Mr. Graham's Reviews > The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
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's review
Dec 06, 10

bookshelves: classics, sci-fi, saw-the-movie
Read in November, 2010

The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells, is a science fiction story about the Martian invasion of England around the turn of the 20th century. It was a creative idea that Wells used to try to force England to look at the world and itself from a different perspective. It was a story that shed some light on the chaotic and tragic events that were going on all over the world while England sat complacent and comfortable. Would England look at the world more empathetically now?
In the late 19th century, England was the world's preeminent power. During the age of colonization, no country was more successful than England. The Royal British Navy dominated international waters. And in lands across the oceans Wars of the Worlds were happening all the time. English colonists were the alien invaders. Aboriginal peoples all over the world were the helpless citizens, powerless against the technological superpower that invaded.
In chapter 11 we start seeing the mindset of the English citizens who had lived their whole lives peace and security. There was initial disbelief when an English soldier in shock said, “They wiped us out-simply wiped us out.” The English never remotely considered the possibility of such an event. There was “not a living thing left.” The narrator states: “Never before in the history of warfare had destruction been so indiscriminate and so universal.” Later, in chapter 17 he says, “Never before in the history of the world had such a mass of human beings moved and suffered together.” This response is so ignorant and ethnocentric; given the fact the England had inflicted this very reality on many peoples around the world.
Chapter 13 introduces the curate. This character is included in the story to show that, like all other dominant world powers throughout the ages, England believed itself to be specially blessed by God. Wells, who is certainly anti-church in many of his writings, takes his opportunity here to show his bias. The character who represents the church is a blubbering idiot who has no self control, no courage, and no conception of a reality outside his safe, peaceful faith. His insufficient religion offers no answers for the events that take place. It only presents questions. Questions, in fact, that show a very shallow knowledge of what true Christian faith is. Wells is, of course, pointing out his view that the church has no answers for real issues, and its members are shallow and a little stupid. “Why are these things permitted? What sins have we done?” says the curate. “All the work--all the Sunday-schools--What have we done...?” He equates the event to Sodom and Gomorrah, then proclaims it “the terrible day of the Lord.” Yet, he says it with fear and despair, rather that with hope, courage, and faith that you would expect from someone truly faithful to God.
Chapter 14 tells of the blame game. Wells, who is a renowned socialist, exposes the ridiculous ignorance of the common man. They live in a capitalistic society. They fight against socialism, and they don't want the government interfering in their lives. Yet, “there was a strong feeling in the streets that the authorities were to blame...” Then in chapter 15, there's a shift back to the pride of the English. “Did they grasp that we in our millions were organized, disciplined, working together.” “Did they dream they might exterminate us.” We are England. No one could possibly be smarter, stronger, more advanced, more disciplined. What a ridiculously arrogant point of view.
The horror and reality of what was going on started to come out in chapters 16 and 17. There are grotesque descriptions of dead bodies. He mentions the “massacre of mankind.” This would evoke emotions in the English readers when imagining the death of their own people, and perhaps a little empathy when they realize the English had done the same to so many other people.
In chapter 7 of book 2, there is a philosophical conversation between the narrator and the artilleryman. The artilleryman's philosophy tells about the difference between two sets of people: the people who will meekly submit to the new authority in order to save their own skins and as much of their lives as possible, and the people who will never give in to the alien ways, even at the cost of their own lives. It is interesting to note that in the Americas, the former are pitied, and the latter are admired and last in our memories as heroes of their people. Yet both groups of people lose. The former are integrated and basically lose their culture. The latter fight to save their culture and are isolated or killed. He also mentions that the “Martians will make pets of some of them; train them to do tricks...And some, maybe, they will train to hunt us.” He is, naturally, mentioning what the English have already done in many colonies throughout the world.
It is interesting that several times the English are described as “savage,” using the same language the English used referring to the peoples that they themselves have invaded. There is also the sense of them feeling like the natives around the world have felt in chapter 6. “For that moment I touch an emotion beyond the common range of men, yet one that the poor brutes be dominate know only too well. I felt as a rabbit might feel returning to his burrow and suddenly confronted by the work of a dozen busy navvies, digging the foundations of a house. I felt...a sense of dethronement, a persuasion that I was no longer a master, but an animal among the animals under the Martian heel.” As we can clearly see, the “poor brutes we dominate” are not rabbits, but people on colonized land dominated by the force of England.
Wells, ever the biologist, ends the story with the Martians being wiped out biologically by a disease to which the English have long since been immunized. This, of course happened to the English, to some extent, in Africa, which prevented them from fully colonizing many areas. However, they still dominated the areas in the form of slave trade, as over several centuries they trained the Africans to hunt and sell their own people, as alluded to by the artilleryman. We also know that in other parts of the world, the opposite was true, as the English wiped out many of the peoples with disease.
It is also interesting to note that the reason Wells gives for the technological advancement of the Martians is the lack of disease causing organisms on their planet. This, Wells claims, must be the reason that they have advanced evolutionarily to a point far beyond humans. This is Wells's Darwinian plug which occurs in some form in many of his writings. He should know, however, as a biologist, that this is a flawed theory. Evolution itself needs disease. It relies on death more than anything else to perform natural selection. While the propaganda of evolutionist writers has been effective, this is a classic example of how the writings about evolution (not to mention the theory of macroevolution itself) are flawed.
A fascinating book, The War of the Worlds combines a pretty good (if boring at times) with philosophy and history. In its essence, it's a reprimand for England concerning their systematic colonization of the worlds native peoples with no regard for their intelligence, culture, values, or even for the sanctity of human life. It is also a bit cautionary for England to resist becoming to complacent in the position of greatest power in the world. In a world so full of destruction and chaos, caused in large part by England itself, They lived in a world of peace and ease. Be careful that you don't become complacent and take it for granted. These are lessons that can easily be taken and applied to 21st century America. Wells has crafted an incredible tale of humanity that will be relevant in any age.
It is also important to point out that Wells blazed some significant trails in the area of science fiction. His concept of the time machine, Martian invasion, and the invisible man have inspired innumerable novels, plays, stories, poems, songs, campfire tales, and bedtime stories. Wells should certainly be recognized for his place in the history of storytelling.

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