H. G. Wells – The War of the Worlds

Title: The War of the Worlds
Author: H.G. Wells
Year: 1898

The War of the Worlds is a story that few people have escaped. It was first published 1898 and has since been reproduced in many forms, most notably including a radio adaptation by Orson Welles spreading real panic in the United States shortly before the Second World War, as well as a musical by Jeff Wayne (a dear favourite of mine) along with at least four films I haven’t yet watched. To explain it simply. it’s one of the earliest narration of an invasion of earth by extra-terrestrial beings, in this case Martians. It is the story of a journalists struggle for survival in this social and military upheaval.

It is difficult for me to assess the quality of this story independently, because it has been with me since I was very young; I  knew it intimately before reading the book. However, I can say some things. One of the best aspects of this book is the atmosphere of the late 19th century, with the British Empire at its apex of power, and suddenly having this feeling of security utterly demolished by the invading Martians. A book written today about the same events would be utterly boring, but the retro feeling of this invasion is simply adorable. I also highly enjoy the parts dedicated to humans and their struggling, such as the curator the journalist encounters, who gives up all faith in God and hope for humanity’s future, or the young artileryman, accepting that mankind is beaten, but with a somewhat delirious vision of a future rebellion against the Earth’s new masters.

That being said, it seems to me that Wells cannot decide if he wants to tell an interesting story or if he wants simply to depict the invasion, so he does both. The parts that simply are there to explain what happens are not very interesting, especially when they are disconnected from the main narrative (some parts are told by the journalists brother, for instance). Descriptions of the Martians physiology, technology and so forth contribute little to the greatness of this story. Also, the ending is as endings go not very good. It is abrupt and without relation to what the characters do. I have gotten used to it though, so knowing how it would end beforehand meant that I don’t consider this very serious. Some people say that the story is an analogy of the West’s colonialisation of the rest of the world, which seems fairly plausible considering that Wells in the preface mentions just this, cautioning us not to blame the Martians too much, because, after all, aren’t we guilty of the same crimes?

Still, even though it isn’t perfect, this novel is still great. The atmosphere is marvellous (I can’t even imagine what it would’ve been like for Wells’ contemporary readers) and the overall story is interesting. It felt odd to read a novel I knew so well, mainly from listening to Jeff Wayne’s musical way too many times, but I’m very glad I did. Wells’ language makes the story well worth reading, not because the events themselves are interesting, but mostly because of the atmosphere radiant in most chapters of the novel.

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