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“The War of the worlds” by Herbert George Wells was published in 1898 but is a spell binding read for any science fiction fan even today. Alien life, a Martian invasion and the possible decimation of the human race is the baseline of this novel. In fact, all efforts by the human beings to quell these alien invaders seem futile, as the Martians are unstoppable in the capture and destruction of anything that crosses their path. It seems like a Martian triumph until a common germ infects the Martians who have no immunity and are consequently brought down fatally. The narrator of the story remains nameless although there are claims that he is H.G.Wells himself. This story is set in the late nineteenth century England and the events beginning with an explosion on Mars are witnessed by the nameless narrator and an astronomer called Ogilvy from an observatory in Ottershaw. Some time later the action commences at Horsell common when a cylinder like space ship , initially mistaken for a meteor , lands with requisite drama.
The idyllic small towns of England are a stark contrast to the terror looming over the sylvan countryside in the form of the Martian tripods. The narrator resides at Woking and the narrative starts from there. He then flees with his wife to Leatherhead where she has relatives, to save her from the Martians.
The narrator traverses the countryside attempting to flee from the alien terror, but inevitably comes across them. The scene shifts from town to town, and Weybridge and Shepperton are places where there has been conflict. In fact, there is a horrifying Martian attack at Shepperton. Sheen is the location for the landing of the fifth alien cylinder and the narrator and the curate are buried under the debris of the house collapsing around them. The narrator meets up with the artilleryman in Putney Hill and the denouement of the novel is at London where the narrator ultimately finds himself. In fact, the narrator’s brother also mentions London when he speaks of the mass exodus of people fleeing the Martian menace. By the time, the narrator arrives in London the Martians have been more or less decimated by disease. The author uses the sylvan setting of the countryside to contrast with the build up of horror. The imagery changes drastically as the novel unfolds. The countryside is ravaged and littered with corpses, ruined buildings dot the landscape, red weeds choke the charred soil and a pall of black smoke engulfs the earth.
The three major characters are the narrator, the curate and the artilleryman. However, it must be seen that the specter of the Martian can also be seen as a collective characterization.
The Martians description is suitably repellent as they are described as having an inanimate bulk, disk like eyes and coiling tentacles. They have great difficulty in acclimatizing to the earth’s atmosphere and have oily fungoid skin. They have a well-developed technical ability and intelligence that is bent on the destruction of humans so that the Martians can survive. Their ultimate death by common bacteria is like a wave of relief after the tide of terror unleashed through the other chapters.
The narrator is the voice of this novel as we trace the story through his observations. He seems to be a man who is grounded in reality and ingrained with an inbuilt sense of caution ands self-preservation. He is philosophic and exudes a calm and capable demeanor. His quiet life in the country is rudely shattered by the arrival of the Martians. In fact, he is one of the first to examine the cylinder when it falls in Woking. However, he prudently does not rush forward like the deputation and escapes death by incineration. He survives many close brushes with death and literally lives to tell the tale. He however is disoriented and has a mental shock upon discovering the dead Martians. He is a realistic and practical man and is able to come to grips with the situation, no matter how alarming. It is this ability to be cool, calm and collected that stands him in good stead and he is reunited with his wife.
The artilleryman comes into the scene when he stumbles into the narrator’s horse after narrowly missing the Martian’s death ray. Although he was disoriented initially, he proves to be an extremely practical man who packs rations for the two of them and sensibly avoids the third cylinder. He rejoins the army although they are in a state of disarray and is reintroduced when the narrator meets him on Putney hill. He has changed radically by then and lives life on a totally different plane.The narrator leaves him and his ultimate fate is not revealed.
The Curate is the man of God who finds it impossible to keep his faith and mental balance once the obvious tenets of his faith are shattered. He is portrayed in an unflattering manner as a weak man who goes to pieces when his church and the citizens of Weybridge are destroyed. He clings to the narrator and is annoying in the extreme. When they are trapped in the house, he does not logically save rations or keep quiet. Finally, the narrator is forced to hit him with the meat chopper to ensure his silence and avoid the Martian’s attention. However, this action is too late and the Martian takes the curate’s body.
This novel gives the readers an insight into the sensibilities of H.G. Wells who saw himself as the purveyor of Social Democracy As The Ultimate Form Of Government. He despised the relegation of society into haves and have-nots. He wanted to show the establishment that humans were not quite as clever as they were assumed to be and it was only Providence that they had gained the superior status in evolution.
This book is gripping and well written. H.G.Wells has an appeal that is not restricted to the science fiction genre and his prose is vivid, sharp and paints pictures that can be visualized.