Plot Summary

War of the Worlds is the classic tale of Martian invasion. The Narrator begins by reintroducing Earth as a fertile oasis in the vast expanse of nothing and its inhabitants as, “transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.” He then introduces Mars as an old planet, close to its end. Its inhabitants plot to invade Earth. Ten cylinders from space then fall from the sky and land in scattered areas around Great Britian. This is where we find our Narrator near the beginning of the book… staring at one of these great cylinders that has just landed in the woods surrounding his town.

The Narrator, who remains unnamed, describes the terrible Heatray of the Martians. Its high technical capabilities reflect the supposed higher intelligence of the Martians as it reflects a light that sets onlookers on fire. Even though there is such a brief flash of violence so early into the invasion, the Narrator points out that everything, for the most part, remained the same. Even though the newspaper had printed stories about the death of forty people at the hands of the Heatray, the community was relatively calm and went about their days as normal. The Narrator even returns to his house for a cup of tea. Eventually, after more death and destruction caused by the Heatray, the Narrator brings his wife to a neighboring town, thinking that this will keep her out of harms way. He then returns home.

After some time of preparing, the Martians put their plans in motion. From these cylinder-craters arise massive, monstrous tripods that move with an animate-like fluidity. Descending from these tripods are long, flexible tentacles that grab things as it strides through the countryside, setting trees and villages on fire. It is when these tripods appear that people begin to panic, realizing the potential danger that these mobile death-machines present. The Narrator comes across an artilleryman whose entire fleet was wiped out by one of these humongous tripods, and they hide out in the Narrators’ house for some time. They then attempt to flee, in which they encounter more tripods and more destruction as they pass through countryside and towns. At one point, the Narrator witnesses a group of army-men take down one of the tripods with strategic canon-fire before getting obliterated by anothers’ Heatray. The Narrator describes the animal-like death of the mechanical tripod and even notes the ‘ruddy-brown’ fluid spurting up in pulses from the machine. The Narrator is separated from the artilleryman and soon after comes across ‘the Curate.’

The Curate is a God-fearing man. His character is introduced by his desperate conversation with the Narrator; he claims that the Martians are Gods’ personal agents and that Judgement Day has come. As they continue on their journey, the Narrator then tells of what his brother has told him of how the invasion came to London.

The Brother recounts the normalcy of the first few days. Newspaper headlines told of the tragic killings of citizens of burroughs and counties surrounding London but Londonders themselves do not feel in danger and go about their days as normal. It is not until one night when London is actually being invaded by the tripods and the black smoke, a solid-liquid that is described as a deadly substance foreign to all human knowledge of science, that the Brother and fellow Londoners begin to panic. Finally the Brother reaches a massive ship set to leave England and tells of the battle he witnesses as the tripods follow the ships into the water.

The suggested disorganizing of the military force and police force leave pedestrians to fend for themselves or flee on foot, causing mass panic and hysteria. People are trampled to death in the streets as they attempt to evacuate the city. In addition to the panic caused by the dissolvement of governmental-agencies of protection, the tripods knock down telegraph wires and ruin railroads, further weakening the ability for humans to survive the invasion or communicate with one another.

This sense of isolation is heightened when the Narrator finds himself trapped in the pantry of an abandoned house after a cylinder crashes on top of the house and the Martians begin to build. The Narrator and the Curator witness the Martians working up close and see their odd, octopus-like bodies that control worker machines that haul materials into the massive pit. Eventually the Curator seems to completely lose his mind and decides to leave the pantry and make a run for it, which the Narrator understands will accomplish nothing but bring attention to his own whereabouts. It is here that the Narrator makes the split-second decision to save his own life by killing the Curator with the blunt side of a meat chopper. After hiding with scarce food and water for fifteen days, the Narrator finds that the Martians have deserted the pit and he is able to leave. As he leaves the ruins of the house, he notes: “I found about me the landscape, weird and lurid, of another planet.” An invasive red-weed has grown over everything and has seemed to have choked out all other plant life, leaving a red viny growth that is remnisicient of an alien planet.

The Narrator comes across the artilleryman once again. The artilleryman speaks of the Martians desire to rule planet Earth and possibly enslave humans, and ends by announcing his own plans for evation. He plans to dig tunnels to London, where they will find the miles of underground-drainage and begin a resistance. The Narrator realizes this would be impossible and ends up leaving.

Soon after the Narrator leaves the artilleryman, he comes across a motionless tripod. After reaching London, he notes more motionless tripods. Destruction has been halted. The Martians seem to have been defeated. But by what? Here is the ingenious twist presented by H.G. Wells: the Martians have been killed by bacteria; bacteria that, after evolving here on Earth, man has become immune to. The Narrator claims Earth as our birthright and the invading Martians, including their invasive red-weed, die. The Narrator is reunited with his wife, and humanity begins to restore itself.


image source: Linklater, Barrie. War of the Worlds. Digital image. Fine Art America. N.p., n.d. Web.

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