The War of the Worlds | Study Guide

H.G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds | Book 1, Chapter 15 : What Had Happened in Surrey | Summary

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Summary

The narrator describes the alien advance on London on Sunday evening. Around 8 p.m. three tripods move toward the city, and a line of soldiers fires prematurely and flees while the next line, hidden in the woods, manages to damage the leg of one tripod, which seems to call to the others. After wiping out the soldiers and guns with its Heat-Ray, the Martian from the damaged tripod crawls out to make repairs. At about 9 p.m. the three tripods are joined by four more. The seven advanced in a curved line, two of which come upon the curate and the narrator, who hide in a ditch.

Awaiting the onset of the battle, the narrator speculates how much the alien invaders understand about humans. There is a sound of gunfire and explosions, shouts, and then silence. The narrator explains that the aliens are firing canisters that break when they hit the ground, releasing a heavy, black vapor that kills anything that breathes. The vapor eventually turns into harmless dust or is cleared by a jet of steam from the aliens. The aliens defeat every line of resistance with either the Heat-Ray or the black smoke.

The fourth cylinder lands as the invasion continues.

Analysis

The poisonous black smoke of the Martians is a particularly prescient piece of horror on the part of the author. The novel was written before World War I and the use of chemical warfare in the form of chlorine gas and mustard gas. The black smoke is also frightening because of the way it behaves: "it sank down through the air and poured over the ground, in a manner rather liquid than gaseous." It is a gas so strange, so unlike anything that exists on Earth, so otherworldly, that even scientists studying it after the invasion still don't fully understand it. The author—writing about his experiences of the invasion and about what people have learned of the Martians through careful study since the invasion—uses this device with increasing frequency as the novel progresses. It gives the reader a greater understanding of both the events and the Martians and adds to the horror the readers feel. It is one thing to find the gas frightening in the moment, to watch it mysteriously kill defenseless people, but the author adds to its fearfulness by explaining that even later, under meticulous scientific scrutiny the Martians and their weapons remain beyond human comprehension.

With the introduction of this second weapon and the complete devastation of every military assault organized against them, the overwhelming, unstoppable power of the Martians becomes clear.

The author reveals more about the character of the Martians by including examples of Martian communication, which the narrator understands to be meaningful rather than unintelligent noises. The narrator describes the Martian from the damaged tripod uttering "a prolonged ululation," which is answered by another. The narrator also hears the Martians "hooting" to each other as they continue their advance. Their ability to communicate gives them the ability to collaborate menacingly to carry out a joint offensive.

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