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The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds


by H.G. Wells

The War of the Worlds Questions

Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.

  1. The War of the Worlds influenced several books and movies, like Independence Day. Some of these have heroic endings, where the people beat back the aliens. Others (like Thomas Disch's novel The Genocides) end rather badly for humans. Depending on how you look at it, The War of the Worlds might have an optimistic ending (yay, we survived) or a pessimistic ending (but for how long?). Why do you think the book's ending is so ambiguous? How does the open-ended ending affect your reading process?
  2. Most of the characters in War of the Worlds don't have names. Characters who remain unnamed include the narrator, his wife, his brother, the artilleryman, and the curate. As for named characters, there's Ogilvy, Henderson, Stent, Lord Garrick, and Mrs. and Miss Elphinstone – not exactly a list of star characters there. Why are there so few names in this novel? Why do most of the major characters not have names? How do you feel about a character if he or she doesn't have a name?
  3. If you've seen either the 1953 movie adaptation or the Spielberg 2005 version, you'll have noticed that the movies make some serious changes to the minor characters, like the curate and the artilleryman. When you compare the book to either film adaptation, what differences do you find in how they treat the minor characters? Why do you think they made those changes?
  4. Why does the narrator go into such detail about the Martians, particularly in Book 2, Chapter 2? Why do the Martians have such strange machinery and biology? For instance, the narrator notes that the Martians don't have the wheel, which we consider a simple tool. Would it change the story a lot if the Martians did use the wheel? Answer these same questions in regards to the Martians' lack of digestive organs too, if you prefer.
  5. On our "Writing Style" page, we claim that this book contains a fair amount of language that sounds like the Bible. Are there any particular patterns to this language? Do the characters use it at certain times (for example, when the Martians are winning or losing)? To expand this question further, notice that the curate uses an especially large amount of Biblical language throughout. The curate isn't a very sympathetic character (we think), so does it change what you think about Biblical language when he uses a lot of it?
  6. We've claimed that the book has an occasional Biblical style and that one of the book's major themes is Fate and Free Will. But this isn't exactly what you would call a religious book. Or is it? What role does religion play in this book? How is God treated? The curate takes God seriously, but no one else does until the very end. When the narrator thanks God for saving people (in 2.8), are we supposed to take that seriously?
  7. Wells was considered a horrifically realistic author in his day – that is, at least one reviewer of the book was horrified by what the Martians were doing because it all seemed so realistic. In addition, Wells' friend Joseph Conrad called Wells the "Realist of the Fantastic" (source). Do you agree that this book is realistic? If so, how does Wells make it seem realistic?
  8. Generally speaking, this novel doesn't make us all that proud to be humans. That is, humans are shown as foolish, hysterically fearful, weak, prone to violence, and smelly (we're guessing about that last one – but come on, with everyone running around and sweating in the heat). Is this book particularly negative towards people?

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