Places: The War of the Worlds

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1898

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Science fiction

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Horsell Common

*Horsell War of the Worlds, TheCommon. Rough, wooded landscape in Woking, on the edge of one of London’s dormitory towns, where the first Martian cylinder comes down. It is a hint of wildness close to the heart of Victorian domesticity where the narrator and his fellows first have to come to terms with the nature of the invasion. The narrator, who writes about science, maintains a dispassionate voice, observing, reporting, and rarely judging, so the reader gets a clear record of how the Martians emerge from their cylinder, which is dug into a sandy pit. This pit is at first an amphitheater for the observers and later a trench within which the attackers prepare their weapons.

Fleeing the destruction, the narrator embarks on a zigzag odyssey through the suburbs southwest of London, an area which highlights the destructive threat of the Martians by being supposedly safest and most prosperous.

*Weybridge

*Weybridge. Prosperous Surrey town on the River Thames where the narrator witnesses the first of the Martian war machines to be destroyed by a lucky artillery shot. This victory, however, is offset by the appearance of the curate, a weak and cowardly figure who is used to represent some of the worst aspects of human character.

*London

*London. Great Britain’s capital city. The narrator’s own eyewitness account of the invasion cannot encompass the whole picture that Wells wants to present, so he interpolates the story of the narrator’s cousin in London, who is also a man of science and hence a dispassionate reporter. At first, away from the fighting and getting only confused and intermittent reports of what is happening in Surrey, the reader is given an image of a great Victorian city enjoying its wealth, power, and confidence. When reports do come through, the people initially behave well, but this confidence is quickly broken when London itself comes under attack. In the exodus from the city that then follows, kaleidoscopic scenes of panic, cruelty, greed, selfishness, and violence are presented. This image is set against that of heroism presented by the gunboat which manages to destroy two of the Martian war machines before being destroyed itself.

*Sheen

*Sheen. Suburb of London. By this stage, the comfortable little towns on the outskirts of London have become ruined and depopulated, the very image of Victorian success laid low. It is in Sheen that the narrator and the curate become trapped in the cellar of a house when a Martian cylinder lands beside them. This allows, for the first time, close and prolonged observation of the Martians, during which the reader learns, for example, that they are using captured humans for food. However, this is contrasted with the final breakdown of the relationship between the narrator and the curate, as the latter tries to gorge on their small but carefully hoarded food supply.

*Putney Hill

*Putney Hill. Suburb of London. After escaping from the ruined house, the narrator’s journey takes him on along the south bank of the Thames toward London. It is on Putney Hill, at this point a landscape not unlike Horsell Common, that he meets again with the artilleryman with whom he had escaped from Woking. The narrator’s odyssey has seen a gradual stripping away of the veneer of civilization, and the artilleryman now presents a fantasy of guerrilla warfare, of collaboration with the invaders, and of a new but far more primitive human society. It becomes clear that the artilleryman cannot even live up to the crude ideals of his new society: Victorian society, it is implied, is barely a step away from savagery. Meanwhile it is the narrator, the man of science, who is thus somewhat outside society, who goes on to London to discover the Martians killed by bacteria.

BibliographyCosta, Richard Hauer. H. G. Wells. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1985. Praises the novel’s vivid imagery, its superb characterizations, its antiutopian theme, Wells’s scientific knowledge of life on Mars, and his extraordinary sociological grasp of his own times.Hammond, J. R. An H.G. Wells Companion: A Guide to the Novels, Romances, and Short Stories. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1979. Describes Wells’s ability to describe startling events happening to ordinary people, his remarkable anticipation of how crowds react to events of mass destruction, his superb evocation of actual settings, and his literary style. Includes a map showing the sites of the Martian invasion.McConnell, Frank. The Science Fiction of H. G. Wells. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981. Compares the novel’s themes to Wells’s work as a scientific journalist. Discusses the narrative’s image patterns, contrasting the novel with other tales of invasion, the uniqueness of Wells’s description of the Martians, the role of the curate, and the relationship between realism and fantasy in Wells’s fiction.Mackenzie, Norman, and Jeanne MacKenzie. The Life of H. G. Wells: The Time Traveller. Rev. ed. London: Hogarth Press, 1987. Compares the novel to scientific theories of catastrophe and stories of the apocalypse. Emphasizes the moral tone of the novel, written at a time when there was much discussion of a decadent England.Smith, David C. H. G. Wells: Desperately Mortal. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986. Emphasizes that the novel was written at a time when Germany was challenging England as a world power and invasion was on peoples’ minds. Explains Wells’s scientific knowledge, the precision of the plotting of the Martian invasion and of Wells’s descriptions.
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