovers the Martians have all died, later determined to be the result of their lack of immunity to terrestrial bacteria. He wanders insensible for three days before being taken in and nursed back to health by a kind family. Returning to his home, he reunites with his wife, whom he had presumed was dead. The narrator ends by emphasizing his fear that humanity has become complacent once again and the trauma that still plagues him.
By H. G. Wells