The War of the Worlds
by H.G. Wells
Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis
Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.
Plot Type : Overcoming the Monster
Anticipation Stage and "Call"
A Martian cylinder arrives and the narrator is very interested in what it might hold. The Martians use their Heat-Ray on the crowd.
The War of the Worlds is a strange sort of "overcoming the monster" story in that there's no real heroic action that defeats the monster. That said, since we follow the narrator through much of the book, we're going to consider his story here. His story begins when the Martians arrive. That's the event that certainly serves as a "call" to him, since he stops his work immediately to go see the Martian cylinder. However, the narrator knows that this isn't going to be a great meeting of the minds when the Martians use their Heat-Ray for the first time. That's the event that really lets him (and us) know that we're facing a threat – in other words, a monster.
While the Martians reveal themselves to be dangerous (hello, it's called a Heat-Ray, people – what did you think was going to happen?), the narrator and others think that they'll be able to take care of this problem easily.
In this stage, people prepare for the battle, even if that preparation consists of just talking about it and thinking about it. For our heroic narrator, thinking about fighting is pretty much his whole contribution to the war. You can tell that this is still the "dream stage" because the narrator fantasizes about how to beat the Martians, and all the humans are pretty confident they're going to win. Of course, at the same time as the narrator is telling us that he was confident, he also lets us know that he was an idiot for being so confident. Maybe we know it's the dream stage for two reasons: 1) everyone is confident and 2) we know that they are wrong to feel so sure of themselves.
The Martians prove that they're not so easy to kill because they have tripods. The narrator has a run-in with them.
To call this the "frustration stage" is kind of like calling dying a health condition – it's a bit of an understatement. Whereas the humans had been confident about their powers in the dream stage, after the Martians come out in their tripods, the narrator realizes there's a problem here. Since we're considering this book to be the narrator's story (at least for this plot analysis), we think the frustration stage consists of both Book 1, Chapter 9, where the Martians come out of their crater and the narrator evacuates his wife from the area, and Book 1, Chapter 10, where the narrator comes face-to-face – or face-to-leg? face-to-Heat-Ray? – with one of the Martian tripods and realizes how bad things really are.
This is pretty much the rest of the book, until Book 2, Chapter 8.
After the narrator sees how powerful the Martian tripods are, he spends the rest of the book running around, hiding, and (later) wandering sort of aimlessly. All this time he lets us know that he's not feeling very well emotionally and mentally. This is pretty much the definition of a nightmare: running away from monsters but not being able to escape them.
Now, maybe we should say something about the narrator's brother's story, which occurs in the book in the middle of the narrator's own nightmare stage. What's the narrator's brother's story doing here? Well, there are some nightmarish aspects to the brother's story – like being caught up and nearly trampled by the crowd – but, overall, the brother's story is happy. The brother and his friends are heroically doing something to save themselves. That makes a nice contrast from the narrator's own story, which is less happy and less active. We think the brother's story in Book 1, Chapters 16 and 17 is a relief. It's a way to break up the nightmare stage of the narrator's story.
The Thrilling Escape from Death, and Death of the Monster
The Martians are dead from disease. Maybe we should invade Venus.
Thrilling? Well, maybe the death of the Martians is thrilling if you're a microbiologist or an evolutionary epidemiologist. But for most of us, the ending is a bit of an anti-climax: the human species is saved, but not because of any accomplishment of their own. (Unless you count "developing an immune system" as an accomplishment. Which we suppose it is, if you're an evolutionary epidemiologist.) In fact, not only is the death of the monster less than heroic, but many things get inverted in this ending. Instead of being heroically rewarded, the narrator is perpetually haunted at the end. And rather than learn the lesson about how it's dangerous to invade other worlds, the narrator starts wondering if humans should invade Venus some day. In other words, the end of this book potentially gives us both the death of the monster (the Martians) and the birth of a new monster (the humans).