||I first read The War of the Worlds
when I was a teen, quite a number of years back. I also remember
watching the movie soon after, thinking it did a terrible job of
transcribing the book onto the screen. Now I understand better, but I
have no desire to re-watch the movie. I think it was about ten years
later that I actually had a chance to listen to the 1968 radio
broadcast, as it was re-broadcast on CHOM-FM in Montreal. I thought it
was quite enjoyable, but I don't remember comparing it to the book in
any way, which I'm sure I only remembered vaguely.
As I started reading the novel for the
second time, I found the opening chapters to be very slow and tedious.
However, as the chapters progress, the novel gets more interesting. By
the time the second part of the book begins, with the main character
alone (or with the curate), often trapped, and through to his encounter
with the artillery man, I was quite enjoying it.
Like many novels, this one starts off
with everyday life. The author is great at describing scenes in vast
detail, with a very romantic language. I have nothing to compare it
with, as I have only read a couple of books from over a hundred years
ago, and those long ago, but I expect that it was the style back then:
much more formal.
There were actually some words that I was unfamiliar with, but they
might have only been military descriptions from long ago. Unlike the
radio play, which describes everything in "real-time", the novel
describes the flashes from Mars as being witnessed days or weeks ago,
which is a much more realistic time frame, considering that it takes
about six months to get to Mars, and a little less to get back. A
projectile fired from a gun on the surface would certainly lack the
necessary speed to cross in mere days, let along hours, or the minutes
given in the radio play.
The entire book is written in the first
person, weeks after the Martians had been killed. So right away we know
that the Martians were defeated, but not how. It also allows the author
to put in comments in hindsight, and to add information that he didn't
have at the time the events occurred. He often states "would I have done
that if I had known...", and so on. It certainly spruces up the text
that way, heightening the anticipation.
As the cylinders land, the narrator
watches first-hand the heat-ray in action, killing its first humans. He
understands that he and his wife must get away, fast. He borrows a cart
and horse, drops his wife off, and ends up destroying the cart and
killing the horse on the way back to return them, as a Martian tripod
blocks his way. He makes it back to his home on foot, and meets up with
an artillery man. They make their way back behind the human lines, where
they part ways, the artillery man rejoining his troops, and the narrator
trying to get back to his wife at her cousin's house.
The story takes on a different
perspective as we shift to London, the most populous city in the world
at that time, as the narrator describes the mass exodus as recounted to
him by his brother, and how they were overtaken by the Martians.
Although the geography was completely unknown to me, and I found it
rather tedious, that part of the story was actually quite exciting. A
vast panic like that is very difficult to describe, and it is the small
details, the human emotions and the little things that people do that
are noteworthy. His brother rescued two women from bandits trying to
steal their carriage, and led them through the throng of people, trying
to get them out of Britain before the Martians arrived.
Book II describes how the narrator met
up with another living soul, the curate, and how they traveled toward
London, breaking into abandoned houses to try and find food and water.
While in one such house, one of the Martian cylinders landed across the
street, blasting a gigantic hole in the ground, and collapsing the house
upon them. They stayed in that house for two weeks as the Martians
assembled their machines. They watched as the Martians took humans and
fed on them, injecting human blood into their veins.
All throughout the ordeal, the curate
became more and more unstable, and refusing all the logical requests and
demands of the narrator, even to the point of wrestling with him to get a
larger share of food, though the narrator had divided up enough to last
them for ten days. Finally, the curate snapped, and marched to the door
shouting wildly, and the narrator was forced to kill him. But the nearby
Martians had heard the commotion and came to investigate. They took the
body of the curate, and narrowly missed the narrator as he hid under a
pile of coal in the coal cellar.
When he emerged, the narrator found
that the Martians had left. He made his way in isolation again towards
London. On an isolated hill, he found again the artillery man, who
seduced him to the idea of an organized secret resistance to the Martian
rule of Earth. It was only when he found out that the artillery man was
more interested in breaks than working, and had found some serious logic
holes in the man's plans, and decided the man simply wanted to take
control of a Martian tripod himself, and probably use it against not
just Martians but men also, that he walked away.
He entered London unopposed, noting the
abandoned city, and then the Martian tripod sitting alone on a hill, the
Martian yelling wildly until suddenly stopping in death. The ending of
the book is one of the most brilliant endings I can think of. The
Martians were superior to mankind in every way, and were nearly
invulnerable to man's weapons, though "we" destroyed two of them, one by
lucky shots, and another rammed by a navy boat. What killed them was the
Earthly bacteria, to which they were not immune, as we are. The author
even leads up to this very cleverly, describing the red plants that
quickly took root and then died just as quickly due to bacterial
infections. And it is this ending, I think, that made people take note
of the book, and why is continues to be popular.
The current edition of the book comes
with several chapters of commentary, describing the lives of H.G. Wells
and Orson Welles, the night of the 1938 broadcast from New York City and
the panic is caused, and the narrative of the broadcast itself, which
seems remarkably short, compared with the novel (but it would have to
be, to run only an hour long). These other sections are interesting in
their own way, making the collection more interesting than simply the
novel. The section describing the events leading up to the panic and the
aftermath were very informative, and it's easy to poke fun at the people
who were fooled. The section dealing with copycat
broadcasts were also interesting, even if the authors lose their
impartial focus a few times.
In all, it was a very enjoyable retread
into a book I remember enjoying quite a bit when I was younger.