Study Guide

The War of the Worlds Book 1, Chapter 17

By H.G. Wells

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.