The War of the Worlds | Study Guide

H.G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds | Book 1, Chapter 3 : On Horsell Common | Summary



The narrator finds a small group of people curiously observing the cylinder. When he examines it closely, his scientific training makes clear to him what was not evident to the uneducated around him, that the object is indeed extraterrestrial. Although the narrator believes in the existence of Martians, he does not think they survived the crash. He suspects the turning of the cylinder is automatic. He is most interested in any artifacts the cylinder might contain. When no movement or sound comes from the cylinder by late morning, the narrator goes home.

That afternoon, newspapers report the strange event on Horsell Common, and astronomers throughout the country are aware of the occurrence from Ogilvy's wire. Large crowds gather. The narrator returns to the pit and finds Ogilvy, Henderson, Stent, and a group of other men in the pit. Stent directs workers excavating the cylinder. Ogilvy asks the narrator to ask the lord of the manor, Lord Hilton, to erect a barrier around the pit to prevent the crowds from impeding the work. The narrator does not find Lord Hilton at home but learns he is to arrive on an evening train. The narrator has tea at home before he goes to meet the lord on his way home from the station.


The author creates a stark contrast between the familiar and the strange in this chapter, a major theme in the novel. The familiar in this case is Horsell Common. In England, a common is a piece of public land available for the use of the community. At the time, it could have been the site of picnics, afternoon walks, or other similarly tranquil Victorian pastimes. This common is a gathering place for the three surrounding villages: Chobham, Horsell, and Woking. In this story the author inserts something strange and incongruous in the middle of a safe, quiet, and familiar locale. He juxtaposes the smoke of burning, blackened heather, strewn gravel and sand, and the blazing hot mysterious cylinder with small children playing around the edges of the pit, curious citizens, and a narrator who takes time for tea before setting off for a stroll to ask a lord about getting a bit of fencing put up.

The contrasts continue in the comparison of the alien technology to that of humans. Workers using pickaxes and spades sweat as they painstakingly unearth a small portion of the cylinder, which they are unable to open from the outside. The narrator, educated as he is, cannot recognize the materials with which the cylinder is made. The familiar train bringing Lord Hilton to Woking serves as a contrast to a vehicle that has traveled through space to reach another planet.

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