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    H.G. Wells’ The War of Worlds

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    In the science-fiction novel ‘The War of Worlds’, Wells uses a contemporary setting in which new ideas are being formulated and new discoveries are being made. Charles Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’ had just been written and scientists were exploring the possibilities of life on other planets. H.G Wells uses the theory of evolution to great effect and portrays humans as the weaker race. Wells introduces beings that are so evolved that they technologically dwarf the human race. He does not let the reader escape the fear brought on by the idea that there are creatures significantly superior to themselves.

    Almost instantly, Wells succeeds in making his audience feel insecure. He describes how the people on Earth are being watched and how the Martians “scrutinized and studied”. The feeling of insecurity is further enhanced by the humans being oblivious to the fact that they were being watched. It is inferred that the Martians know much about the human way of life and will use it to their advantage. This supreme knowledge is in stark contrast to the ignorant and unsuspecting nature of the human race. For the reader, it is frightening to think of the possibility that there is a force so powerful, that humans are compared to “transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water”. Wells objects to the arrogance of his fellow men, “Yet so vain is man, and so blinded by his vanity.” It is also expressed that their frightening lack of preparation in their supposedly secure environment will lead to their downfall. “It seemed so safe and tranquil” indicates the calm before the impending storm.

    Wells portrays the planet of Mars as rapidly deteriorating and thus unable to sustain life for much longer, “it is not only more distant from life’s beginning but nearer it’s end.” The novel is given a sense of scientific credibility through the use of precise numerical detail, “The planet Mars…revolves about the Sun at a mean distance of 140,000,000 miles.” Written at the turn of the century there was a strong belief in the integrity of science. Thus, since Wells supports his fictional presentation of alien invasion with scientific fact it is deemed realistic and consequently more terrifying. Further fear is derived from the fact that Martians must colonise new planets no matter what the cost. “The immediate pressure of necessity has brightened their intellects, enlarged their powers, and hardened their hearts”, emphasises the Martians’ desperation and the sense of imminent danger.

    In ‘War of the Worlds’ Wells cleverly makes an unlikely situation seem real by using real place names such as “Chobam”, “Shepperton” and “St.Albans”. It is unnerving that these places mentioned that once seemed so secure, are destroyed in a matter of minutes. The novel also features ordinary people and how they react at the face of adversity. The reader identifies with these ordinary civilians and is able to empathise with their distress. The reader’s emotional involvement with the characters deepens their fear and concern regarding their fate.

    Wells induces fear by forcing the reader to contemplate their personal response to chaos and destruction. It is arguable that, , if ever confronted with such a situation , the reader would respond like the narrator or the narrator’s brother who both behave rationally whilst under pressure. In contrast the Curate cannot cope and thinks that the Martians were sent by God and there is no hope of survival, “How can God’s ministers be killed?” The Curate’s demise, undermines the audience’s belief in stability and organisation of society. Furthermore is the reader is shocked into considering their own reaction when confronted with anarchy and uproar. Using these two contrasting characters, Wells cleverly puts the reader in the uncomfortable position of asking how they would react. The reader is forced to consider the extreme lengths that people will go to ensure their survival, “three people at least…were crushed and trampled there and left to die.”

    Wells further induces horror by portraying the hideous ways by which the Martians feed. He describes it in such a way that is not only awful but realistic also, “and then began a shrieking and a sustained and cheerful hooting from the Martians”. The narrator and the Curate see this taking place from the ruined house and Wells takes full advantage of this to increase the tension of the reader, brought on by the potential danger of their close proximity to the Martians. The tension is increased by the man and the young boy being killed and eaten to satisfy the hunger of the extra terrestrial beasts. The suspense in the ruined house however, comes to a climax when the Martians hear the Curate’s cries,”‘ I have been still too long’ in tone that must have reached the pit.” Wells portrays the narrator’s fear to great affect as the Martian probed the inside of the house, “its gripping limbs curled inside the debris.” The reader feels the narrator’s absolute terror as he takes refuge in the coal cellar, just feet away from the Martian, “it touched the heel of my boot. I was on the verge of screaming. I bit my hand.”

    Wells uses minimal detail when portraying gore and horror. To induce fear, the reader is forced to engage their imagination and in doing so becomes more involved with the emotions and fear. This is shown to be case when the Martians feed on the humans, “He vanished behind the mound, and for a moment there was silence.”

    Wells parallels the safe areas and areas of destruction to make the scenes of carnage seem more dangerous and terrifying. Not far from where the heat ray had been used, people do not even know of the Martians, “What’s it all abart?” The contrast between peace and mayhem increases the deadliness and horror of the Martians. The reader feels tension for the people that are so close to the Martians but are oblivious to their existence. The lack of communication and transport between small distances is worrying and creates suspense within the audience. When the narrator takes his wife just twelve miles away from the danger in Leatherhead, the reader is anxious as to whether this will be far enough away to ensure her safety.

    Well’s audience is shocked and scared by the sheer power and might of the invading Martians. Not even the military can oppose the formidable force as previously thought, “the sojers’ll stop em’.” Any human resistance appears futile and the reader is worried by their helplessness, “The Cardigan men had tried a rush…only to be swept out of existence.” At the time the British army was considered to be the best in the world and Wells makes his readers think the uncomfortable thought that if the greatest force cannot over come these beasts, there is no hope for survival, “Death is coming!” The thought that the human race is helpless to these Martians is highlighted by the destruction of the Thunderchild. The humans hopes are dashed when they see their pinnacle of modern technology being obliterated with relative ease, “as it flew it rained darkness down on the land.”

    Wells uses similes to great effect in this novel. When the first cylinder lands it is described as a “poisoned dart”. This warns the reader of impending doom and that the Martians will take over and plague the planet. Wells also makes the reader more apprehensive of the Martians by making them seem mystical and even more extra-terrestrial, “causing a flash of light like summer lightening.” To emphasise that the humans were being watched, and to make his audience uncomfortable, Wells uses alliteration. “Scrutinised and studied” reinforces the idea that the Martians are superior and makes them seem more powerful. To highlight the inevitable onslaught, Wells highlights the differences between the two species and describes the hideous physical attributes of the Martians, “The lipless brim of which quivered and panted, dropping saliva. The body heaved and pulsated convulsively”.

    H.G Wells has succeeded in bringing fear and danger into the novel by making the reader aware of the emotions endured by the characters. The audience can relate to the novel as it uses a contemporary setting and the problems encountered can be applicable to the real world. Moreover, Wells uses the main theme of survival of the fittest and does not let his readers escape the possibility that they not the dominant species. He forces them to think of the consequences of being an inferior race, which for humans is an uncomfortable and unnerving thought.

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    H.G. Wells’ The War of Worlds. (2017, Oct 31). Retrieved from

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