The War of the Worlds Summary
Fasten your seatbelt, folks, because the plot of War of the Worlds can be a little bumpy. Wells' narrator jumps from talking about the whole world, to talking about himself, to talking about what his brother's been up to. Don't say we didn't warn you.
The book starts with the narrator mentioning that the people of Earth never expected Martians to attack (understandable). Then Martian cylinders come crashing down into the English countryside. (Check out this map we made to see where the cylinders fall.) The cylinders open, revealing Martians that don't move so well – that is, until they build their tank-like tripods and go striding around the countryside on those, burning everything in sight with their Heat-Rays (patent pending).
The narrator runs and hides. He gets his wife away from the Martians… but then goes back towards the Martians. Why would he do that? Well, because a) he has to return the cart-and-horse he used to get out of town and b) he wants to see the British army crush the Martians. Also, possibly because c) he's not so smart.
At this point, the British army is fighting the Martians and losing badly: the British have managed to destroy one Martian tripod, while the Martians have been going to town on the British. When the narrator realizes how deadly the Martians are, he runs and hides in his house, where he meets an artilleryman. They travel together a little, but the narrator loses track of the artilleryman during another Martian attack.
After escaping the Martians (again), the narrator meets a curate. The narrator and the curate travel together, even though the narrator starts to be bothered by the guy. The Martians also start using their second major weapon, the Black Smoke (also patent pending).
Meanwhile, the narrator's brother is in London, so we get to hear all about how things went over there too. At first, people in London worried about the Martians because they didn't realize how powerful the Martians were. Then, later, the Londoners hear that the Martians are advancing on the city, so they all evacuates. On his way out, the brother meets up with two women, Mrs. and Miss Elphinstone, and the three of them escape together. They reach the coast and get a spot on a boat that's going to Ostend. While their boat is shipping out, the Martians attack, but the English navy destroys two of the Martians' tripods.
The narrator and the curate are trapped in a house for a few days because there are Martians camped outside the house. The two men grow to hate each other. The narrator observes the Martians and discovers a lot about them. For example, the Martians survive off of blood (hence, the delight of going after humans). Eventually, the Martians catch the curate, who has been knocked out by the narrator.
Several days later, after the Martians leave the general area, the narrator comes out of his hole in the ground. He discovers that the world is stranger than he left it – it's largely destroyed and covered in a red Martian weed.
The narrator runs into the artilleryman, who tells the narrator all about his plan for a new lifestyle: living underground, playing cricket, and killing Martians occasionally. The narrator is very impressed by this plan and wants to subscribe to the artilleryman's newsletter. However, while the artilleryman talks the talk, he doesn't walk the walk, so the narrator leaves him. No cricket for them.
The narrator makes his way to London, which he discovers is a mess. (Probably soccer hooligans.) He eventually discovers that the Martians are all dead – they died from some bacteria or disease that humans are immune to. He finds his wife again and thinks about how the Martian invasion has made people rethink some of the things they thought they knew.
Book 1, Chapter 1
The Eve of the War
- The story starts with some very general statements about life before the war, such as the famous opening line: "No one would have believed in the last years of the 19th century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water" (1.1.1). Creepy alert!
- At first, we don't know who is talking. Is this an omniscient narrator or a character in the story?
- But we do know a war is coming because the chapter title tells us. Also, "war" is in the book's title – so, really, there are lots of clues that war is coming. We know that, but the people on Earth don't know it. Yet. (Cue threatening music.)
- The narrator gives us some background information on Mars – info that he pretends we already know (1.1.2). Like, you know that Mars is running out of natural resources, right? Everybody knows that. The real question is whether the Martians have considered invading Earth for its natural resources.
- Now, we might not want the Martians to invade and kill us and steal all our stuff, but the narrator reminds us that that's exactly what humans have done to each other – like when the British pretty much wiped out the Tasmanians. So who are we to complain?
- The narrator notes that people saw some flashes of light on Mars, but didn't know what they meant.
- If you're keeping track, so far the narrator has described people as dangerous (at least if you're a Tasmanian – which you're not, because they're extinct) and as a little shortsighted. You can already tell that this isn't going to be a feel-good story that makes you proud to be human.
- By the way, this all happened six years ago (1.1.9), so the narrator knows how everything turns out all right. Now we know that at least one person survived. (Unless this is a Martian narrator – shoot.)
- Also, though we know this happened six years ago, the narrator never tells us what year it all started. He mentions 1894 as the year some great light was seen on Mars, but that light is not the flashes he mentioned.
- Finally, the narrator reveals himself as someone in the story, though someone without a name.
- Now, on to the real action.
- The narrator meets the astronomer Ogilvy, who invites him to the observatory to see the weird lights on Mars.
- The night at the observatory is entirely ordinary by our human standards. The narrator drinks some water because he's thirsty and the people in the villages are fast asleep.
- The narrator then contrasts this ordinary stuff with the coming of the Martians. He notes that things are hunky-dory now, but there's some "Thing" coming to Earth to bring "struggle and calamity and death" (1.1.13).
- Ogilvy doesn't believe that Mars has intelligent life. He thinks the strange lights are just volcanoes or meteorites falling on Mars.
- Astronomers observe flashes of light on Mars once a day for ten days. The newspapers mention these strange lights, but no one can guess what they really mean. Instead, people just go about their ordinary lives. For instance, the narrator spends his time learning how to ride a bicycle. (Check out "Setting" for more on the bicycle. Seriously.)
Book 1, Chapter 2
The Falling Star
- Many people see a falling star one Thursday night.
- Ogilvy goes out to find the meteorite, which he thinks is somewhere on the common near Horsell. (What's a "common"? In this case, think of it as a public park. Or check out the website for Horsell Common, which is indeed a real place.)
- Ogilvy finds the meteorite in a crater, which is where one usually finds meteorites. But this meteorite is a little strange: it's cylindrical and it makes some noise.
- Then it starts to open, which is the really strange part.
- Ogilvy realizes that the cylinder is hollow and full of people (eek!). He thinks they're are dying from the heat. In a somewhat heroic move, Ogilvy goes to help open the cylinder. Unfortunately, the cylinder is too hot to touch.
- He runs into town to get help, but he looks and sounds pretty batty, so he's ignored by a guy driving a wagon and almost gets locked inside a pub by someone else who thinks he's crazy.
- Third time's the charm, though. Ogilvy tries to tell his neighbor, the journalist Henderson, about this amazing thing and Henderson actually listens to the guy (probably because it would make a great newspaper article).
- [This little meeting shows that Wells has a sense of humor, even if it is a British sense of humor. When Ogilvy tells Henderson that there's something inside the artificial cylinder, Henderson says, "What's that?" We might expect him to say "what" because it's such amazing news, but actually he's saying "what" because he's partly deaf (1.2.18). If you're British (or work at Shmoop), you probably find that funny.]
- Ogilvy and Henderson rush to see the cylinder, but they still can't help, so they run back to town. Now, instead of just one guy looking crazy and yelling about the meteorite, there are two guys looking crazy and yelling about the meteorite.
- The narrator asks us to imagine these two guys running into town while the townsfolk mostly go about their ordinary lives. (Since we're not from the 1890s, it might be hard for us to imagine what "ordinary" means, but you can visit the BBC's Victorians website to find out.)
- Henderson goes to wire the news to London.
- Some locals go to see the "dead men from Mars," which is what people are saying this cylinder is. At least humans get things partly right. (Dead? No. From Mars? Yes.)
- The narrator hears about this story and rushes off to see for himself.
Book 1, Chapter 3
On Horsell Common
- The narrator goes to see the cylinder in the morning and finds a small crowd of people: some boys throwing stones at the cylinder (which we would've done at that age, so we're not going to judge), some cyclists, a gardener, a girl and baby, a butcher and his boy, some guys with nothing better to do, and some golf caddies (1.3.3). In other words, just ordinary folk who have come to see the spectacle.
- However, the cylinder is not really exciting unless you're a scientific person. In fact, according to the narrator, it's less exciting at first glance than "an overturned carriage or a tree blown across the road" (1.3.4).
- Luckily, the narrator isn't really bored – unlike the other onlookers, he knows what the word "extraterrestrial" means (1.3.4). He imagines that the cylinder might contain some message from Mars and is impatient to see inside it. How wrong he is.
- The narrator goes home, since nothing is happening, but returns in the afternoon. By that time, the newspapers have spread the news: "A Message Received from Mars. Remarkable Story from Woking." (1.3.6).
- We interrupt this summary for a Brain Snack: A hundred years after Wells published this book, the real town of Woking put up some War of the Worlds-themed art to celebrate their connection to the book (source).
- There's a larger crowd looking at the cylinder, including Ogilvy, Henderson, and Stent (the Astronomer Royal). Stent is directing some workmen in uncovering the cylinder. Curiously, Stent is the one who is "streaming with perspiration," which just goes to show what we've always said: it's hard work telling other people what to do (1.3.9).
- Ogilvy asks the narrator to go speak to Lord Hilton (how fancy) about getting a light railing around the crater.
- Gosh, our narrator is doing a lot of going to and fro here. And not much is going on.
Book 1, Chapter 4
The Cylinder Opens
- The narrator returns to Horsell Common to discover an even larger crowd, all pushing to be able to see the cylinder. All, that is, except for one poor guy who fell into the crater and is trying to push his way back out. (Which is always the way – the grass is always greener on the other side of the crater.)
- Then the cylinder opens, and out comes something that no one expects. The narrator admits that he expected something sort of like a man to emerge, but instead what comes out is snake-like tentacles and a body about the size of a bear and skin that glistens like "wet leather" (1.4.12, 1.4.14). (You can only imagine our facial contortions right now.)
- Everyone runs away from the Martian just because it looks horrible, what with its saliva-dripping, lipless mouth and big, luminous eyes. Oh, and tentacles. Can't forget the tentacles.
- Since all of the people have for cover (they've found places to hide and watch), the area by the crater is now a human-free zone, with just some horses and carts.
- Oh, and remember the man who fell in the crater before? He's still down there. Dun dun dun!
Book 1, Chapter 5
- The narrator keeps flitting between fear and curiosity – he is "a battleground" between these two feelings – but eventually, his curiosity wins and he goes to find a better view of the pit. Although it's getting dark now, which is not the best time of day to examine Martians, especially in a chapter titled "The Heat-Ray." (Although perhaps the narrator can be forgiven for missing the clue of the chapter title since this is the first appearance of the phrase "Heat-Ray" according to the Oxford English Dictionary.)
- Many of the other people are also bucking up and returning to the pit. Some of these people (fools?) walk really close to the cylinder, waving a white flag to signal their peaceful intentions.
- Later, the narrator learns that Ogilvy, Henderson, and Stent were in this group. (If you ever find yourself making contact with aliens, please don't assume that they will know that a white flag means "we come in peace." It's very possible that on Mars, a white flag means "Your mom.")
- There's a flash of light in the pit and some bright green smoke. As the people get closer to the pit, a dome-like object rises out of the pit and…
- Nowadays, we have lasers and flamethrowers, so this might not sound so amazing to us, but imagine reading this in 1898: "It was as if some invisible jet impinged upon them and flashed into white flame. It was as if each man were suddenly and momentarily turned to fire" (1.5.14).
- The narrator is so shocked by this that he doesn't realize that people are dying. "All I felt was that it was something very strange" (1.5.16). He is so shocked that he doesn't move and would've died, but the Heat-Ray happens to miss him.
- Eventually he realizes his situation – aliens are shooting a Heat-Ray at him – so he decides skedaddle. He runs, weeping silently like a child (his words, not ours – none of the children we know weep silently, but maybe things were different in the 1890s).
Book 1, Chapter 6
The Heat-Ray in the Chobham Road
- No one knows how the Martian Heat-Ray works (besides the fact that it manages to scorch people), but the narrator is willing to give us some theories anyway.
- (By, the way, this chapter is a little confusing, but it seems to tell us what happened in Chapter 5 from a different perspective.)
- People from the neighboring towns come to see what all the fuss is about. As the narrator notes, young people use this news as an excuse to go out and flirt, just as they would use any news to go out and flirt.
- Police try to keep the crowd back, but there are only three police and maybe 300 people in the crowd, so our money is on the crowd.
- Earlier Stent and Ogilvy had telegraphed a nearby military barracks to ask for some soldiers to come out and protect the Martians from the crowd, but the army hasn't shown up yet. This is what folks in the lit biz call irony.
- The Heat-Ray kills some people, but it misses others. The crowd stampedes like "a flock of sheep," and they end up trampling "two women and a little boy" (1.6.10). Interestingly, this is much more specific than the info the narrator gives us about who got killed by the Heat-Ray.
Book 1, Chapter 7
How I Reached Home
- The narrator runs away in terror until he can't run anymore. After a rest, he also finds that he's not terrified anymore – "My terror had fallen from me like a garment" (1.7.4). (And so did his hat – it fell off him just like a garment, probably because it is one.) What happened on the Horsell Common now seems like a dream to him.
- He wanders home, noticing some ordinary things, like a train.
- He stops to chat with a group of people who don't see what all the fuss is about, which annoys him.
- If you're keeping track at home, you've noticed that in two pages the narrator has gone from a) terrified, to b) considering what he saw to be a dream, to c) being annoyed that people aren't taking the Martians seriously enough. The narrator himself points out that he's a man "of exceptional moods" (1.7.7), but we might say, "of exceptional mood swings."
- The narrator arrives home and tells his wife about the Martians. She becomes very nervous.
- Now, you might think that her reaction would make the narrator happy, since that's kind of what he wanted from the group of people he talked to on the way home. But no. Now all he wants to do is assure her that they're safe. To do so, the narrator points out that the Martians are weak and can't get out of the pit because Earth has a higher gravity than Mars.
- Looking back on the invasion, the narrator tells us that he missed a few obvious points: 1) Earth air has more oxygen, which is invigorating (don't you feel invigorated?); and 2) the Martians are mechanical geniuses and can build machines to do the lifting for them. Bah.
- But the narrator doesn't realize these things at the moment and enjoys his dinner, secure in the thought that the humans can kill the Martians whenever they want. He then compares himself to a dodo bird: "So some respectable dodo […] might have lorded it in his nest, and discussed the arrival of that shipful of pitiless sailors in want of animal food. 'We will peck them to death tomorrow, my dear'" (1.7.33). Now that's a nice cap to a chapter of extraordinary mood swings.
Book 1, Chapter 8
- Except for the Martians using a Heat-Ray to kill a lot of people in Chapter 5, things are pretty ordinary that Friday night around the rest of England. The news that a cylinder from Mars has landed on Earth doesn't get much attention and certainly isn't treated seriously.
- For instance, Henderson wired his newspaper to tell this story, but they thought it was a hoax and didn't want to run the article until they could confirm it with him. But they couldn't confirm it with him because the Martians burned him.
- Even people who know about the cylinder aren't taking it too seriously. Some people try to sneak up and get a look at the Martians but they (cue threatening music) are never seen again.
- There's also some construction going on in the pit, but that's probably nothing to worry about.
- Though no one else seems to care, the military does take this threat somewhat seriously and comes out in full force. We're sure the army will be able to take care of things in no time at all, and the rest of the book will be made up of interesting recipes that the narrator collected from his neighbors in Woking.
- A second cylinder falls nearby, but again, no one is too worried.
Book 1, Chapter 9
The Fighting Begins
- Saturday morning is "a most unexceptional morning" (1.9.4). The narrator talks to the milkman and his neighbor, and everyone is sure the military has all this under control.
- Everything seems very ordinary, especially with the little touches that Wells adds, like the neighbor giving the narrator some strawberries from his garden.
- The narrator ends up chatting with a bunch of sappers (think "soldier engineers") who generally agree with the neighbor and the milkman – they've got the situation under control. The sappers all have different theories about how to kill the Martians.
- The narrator tries to get more info on the situation, but the newspapers only have old news (and not entirely accurate news at that).
- The military prepares to confront the Martians, and the narrator's schoolboy dreams of heroic war are awoken by all this: "My imagination became belligerent, and defeated the invaders in a dozen striking ways" (1.9.21).
- Then, while the narrator is having tea with his wife, some nearby towers catch on fire and the narrator's chimney is destroyed by the Heat-Ray. The narrator quickly decides that, rather than heroically defeat the Martians, he should just get out of town.
- The narrator decides to go to Leatherhead, where he has family. The narrator runs over to the Spotted Dog in order to hire the landlord's horse and cart.
- There's some miscommunication at the Spotted Dog, but the narrator successfully hires the cart and loads up his wife and servant and some of their possessions.
- A passing soldier says something about the Martians "crawling out in a thing like a dish cover" (1.9.41).
- And then the narrator is off. Apparently, he doesn't like dish covers.
Book 1, Chapter 10
In the Storm
- The narrator drives to Leatherhead where his family lives and leaves his wife there. Though he should've stayed in Leatherhead that night (he says now), he has to go back to Woking to return the horse and cart he rented.
- Also, he confesses to having some "war-fever" – he wants to be there to see the Martians defeated. We're sure his wife wouldn't support that one.
- It is, if you'll pardon the phrase that we've just invented this very moment, a dark and stormy night. Also a very quiet night. The narrator passes houses, but can't tell if a) the people are sleeping soundly, b) the people have run away already, or c) the people are nervously watching for some new disaster.
- Things were so much easier in the beginning of the book, when he could be sure that dark houses at night meant people were sleeping.
- Then the third cylinder arrives.
- But that's not all. The narrator sees one of the Martian tripods, which he describes as moving like a "milking stool tilted and bowled violently along the ground" (1.10.12).
- This doesn't exactly sound scary to us, but maybe we're not imagining it right – does this milking-stool have fangs? (For some images of the tripods, check out this gallery of book covers.)
- Then, as if one tripod wasn't enough, another monstrous tripod appears in front of the narrator. He crashes the cart and the horse dies – so we guess he won't be returning it to the landlord.
- The narrator ends up watching the tripods pass over him, making some strange "Aloo! aloo!" sound (1.10.17).
- After the Martian tripods pass, the narrator basically crawls most of the way home in the terrible storm.
- It's such a bad storm that he doesn't see the landlord's dead body until he stumbles upon it – so we guess he really won't be returning the (dead) horse and cart to him. (But at least he doesn't have to come up with some excuse to the landlord: "Uh, I got spooked by something that moved like a milking-stool bowled violently along the ground.")
- The narrator lets himself into his house and spends some time shivering.
Book 1, Chapter 11
At the Window
- After changing his clothes (and experiencing another one of his patented mood swings), the narrator goes upstairs and looks out his study window. The storm is over, but since it's night, all he sees is darkness and fire. His secure "little world" has been turned into a "fiery chaos" (1.11.7).
- He thinks about the tripods – are they alive or are they machines? He comes up with the neat analogy: what would some animal think about our ironclads or steam engines?
- Before the narrator makes too many connections between the Martians and humans, a soldier interrupts by climbing into his garden. The narrator invites him in and they talk.
- The soldier cries while he tells his story and our narrator listens "with a curious forgetfulness of [his] own recent despair" (1.11.24).
- The soldier reveals that he's an artilleryman who was saved by dumb luck when the rest of his unit was wiped out: the horse he was riding stumbled and tossed him into a ditch just when all the ammunition blew up around his unit.
- Without a hint of humor, the artilleryman tells the narrator that it smelled just like "burnt meat" (1.11.27), which makes sense because, well, what he smelled was burnt meat. Sorry – we know you didn't want to be reminded of that one.
- The artilleryman was trapped under a horse while the tripod destroyed the area. After it left, he crawled away, and eventually ended up in the narrator's garden.
- When the artilleryman finishes with his story, it's daytime and they can see the destruction of the area: "Never before in the history of warfare had destruction been so indiscriminate and universal" (1.11.34).
- All in all, nothing happy happens in this chapter. Let's see if the next chapter is more cheerful.
Book 1, Chapter 12
What I Saw of the Destruction of Weybridge and Shepperton
- Oh, this chapter title isn't very cheerful at all. So much for that hope.
- The artilleryman plans to meet up with his military unit in London in order to continue the fight, while the narrator plans to meet up with his wife in Leatherhead in order to get the heck out of the country. We'd go with plan #2.
- They take some food and, to avoid the third cylinder, they take the long route. Luckily for us, the long route passes through a lot of destruction, so we get to hear about charred bodies and abandoned possessions. We suppose this is Wells' way of reminding us that there's a war going on.
- On their way, the narrator and artilleryman run into three cavalrymen and they share some information about the Martians.
- (Also, the narrator notices that one of them has a heliograph that looks like a theodolite – which are both great words to say aloud. If you must know what those words mean, a theodolite is a device used in surveying and measuring, while a heliograph is a device that uses a mirror to send light signals.)
- One of the cavalrymen tells them to go Weybridge, where the brigadier-general is.
- As the narrator and the artilleryman travel farther from the front, the world seems more peaceful and ordinary – except there are other artillerymen setting up their guns, so it's not totally ordinary. Still, if we must have something out of the ordinary, we'll take "artillery being set up" over "charred bodies" any day: both are a little out of the ordinary, but one involves fewer charred bodies.
- When the narrator and the artilleryman reach Weybridge, they see the military trying to evacuate people. One old man doesn't want to leave without his valuable orchids, so the narrator gently tells him, "Death! […] Death is coming! Death!" (1.12.36). The old man doesn't quite get the message.
- The narrator and the artilleryman hang around Weybridge, which is not panic-stricken. They seem to calm down. For instance, they find the time to help some old women pack (1.12.39). The people in Weybridge are evacuating, but not panicked about it. Why? Because they think of the Martians as "simply formidable human beings, who might attack and sack the town" but would "be certainly destroyed in the end" (1.12.40).
- Then the army's guns start firing – and then stop firing when the Martians have destroyed them.
- The Martian tripods become visible and the Martians continue to do what they do best: destroy stuff.
- To escape the "terrible Heat-Ray," the narrator decides to get into the River Thames, which seems like a good idea, except that the Heat-Ray causes the water to heat up (which is kind of the point of the Heat-Ray, after all). The Thames gets especially hot when one of the Martian tripods falls into the river after some artillery kills the Martian driving it.
- (If you're keeping score at home, that's Humans 1, Martians… well, we don't have precise numbers, but it's got to be over 100 by now.)
- Rather than get out of the boiling water, the narrator wants to go check out the Martian wreck. That's what we call having one's priorities out of order.
- The narrator eventually crawls out of the boiling water and falls down on the riverbank. From that position, he sees the remaining tripods take away the wreckage of the fallen tripod.
Book 1, Chapter 13
How I Fell in with the Curate
- Rather than invade London, the Martians retreat to Horsell Common after one of them dies (in Chapter 12). This means that the British army has time to dig in and prepare their defenses. (We're sure their defenses are going to be very effective this time around and the rest of the book will be a guidebook to the Woking area, which probably has several charming shops and bed-and-breakfasts.)
- Instead of advancing on London, the Martians are hard at work on something. (Cue threatening music.)
- Meanwhile, the narrator finds a small boat and drifts down towards London.
- He rests for a while on shore and then, out of the blue, becomes angry with his wife. As he says, "It is a curious thing that I felt angry with my wife; I cannot account for it, but my impotent desire to reach Leatherhead worried me excessively" (1.13.7). Is there more to say about this? Oh boy, is there ever – check out "Characters."
- When he wakes up from resting, he discovers a new friend: the curate (meaning, a parish priest or an assistant priest). The curate wants to know what it all means. Why do bad Martians happen to good English-people?
- The narrator tries to get him thinking about practical issues, but the curate decides that the Martians are a Biblical-sized judgment: "This must be the beginning of the end. […] The end! The great and terrible day of the Lord!" (1.13.36).
- The narrator responds with both a theological argument and a practical argument. Theological: "[God] is not an insurance agent…" (1.13.38). Practical: we're in the middle of a battlefield and should probably get a move on. We're convinced by both arguments, though we're not sure which one would convince the curate.
Book 1, Chapter 14
- This chapter leaves the narrator and follows his younger brother in London, where the brother is a medical student.
- Also, be aware we are rewinding a few days, back to Saturday when the Martians were still just a threat to the Woking area.
- Londoners get news of the Martians, though some of it is garbled. For instance, the Heat-Ray becomes a "quick-firing gun" (1.14.2).
- Most of the Londoners are sure they're safe and so there isn't much worry over some distressing clues – like the telegraph system to the Woking area failing or the trains not going through to Woking on time on Saturday.
- The narrator notes that he's read accounts in which London got all excited on Sunday with the news of the Martians, but from what he's been able find out, people generally went about their ordinary lives.
- By contrast, the narrator's brother wants to make a change from his ordinary life – he wants to move toward the invasion.
- However, as the day goes on, the alien invasion starts to affect people's lives. For example, people can't go out into the country for picnics, which probably ruins their days, but at least they aren't turned into charred corpses. Also, refugees flood into the city and the army moves out. (Neither the refugees nor the soldiers really blend in with people going around in their Sunday best.)
- In order to get some info about the Martians, the narrator's brother buys an expensive newspaper – instead of the usual price of probably a penny, it costs three pennies. Although this newspaper describes the terrible Martian weapons, the newspaper's tone is "optimistic" (1.14.19), possibly because of how inflated the price is.
- In London, you can hear the big guns firing at the Martians – at least, if you are in a small side alley you can. Otherwise the streets are so crowded and loud that you really can't hear much of anything but city clamor.
- Although he's worried about the narrator, the narrator's brother goes to sleep on Sunday night, only to wake up early on Monday to an alarm going off. Apparently the Martians are coming and everyone else is politely – but quickly – leaving London to make room.
- "London, which had gone to bed on Sunday night oblivious and inert, was awakened in the small hours of Monday morning to a vivid sense of danger" (1.14.44).
- People are yelling about Black Smoke – capitalized, so you know it's going to be important, even if we don't know what it is yet.
- Meanwhile, a newspaperman is running away from the city, selling his papers for a lot more than usual – "a grotesque mingling of profit and panic" (1.14.45).
- From the paper, the brother learns that the Black Smoke is a type of poison gas. (This was before chemical warfare became a common part of war, so for people reading this book in 1898, this is something very new and terrible.) Also, there's a government announcement that everyone should get out of London.
- The brother grabs his money and gets out. Hopefully he'll have enough moolah for another paper or two.
Book 1, Chapter 15
What had Happened in Surrey
- We rewind back to Sunday and return to the narrator and the curate. When we left our intrepid heroes, they were thinking that something was going to happen with the Martians. Let's look in to see if they're on the money.
- After regrouping on Horsell Common to working on something, the Martian tripods go on the offensive.
- Some artillery units try to stop the Martians, but things don't go so well for the humans. The narrator gives two examples to demonstrate this: one artillery unit is made up of inexperienced soldiers who panic and run away, while another unit damages (but doesn't destroy) a tripod and then gets blown up by the Martian Heat-Ray.
- The narrator wonders if the Martians want to exterminate people. Then leaves us with the parenthetical remark that "At that time no one knew what food they needed," which hopefully creeps you out (1.15.13).
- The Martians begin to launch their rockets. The narrator hides with the curate under a bush, but he sneaks out to see what these rockets are. He expects some explosion, but all he sees is some dark cloud (ah, the Black Smoke).
- Since the events in this story, the narrator has learned all about the Black Smoke, which is a heavy gas that kills anyone who breathes it. It disperses after a few days (it sinks to the ground and forms a powder coating to the world), unless the Martians get rid of it quicker by spraying steam to clear the air.
- In fact, the Black Smoke is so heavy that people who go up high in buildings just might survive.
- The narrator and the curate take refuge in an abandoned house in Halliford, waiting out the Black Smoke.
- Also, there's a fourth cylinder in Bushey Park.
- The Martians advance, using the Black Smoke to kill the army when the guns are hidden, and using their Heat-Ray when the humans' guns are visible.
- In the face of that danger, the military basically falls apart. Even sailors mutiny and take their ships out to sea. (This is big news considering what role the navy has played in keeping Britain safe – think of the English navy beating back the Spanish Armada in 1588 or keeping off Napoleon during the Napoleonic Wars.)
- The narrator then asks us to imagine what it would feel like to be in one of those artillery units, waiting until you could stop the Martians, but instead being dosed by poison gas. It's not really fun to imagine at all. It's kind of a bummer.
- Lastly, the narrator notes that the government, before it disintegrated totally, tried to evacuate London. Which is a nice segue into… Chapter 16: The Exodus from London.
Book 1, Chapter 16
The Exodus from London
- We're back to London and the story of the narrator's brother.
- First, we start with some broader overviews of how London is falling apart: "By ten o'clock the police organization, and by midday even the railway organizations, were losing coherency, losing shape and efficiency, guttering, softening, running at last in that swift liquefaction of the social body" (1.16.1). That's a pretty gruesome, but kind of awesome, description of society falling apart.
- Since the trains aren't running regularly anymore, the narrator's brother gets a bicycle on a very good discount – for free. In other words, a crowd robs a bike store and the brother is lucky enough to be one of the mob who gets a bike (with a punctured tire).
- He rides out of the city, but the bike breaks down eventually, so he decides to walk to some friends' place farther away from the city.
- On his way, the brother runs into an attempted robbery. Three men are attacking two women in a pony-drawn carriage. (It may be that the three men are refugees who just want the carriage. Or they might just be ordinary robbers. It's unclear.)
- The brother knocks out one of the robbers, and the women get away, so the brother is a hero. Unfortunately, he's a hero facing two very angry guys all by himself – until one of the women comes back for him. Oh, and she's got a gun. She nearly shoots the brother by accident, but the shot does scare off the robbers. The brother and the two women decide to travel on together.
- The women are Mrs. Elphinstone (married to a doctor who is off helping people) and the doctor's sister, Miss Elphinstone. Miss Elphinstone is the one who came back to save the brother from the robbers. By contrast, Mrs. Elphinstone mostly just gets nervous and calls for her husband.
- To make them feel better, the brother says that he knows all about how to use a gun, though he's lying.
- They see tons people evacuating on a crowded street. Everyone is different from each other except that they're all afraid.
- While the crowd is largely indistinct, there are three men who particularly stand out:
- (1) A blind man wearing a Salvation Army uniform and preaching about the end of the world. Well, yelling "Eternity! Eternity!" (1.16.46), which is pretty much the same thing.
- (2) Lord Garrick, the Chief Justice, who was in a carriage in the midst of the throng, but is taken out because he's dying. The Lord Chief Justice is the second-highest judge of all England (and Wales), but that doesn't save him from dying in terrible circumstances.
- (3) A guy with a bag full of money who is clearly attached to that money. When the bag breaks, he tries to get his money and is almost trampled to death. (However, when the narrator's brother tries to drag the man to safety, the man has enough energy to bite the hand that's trying to help him.)
- The narrator's brother realizes they have to get into this mass, so with young Miss Elphinstone's help, they force their way in. Eventually they come out on the other side and find a place where they can rest.
- That evening, while they rest, some people come by going the opposite direction as them, fleeing from some terror. The brother's group seems to have jumped out of one terrible situation only to go toward another. The professionals might call that irony, but that just seems mean to us.
Book 1, Chapter 17
The 'Thunder Child'
- We'll be sticking with the narrator's brother and Mrs. and Miss Elphinstone for most of this chapter. But we start the chapter with an interesting image: the narrator asks us to imagine a bird's-eye view (from up in a balloon) of the chaos. Instead of individuals, you'd see a "swarming of black dots," the biggest mass of people ever in history (1.17.1).
- More than that, if you were in a balloon and the world was spread out like a map below you, you would see parts of it "blotted" from the destruction of the Martians (1.17.2). Ay caramba.
- The Martians seem interested in destroying the British capacity to fight back, which is why they focus on telegraph wires, trains, and army positions. These guys learn quickly.
- On Monday, the dock area of London is very busy – boat captains are charging a fortune to take people away (and people who can't pay are often drowned). You can file this under "Humans are jerks" – which is probably a pretty big file from what we've read so far in this book.
- The narrator promises to tell us about the fifth cylinder later (oh, the suspense!), but he does tell us that the sixth cylinder lands at Wimbledon. (Insert tennis joke here.)
- Now we're back with the narrator's brother and the Elphinstones. As the brother and his group travel toward the sea on Tuesday, they hear rumors about what's going on and how there is free food somewhere. But the information is uncertain, so they decide to push on to the sea.
- They also see another cylinder fall – the seventh – on Tuesday night.
- At Chelmsford on Wednesday, a group calling themselves the Committee of Public Supply commandeer the brother's pony, so the brother's group continues to the sea on foot.
- By midday Wednesday, they can see the sea. There they find a strange collection of ships, all taking passengers for money. The brother buys passage on one of the ships going to Ostend (in Belgium). They also see a navy ship called the Thunder Child – but, hey, that's probably not important, even though it's the name of the chapter. The Thunder Child is an ironclad ram.
- Mrs. Elphinstone is worried about leaving the country. The narrator's brother notes that, "She seemed, poor woman, to imagine that the French and the Martians might prove very similar" (1.17.13).
- Eventually, some Martian tripods show up, which happens around the same time their ship sets off.
- The tripods move toward the passenger ships, even wading deep into the water. These are the first Martians that the brother has seen, and he is "more amazed than terrified" (1.17.19).
- The tripods come on to destroy (or capture?) the ships, but just then the Thunder Child rams and destroys two of the tripods, allowing the passenger ships to escape.
- The narrator wonders if maybe the Thunder Child was able to get close to the tripods because they thought it was "even such another as themselves" (1.17.23).
- If you're keeping track at home, that's Humans: 3, Martians: 100s, if not 1,000s. It's a very lopsided game, but everyone on the steamer cheers when the ram destroys the two tripods.
- As the steamer is heading off to safety, the narrator's brother notices something flying over England. This unidentified flying object "rained down darkness upon the land" (1.17.35), which is the happy image this volume ends on.
Book 2, Chapter 1
- We jump back to Sunday night with the narrator and the curate – remember them? – resting in an empty house to escape the Black Smoke. They stay put for the remainder of Sunday and all of Monday.
- When we say "resting," we mean the narrator spends his time being worried about his wife and annoyed with the curate. To escape the curate, the narrator resorts to locking himself into an attic room.
- After a Martian comes by and clears the Black Smoke (by spraying steam), the narrator and the curate leave. They cross the countryside, which the narrator compares to Pompeii, but instead of volcanic ash, everything is covered by the powder of the Black Smoke.
- They cross Bushey Park and see deer and people hurrying around. This is interesting because it's one of Wells' big mistakes: back in Book 1, Chapter 15, the fourth cylinder was supposed to land in Bushey Park, but it looks like Wells forgot about all that.
- The narrator and the curate go on, seeing more destruction (like "three smashed bicycles" (2.1.9), which really hits home for us because we like bikes).
- The pair hides when a Martian tripod passes by. They start off again, with the narrator giving us some terrifying foreshadowing: "That second start was the most foolhardy thing I ever did" (2.1.13).
- As they go, they see a Martian tripod picking up people and chucking them into a basket-like carrier attached to its back, which is new. It's nice to see the Martians branching out from straight-up killing.
- They spend the rest of the day hiding in a ditch, but get moving again during the night. By the time they reach Sheen, they're tired and hungry, so they start looking into the abandoned houses for food. The narrator finds some food and gives a precise catalogue because "we were destined to subsist upon this store for the next fortnight" (2.1.18). Now we know they're not going anywhere for two weeks (that's what a fortnight is), but you might be wondering why they're going to stay there. Then, right on cue…
- There's a big crash and part of the house they're in collapses. The narrator is knocked out. When he wakes up, the curate warns him not to move because if they move, they'll make noise. It's clear that there's something terrible outside. (What could it be? Have the Venusians come to invade too?)
- When the sun rises, they can see a Martian tripod through a hole in the wall. The narrator has a flash of insight and realizes that the fifth cylinder has hit the house. There are Martians right outside.
Book 2, Chapter 2
What We Saw from the Ruined House
- Maybe you want to hear about the brother's adventures in Belgium but, no, we're stuck with the narrator and the curate. And they're stuck, too – trapped in a ruined house while the Martians are just outside. Through a little peephole, the narrator and the curate can see the crater and the cylinder and the work going on there.
- There is a tripod guarding the hole, but that's old news – who hasn't seen a tripod by now? More interesting are the other machines that the narrator describes, especially the handling-machine, which looks like "a sort of metallic spider with five jointed, agile legs, and with an extraordinary number of jointed levers, bars, and reaching and clutching tentacles about its body" (2.2.6).
- The handling-machine moves so much like a living animal that the narrator has to remind himself that it's a machine and that the living creature is the Martian controlling it.
- Wells takes a moment here to do something that we're not sure we've ever seen before: through the narrator, Wells criticizes the illustrator of his own book. That is, the narrator notes that he saw illustrations of the tripods that made them look stiff and boring, totally unlike what they're really like (2.2.8).
- This is almost definitely a reference to an early magazine publication of The War of the Worlds (in Pearson's Magazine) that had illustrations that Wells was not happy with. They are pretty cheesy. Here's an illustration of a tripod from the original magazine publication.
- The narrator takes this opportunity to observe the Martians closely. They disgust him less now, but he finds them "the most unearthly creatures it is possible to conceive" (2.2.10). To which we want to respond, "duh, they're unearthly because they're not from Earth."
- Anyway, according to the narrator, the Martians are just heads and tentacles (which serve as hands). They have no nose and (as a later dissection revealed) no guts.
- In fact, they don't eat like we do, but instead inject blood from other creatures directly into their own veins. That may sound horrible to us, but let's think what an intelligent rabbit would feel about our meat-eating habits, says the narrator (2.2.13).
- In fact, injecting blood means they are free from all sorts of work digesting their food and all of the mood swings that come with being hungry or full. (And this is the narrator telling us about mood swings, so he really knows what he's talking about.)
- The narrator also notes that the Martians have probably attacked humans because their usual food was some Martian creature that looked vaguely human.
- The narrator also takes this opportunity to provide three big differences between humans and Martians: 1) the Martians don't sleep; 2) the Martians don't have different genders – they're really just big brains with hands; and 3) the Martians have no microorganisms.
- But rather than talk about that last part (which is surely not important), the narrator wants to tell us about the red weed, which is an invasive plant species that spreads everywhere very quickly.
- (For an example of real-life invasive plant species, check out the famous is kudzu, a.k.a. "the vine that ate the South.")
- As the world's leading expert on Martians, the narrator also wants to tell us that he thinks they communicate through telepathy. The Martians do make sounds, but those are just sounds, not language of any kind.
- And lastly, the narrator remarks that the Martians don't wear clothes (which is utterly scandalous in Victorian Britain), but the Martians do have a lot of technology that they "wear." "They have become practically mere brains, wearing different bodies according to their needs just as men wear suits of clothes and take a bicycle in a hurry or an umbrella in the wet" (2.2.25).
- The narrator then makes the connection between people and Martians super clear: "We men, with our bicycles and road-skates, our Lilienthal soaring-machines, our guns and sticks and so forth, are just in the beginning of the evolution that the Martians have worked out" (2.2.25).
- The curate wants to spy on the Martians too, so the narrator has to give up the peephole for now.
Book 2, Chapter 3
The Days of Imprisonment
- Still stuck in the house together, the narrator and the curate both enjoy peeping at the Martians through the small peephole. Yes, that's what people did before the Internet.
- The problem is that only one of them can peep at a time, so they fight – but they have to do it quietly or else the Martians will come to kill them.
- They also find that they "had absolutely incompatible dispositions and habits of thought and action" (2.3.2).
- We don't get to hear what the curate thinks of the narrator, but the narrator isn't shy about telling us what he thinks about the curate: "He was as lacking in restraint as a silly woman" (2.3.2). The narrator also goes on to call the curate a "spoilt child of life," and to note that the curate spends most of his time crying. Not only does he cry all the time, but the curate also eats too much and sleeps very little. Basically, the curate acts like a baby.
- The narrator is so aggravated with the curate that he eventually hits him in order to restrain him.
- The narrator remarks on more things he observed about the Martians. For instance, he noticed the Martians make some aluminium – which in the US we call "aluminum." (Now, you're probably quite familiar with aluminum in foil form, so this might not seem so exciting, but aluminum used to be a rare metal in the 19th century.)
- The curate gets upset when he sees the Martians haul some humans into their pit, and he gives up the peephole. The narrator takes a turn spying.
- The narrator sees a Martian taking a well-dressed man out of the carrying cage on a tripod.
- The narrator doesn't see what happens with the man, but he does hear shrieking from the man and hooting from the Martians (2.3.9). This can't be good at all.
- After freaking out a little, the narrator tries to come up with a plan for how to escape the house, but they're still there on the third day, when the narrator sees a boy get killed and eaten (instead of just hearing it). After that, the narrator spends the rest of the day trying to dig a tunnel out, but it collapses on him.
- On the fourth or the fifth night of their imprisonment, the narrator hears some guns, but they stop soon. That means the humans won, right? Yay, let's go play cricket to celebrate.
Book 2, Chapter 4
The Death of the Curate
- On the sixth day of their imprisonment together (perhaps Monday or Tuesday?), the narrator discovers that the curate's overeating habit has become a real problem. Since the narrator doesn't know when they're going to get out of there, he creates a system of rationing.
- Unfortunately, the narrator can't get the curate to agree with him. As the narrator notes, the curate "was beyond reason" (2.4.3). Instead, they spend two days fighting.
- Now, you might think that being sealed in with a crazy person would make the narrator crazy too, but the narrator wants us to know that the opposite happened: "It sounds paradoxical, but I am inclined to think that the weakness and insanity of the curate warned me, braced me, and kept me a sane man" (2.4.4).
- Then he also says, "my own mind wandered at times" (2.4.4), so maybe he's not as sane as he thinks he is.
- On the eighth day, the almost definitely crazy curate starts to talk loudly, all about how God's punishment is just: "We have sinned, we have fallen short… Oppressors of the poor and needy!" (2.4.6). Then he begs the narrator for food.
- That's pretty much how they spend days eight and nine, with the curate going on about how he's both unworthy and hungry.
- This continues until finally the curate will no longer be silenced by the narrator. The curate yells, "I must bear my witness!" (2.4.14), but the narrator seems to disagree and chases him with a meat cleaver.
- However, luckily for the MPAA rating, he hits the curate with the butt end of the cleaver which just knocks him out. Nothing bad could happen to a knocked out man during a Martian invasion, right?
- After all this noise, the Martians come to investigate. One of the handling-machines appears at the peephole and starts to feels around inside the house with one of its mechanical tentacles.
- The narrator hides in the coal cellar and covers himself with a bit of coal. This turns out to be useful when the tentacle doesn't grab him. Instead, it goes for the unconscious curate, who is dragged away.
- We like to look on the bright side, but in this case we're fairly sure that the curate is having his blood drained, rather than, say, being taken out for Martian ice cream.
- The narrator spends the rest of the day hiding and comes out on the eleventh day.
Book 2, Chapter 5
- When he comes out of hiding, the narrator finds that the Martians stole his food, which was totally a jerk move. The narrator goes hungry and thirsty for a while, until he risks using the water pump to get some water on the twelfth day.
- On the thirteenth day, the light turns red inside the house, and on the fourteenth, he finds out that the light is red because the invasive red weed stuff covered the peephole. You can already tell that this chapter isn't going to involve a lot of action.
- On the fifteenth day, the narrator hears a dog outside and thinks something along the lines of, "I could probably eat that dog." But then he realizes that if there's a dog, then maybe the Martians are gone.
- The Martians are indeed gone from this crater, though they left behind a pile of dead bodies.
- The narrator walks out of his shelter and he looks around at Sheen, which is empty of people and Martians, ruined and weed-covered.
Book 2, Chapter 6
The Work of Fifteen Days
- After being stuck underground for fifteen days, the narrator comes out to find things radically different. The countryside that he thought he knew is now the "weird and lurid" landscape "of another planet" (2.6.1).
- The narrator feels that he understands what a rabbit might feel when confronted with some human interference in his rabbity life. He feels a sudden "a sense of dethronement, a persuasion that I was no longer a master, but an animal among the animals" (2.6.2).
- That feeling doesn't last too long because he's so darn hungry. He finds a nearby garden and eats some veggies he finds – which is totally what a rabbit would do, if you think about it.
- He starts to move west (away from London), but there's a flood that stops him. See, the red weed has choked up the rivers, causing them to overflow. The narrator ends up heading east, toward London.
- Don't fret about the red weed, thought. The narrator notes that the red weed died off pretty quickly because of infection that all earth-plants can fend off.
- As he walks toward London, he notes that the "scenery changed from the strange and unfamiliar to the wreckage of the familiar" (2.6.8), which we guess is an improvement. We're not sure.
- The narrator finds no people and only scraps of food. He imagines that he's the last man on Earth and pictures the Martians off elsewhere. Maybe they're summering in Paris or enjoying the nightlife in Berlin.
Book 2, Chapter 7
The Man on Putney Hill
- After finding some food and spending the night in a bed in an inn, the narrator remarks that he's thinking normally for the first time since arguing with the curate. We have our doubts that the narrator is thinking normally, but perhaps it's normal for him. (He is kind of a weird dude, after all.)
- He's haunted by the curate's death, though he wants us to know that he's not really guilty because it was a sequence of unforeseeable accidents that led to the curate's death. Sure.
- Also, since he can imagine all sorts of terrible fates for his wife (like being stuck with an annoying curate), he finds himself hoping that she was killed quickly by the Heat-Ray (2.7.3).
- The narrator prays to God.
- When he leaves his hiding place, he creeps like a rat, which makes him realize that even rats might pray to God, that they might have hopes and dreams too: "If we have learnt nothing else, this war has taught us pity – pity for those witless souls that suffer our dominion" (2.7.3).
- (By the way, if you think it's weird that he a) wants us to know that he's not to blame for the curate's death, b) hopes his wife was killed quickly, and c) feels pity for rats, come join us for a discussion of all this in "Characters: The Narrator.")
- He wants to find his wife, but doesn't know how to go about doing so.
- The narrator might be headed for the depths of despair, but just in time, he gets a lesson in life from frogs. See, the frogs are still trying to stay alive, so he should also.
- On his way to London, the narrator is confronted by a disheveled man with a sword. The guy with the sword tells the narrator that this area belongs to him and the narrator should get off his property.
- But, wait, they recognize each other. It's the artilleryman that we last saw in Weybridge. So, rather than run the narrator off, the artilleryman invites his old pal back to his hiding place, where they can talk in relative comfort.
- Once they're safely in hiding, the artilleryman lays out his theory. First, people can't beat the Martians. Compared to the Martians, the people are like ants. In other words, humans' old way of life is done for: "There won't be any more blessed concerts for a million years or so; there won't be any Royal Academy of Arts, and no nice little feeds at restaurants" (2.7.49).
- This sounds like a sad fate for humans (we like "nice little feeds at restaurants" – they're, well, nice), but the artilleryman is kind of excited by this.
- What will the future hold, if not concerts and restaurants? The artilleryman thinks that Martians are going to capture people and breed them like livestock. Maybe the domesticated people will have some form of religion that preaches submission – a "do-nothing religion" (2.7.58), while other domesticated people will help the Martians by hunting the humans who haven't been caught yet.
- This is a lot to take in.
- Still, the artilleryman doesn't want to be domesticated and drained of blood, so he's got a plan for survival: the strong people will have to live underground, and they'll have to be organized and healthy.
- He'll only accept "able-bodied, clean-minded men" and "able-bodied, clean-minded women" into his underground civilization (2.7.68) – and only people who can obey orders. People who don't fit that description will have to die and should die.
- The artilleryman notes that once everything is set up and safe underground, maybe we'll be able to come up and play cricket sometimes when the Martians are elsewhere.
- The artilleryman is not just focused on survival (and cricket) – he also wants to go kill some Martians. He thinks that human spies will have to spy on the Martians and steal one of their tripods.
- The narrator is really caught up with all these plans, but then the artilleryman shows off the tunnel he's been digging. It's a pretty pathetic tunnel, and the narrator realizes that the artilleryman is all talk.
- This is especially obvious when the artilleryman wants to knock off early to relax. (The narrator notes that he could work more, but he's not going to complain about relaxing.)
- The artilleryman tells a story about how the people left in London spend their time drinking and relaxing – and that's why they're losers, according to the artilleryman, who is busy spending his time drinking and relaxing.
- After dinner, the narrator looks at ruined London. He resolves to leave the artilleryman, "this strange undisciplined dreamer of great things" (2.7.96). That's sounds like a nice way to say that he realizes the artilleryman is a big hypocrite.
Book 2, Chapter 8
- London is a mess. There's Black Smoke powder everywhere, a drunk guy in the road, and a jewelry store that's been broken into. Oh, and also dead bodies. It sounds terrible. But let's not forget to look at the bright side here – rent has probably gone down.
- In some places, London looks unchanged but empty, "curiously like a Sunday in the City, with the closed shops, the houses locked up and the blinds drawn" (2.8.5).
- Although he doesn't find any people, the narrator starts to hear some sobbing cry: "ulla ulla." The narrator finds it very moving: "It was as if that mighty desert of houses had found a voice for its fear and solitude" (2.8.7).
- The narrator finds nothing so he decides to take a nap. Curiously, no movie version of this book includes this nap, which we think is riveting.
- After his nap, he takes a walk and sees the typical London sights: a Martian tripod that's not moving, a dog with a piece of "putrescent red meat in his jaws" (2.8.13), a handling-machine that has crashed into a building, and so on. (Although, in that last case, he tells us that it was too dark for him to see that the seat of the handling-machine was bloody.)
- The "ulla ulla" noise stops and London seems more dead than ever. After everything he's been through, the narrator decides that now would be a good time to end it all, so he walks up to a Martian tripod that he sees on Primrose Hill.
- When he's on top of Primrose Hill, he finds that the Martians had a big crater – maybe their headquarters? – and he also sees that they're all dead.
- The Martians were "slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man's devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth" (2.821).
- So people have won the war of the worlds because we have an immune system that is pretty good at fighting off bacteria. Yay humans!
- Or as the narrator puts it, "By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vain" (2.8.22).
- As dawn breaks, the narrator looks out over London, which is pretty damaged, but which will soon be rebuilt. He feels "a wave of emotion that was near akin to tears" (2.8.29). He thanks God and thinks about the work of rebuilding.
- Then he remembers that he's lost his wife, because Wells would never give us a happy ending to a chapter.
Book 2, Chapter 9
- For three days, the narrator is totally out of it – or more out of it than usual. Some strangers take him in and care for him. Apparently they found him wandering around, singing, "The last man left alive! Hurrah! The last man left alive!" (2.9.2), which is currently tearing up the charts at the iTunes store.
- While the narrator was out of it (for three days), everyone around the world heard the good news about the destruction of the Martians and sent a lot of food and supplies to England.
- When the narrator becomes more lucid, the people caring for him tell him that Leatherhead was destroyed by a Martian "as a boy might crush an anthill, in the mere wantonness of power" (2.9.3). So much for finding his wife.
- The narrator decides to go back to see what's left of his old life; on his way, he witnesses the England being put back into order, though it's still a mess. For instance, he finds a newspaper (which is a pretty normal thing), but except for a little news, the newspaper is mostly ads (which is… well, we're supposed to think that's strange).
- To get back home, the narrator takes a train out, and he sees that all sorts of people are working together to fix the tracks. It makes us smile to think that people would work together.
- When the narrator gets home, his house still looks abandoned. In his study, he finds an essay he was writing about what the morals of the future might be like. He never finished it because he was interrupted by the Martian invasion and now he can't imagine how he would finish such an essay on the future.
- Then he hears people and he sees his wife. He rushes to her, just in time, too, since she faints.
Book 2, Chapter 10
- The narrator gives some large-scale views on what the Martian invasion taught us. (For one thing, it has taught us to finish our essays early, because if the Martians invade, we might very well be interrupted.)
- Lesson #1: The Martian invasion has taught us a lot about science, even though we haven't yet cracked the mystery of the Heat-Ray and the Black Smoke. Although dogs and birds ate many of the dead Martians, there is at least one preserved specimen. From that one body, we learn a lot about Martians.
- Lesson #2: But besides learning about science and the Martians, the biggest thing we figured out is that Earth is not alone. Thanks to the invasion, we learned that Earth is not a "fenced in and secure" place for people – we always have to be on our guard for the unexpected. Which is a good thing because now we won't be so darn decadent.
- Lesson #3: The Martian invasion helped emphasize how much people have in common. For instance, all of us humans have blood and we like to keep it on the inside – that's something that's pretty common to people.
- Although the narrator also notes that there's some evidence that the Martians have landed on Venus, so maybe they won't invade us again. The narrator also notes that if the Martians can go to Venus, then there's no reason we shouldn't do the same when the sun cools and the Earth becomes uninhabitable. That way, humans could survive the death of the Earth. Yay humans. (Or, if you're on Venus: cue threatening music.)
- However, the narrators says it's possible that Earth is doomed and the Martians are going to survive. Either option seems fine to him. Why? Let's discuss this strange ending in "What's Up with the Ending?"
- The narrator feels a sense of doubt about the invasion and its happy conclusions. When he looks around, he sees the Martian invasion again, and instead of people on the streets, he sees dead bodies, "tattered and dog-bitten" (2.10.11).
- Lastly: "And strangest of all is it to hold my wife's hand again, and to think that I have counted her, and that she has counted me, among the dead" (2.10.13). To which we have to respond, "Yes, how strange that that's the last line of this book."