Study Guide

The War of the Worlds Fear

By H.G. Wells


It's no big shocker that The War of the Worlds—a book about a dang alien invasion—is big on fear.

But what Wells does with the theme of fear is interesting. He suggests that it's both an important reflex (if Martians are firing their Heat-Ray at you, maybe you shouldn't just stand there) and a reason people act stupidly and rashly (like, say, trampling each other while trying to get away from the aforementioned Heat-Ray). We see both of these sides in this novel: fear both saves lives and destroys them.

Questions About Fear

  1. Did you feel fear when reading this book? Many of the first reviews talked about how thrilling it was. Why do you think they found this book thrilling? Does Wells use any tricks to keep us afraid or thrilled?
  2. Throughout the novel Wells shows that fear is contagious, but if fear is contagious, how does that idea square with what Wells shows us of community in The War of the Worlds? Should we all just be hermits and avoid each other? Are there any other emotions in this book that are "contagious"?
  3. Wells shows us fear that is useless (running around without looking where you're going) and fear that is useful (realizing that you should get out of the way of the Heat-Ray). Is there any hint as to why fear might be useful sometimes and useless other times?
  4. Do different characters react to fear differently? For instance, what does the artilleryman fear? How does he respond to fear when we first meet him versus how he responds when we meet him again on Putney Hill?

Chew on This

Wells uses <em>The War of the Worlds </em>to show that fear is an emotion that can only be successfully managed by individuals who have special training. By contrast, groups always react to fear in the worst way possible.

In <em>The War of the Worlds</em>, fear is closely related to the idea of folly, in that fear can help us overcome our folly.