Saturday, March 15, 2014


I'd reread Wells' classic  WAR OF THE WORLDS within the last 3-4 years, and I remain impressed with its dark vision of Earth being "colonized" by superior powers, much in the way primitive Earth-tribes were victimized by advanced weapons.

I gave the novel a quick glance-through this week with one idea in mind: how much does Wells focus on the sheer spectacle of the Martian invasion, in contradistinction to the two famous film adaptations from 1953 and 2005 respectively.

The answer is pretty much as I expected: not very much.  Wells depicts a few scenes in which the Earth military retaliates against the Martian tripods, but the dominant mood is one of a hopeless struggle.  The key scene in this regard is when an ironsides-style ship manages to ram one of the tripods, which is clearly meant to be 1898's version of a "Yeah" moment.  But the ship is blasted the next moment by another Martian machine, thus rendering the victory futile.

It's significant that even after the Martians are accidentally defeated by Earth germs (an ending so well known as to deserve no spoilers) the tone of Wells' final words in the novel is relentlessly dark, in line with the literary form Northrop Frye calls the *irony.*

"Dim and wonderful is the vision I have conjured up in my mind of
life spreading slowly from this little seed bed of the solar system
throughout the inanimate vastness of sidereal space.  But that is a
remote dream.  It may be, on the other hand, that the destruction of
the Martians is only a reprieve.  To them, and not to us, perhaps, is
the future ordained.

I must confess the stress and danger of the time have left an
abiding sense of doubt and insecurity in my mind.  I sit in my study
writing by lamplight, and suddenly I see again the healing valley
below set with writhing flames, and feel the house behind and about me
empty and desolate.  I go out into the Byfleet Road, and vehicles pass
me, a butcher boy in a cart, a cabful of visitors, a workman on a
bicycle, children going to school, and suddenly they become vague and
unreal, and I hurry again with the artilleryman through the hot,
brooding silence.  Of a night I see the black powder darkening the
silent streets, and the contorted bodies shrouded in that layer; they
rise upon me tattered and dog-bitten.  They gibber and grow fiercer,
paler, uglier, mad distortions of humanity at last, and I wake, cold
and wretched, in the darkness of the night.

I go to London and see the busy multitudes in Fleet Street and the
Strand, and it comes across my mind that they are but the ghosts of
the past, haunting the streets that I have seen silent and wretched,
going to and fro, phantasms in a dead city, the mockery of life in a
galvanised body.  And strange, too, it is to stand on Primrose Hill,
as I did but a day before writing this last chapter, to see the great
province of houses, dim and blue through the haze of the smoke and
mist, vanishing at last into the vague lower sky, to see the people
walking to and fro among the flower beds on the hill, to see the
sight-seers about the Martian machine that stands there still, to hear
the tumult of playing children, and to recall the time when I saw it
all bright and clear-cut, hard and silent, under the dawn of that last
great day. . . .

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."

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