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The Book Club

H.G. Wells’s The War Of The Worlds

1. Differences between texts and films. The publication of texts usually precede the release of theatrical films, but in this day and age with production companies looking to make bucks with interpretations of classic fiction texts, no stone is left unturned; and so it is with H.G. Wells’s “The War Of The Worlds” for me. In a film, there is more emphasis on dramatics and drummed-up human conflict for an action-packed engagement; however, those focuses deviate greatly from the questions and themes that Wells had raised in his science fiction novel: including questions or morality, Man’s interactions with nature and the possible ramifications of rapid technological advancement. The narrative style in the text is definitely more nuanced and calculated – in spite of the constant Martian threats – and allows for more room for considerations.

2. A moralistic judgement (I). “And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its own inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit”?

3. A moralistic judgement (II). Isaac Asimov has contended that Wells’s “must have wanted to write his book in such a way as to demonstrate the evils of [colonialism]”; this interpretation does appear applicable to the context of the book, and might explain why Wells decided to base the invasion in Britain (after all, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Britain – through imperialism – had colonised a large part of the world). The basic premise featured seems to be: there is nothing wrong with the possession of power, but its owners must be fair and intelligent with its usage, so that the less-able are not unfairly taken advantage of (or worse, completely eliminated). This moralistic judgement on the merits and dangers of power is applicable universally: in politics where socio-economic policies implemented by the Government should be for the greater good, how we should treat one another more justly et cetera.

4. Comprehending the language and narrative style (I). “My mind was blank wonder. My muscles and nerves seemed drained of their strength. I dare say I staggered drunkenly … Perhaps I am a man of exceptional moods. I do not know how far my experience is common. At times I suffer from the strangest sense of detachment from myself and the world about me. I seem to watch it all from the outside, from somewhere inconceivably remote, out of time, out of space, out of the stress and tragedy of it all. This feeling was very strong upon me that night”.

5. Comprehending the language and narrative style (II). The first-person narrative style adopted by Wells is unique: there is no proper transition or order established when he switches to-and-fro his brother’s point-of-view; his identity is unknown, but his academic background and knowledge updates the reader on the scientific aspects of the Martians; and the fact that he has “penned” the narrative represents him living to tell the tale, and the eventual defeat of the Martians (though the cause is not known until the very end). Personal concern and his attachment to his wife – though not established in detail in terms of characterisation – are they key reasons for the unnamed narrator’s continued flight and attempts at survival (though in the concluding chapters at London, he had contemplated giving it all up). The narrator’s emotive language and style creates an atmosphere of terror and suspense, especially when he describes the movements of the mechanical creatures, and when he is dangerously close to capture (twice).

6. Questioning blind faiths to religion (I)? “The end! The great and terrible day of the Lord! When men shall call upon the mountains and the rocks to fall upon them and hide them – hide them from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne … Be a man … You are scared out of your wits! What good is religion if it collapses under calamity? Think of what earthquakes and floods, wars and volcanoes, have done before to men! Did you think God had exempted Weybridge? He is not an insurance agent” and “Strangest in this: that as soon as dawn had come I who had talked with God crept out of the house like a rat leaving its hiding-place … Perhaps they also prayed confidently to God. Surely, if we have learned nothing else, this war has taught us pity – pity for those witless souls that suffer our dominion”.

7. Questioning blind faiths to religion (II)? Wells did not design the narrator to be anti-religion; in fact there are distinct occasions in which the unnamed protagonist prays to his God (whatever God it might be). Given the constant conflict between science and religion, Wells probably saw the need to indirectly express his opinions on the subject; and this discussion revolves primarily around the curate (though the reader is free to decide whether the eventual murder was justified or not). The curate was presented to be – from the narrator’s perspective, which may be exaggerated or biased – deranged, constantly relating the Martian invasion to a biblical Armageddon, with fear causing his inaction. Wells’s basic premise seems to be this: that religious faiths and beliefs must be constantly updated and made relevant, and instead of submitting meekly to a superior force, religion can be a positive source of empowerment and emotional comfort.

8. Survival of the fittest (I). “All these – the sort of people that lived in these houses, and all those damn little clerks that used to live down that way – they’d be no good. They haven’t any spirit in them – no proud dreams and no proud lusts; and a man who hasn’t one or the other – Lord! What is he but funk and precautions? They just used to skedaddle off to work … working at businesses they were afraid to take the trouble to understand … and sleeping with the wives they married, not because they wanted them but because they had a bit of money that would make for safety in their one little skedaddle through the world. Live insured and a bit invested for the fear of accidents. And on Sundays – fear of the hereafter. As if hell was built for rabbits”.

9. Survival of the fittest (II). The time spent under Thomas Henry Huxley, and the corresponding studies on Darwinism have influenced Wells greatly in this particular novel. Mankind was taken greatly by surprise and simply overwhelmed in terms of weaponry because of the fact that the Martians – as expounded in detail by the Wells’s narrator – have had a longer, more successful period of evolution and development. Wells’s description of the Martians as having an over-developed brain might be a personal concern that intelligence was disproportionately valued in comparison to other human qualities. In the narrator’s exchanges with the artilleryman, themes of social ills and satisfaction with relishing in the comforts of the status quo are highlighted. The theory on the survival of fittest can also tie in with the curate’s death; that his outdated attitudes, as a result of natural selection, caused him to perish foolishly at the hands of the intellectually-superior Martians (defence against the religious establishment).

10. Wells’s attention to details (never mind their accuracy). For the average reader, the scientific accuracy of the technological developments, gadgets and explanations are hardly important; but what makes Wells’s narrative stand out is how convincingly he goes about expounding upon the various underpinnings. Jules Verne, his immediate science fiction contemporary, remarked upon Wells ability to write about things that are almost non-existent, and might seem fantastical at first read; more importantly, the reader will realise the Wells’s attention to details – from the anatomy of the Martians to the physical landscapes – not only makes the read intense, but also serves the purpose of furthering themes or ideas wrapped under these layers of plot.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


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