Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Questions for Wells, The War of the Worlds

Answer THREE of the following:

Q1: One of the most important elements of science fiction is what we call verisimilitude, the quality of making something appear real—or what Coleridge termed the “suspension of disbelief.” The more we believe the events of science fiction are possible, the more we fall under their spell and ultimately unlock their metaphors. How does Wells accomplish this in the opening chapters of The War of the Worlds? How does he attempt to blur fact and fiction?

Q2: How does the public react to the growing threat of the Martians? Remember that the media didn’t have the power or influence in his day as it does in ours, and yet newspapers picked up stories quickly and disseminated them. What might the public’s response say about Wells’ views of England—or humanity in general? 

Q3: How might Mars and the Martians represent some of England’s colonial fears, much in the same way that vampires and “Mr. Hydes” did in other stories? Consider the opening chapter, which notes that “[Mars] must be...older than our world; and long before this earth ceased to be molten, life upon its surface must have begun its course” (8). 

Q4: In Chapter 2, “From the Ruined House,” the narrator discusses Martian anatomy and evolution, explaining (among other things), that “is it quite credible that the Martians may be descended from beings not unlike ourselves, by a gradual development of brain and hands...at the expense of the rest of the body” (127). Why is this passage significant for the metaphor of Wells’ book? What fate does this predict for mankind if it continues along current lines of development?

Q5: At one point, the Man on Putney Hill wants to create a secret stash of books, but "not novels and poetry swipes, but ideas, science books" (Ch.7).  Why does he place so little value on imaginative literature and so great a value on scientific literature?  If there was a global catastrophe, should we save the art as well as the science? 

Q6: In the Epilogue, the narrator reflects that "We have learned now that we cannot regard this planet as being fenced in and a secure abiding-place for Man; we can never anticipate the unseen good or evil that may come upon us suddenly from space."  Though talking about Mars, how might this also reflect on Britain?  Why might this Epilogue be a metaphor for seeing England as an 'earth' itself? 


  1. Q2: The narrator opens the book by explaining, "No one would have believed in the last years of the
    nineteenth century that this world was being watched
    keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and
    yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves
    about their various concerns they were scrutinised and
    studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a
    microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that
    swarm and multiply in a drop of water."

    The narrator also goes on to discuss how the newspaper had little to say about the danger that was occurring. I think this says a lot about how humanity doesn't like to focus on the negative and wants to believe that everything is just fine. When I first read this passage it made me think about how when the election was happening that was all the news would discuss. There was so much more happening in the world besides the election, yet that was all they chose to focus on. Saying this... I believe Wells had a point.

  2. Q3:
    In the beginning of the book the narrator talks about how the people in Britain were not prepared for this attack of the Martians. The people were oblivious to the danger that was coming for them. Now, however, the Martians are dead and the narrator is reflecting on all they have learned because of the war. “The broadening of men’s views that has resulted can scarcely be exaggerated. Before the cylinder fell there was a general persuasion that through all the deep of space no life existed beyond the petty surface of our minute sphere. Now we see further.” I think this epilogue could be seen as a metaphor for seeing England as an “earth” itself, because the people had to have something terrible occur to learn an important lesson. I also think this could relate to our everyday life. When a tragic event occurs, even though it is terrible, we usually try to learn from the mistakes we made and try to become better prepared in case in occurs again.

  3. Q1: I believe that one of the ways Wells tries to blur fact and fiction begins in the first chapter when he first begins to discuss Mars. The planet Mars, I scarcely need remind the reader, revolves about the sun at a mean distance of 140,000,000 miles, and the light and heat it receives from the sun is barely half of that received by this world.” I wanted to know more about how people reacted to this book when it was first published, and I came across an article that in 1983 a man broadcasted a modernized play of “The War of Worlds.” This is what the article had to say, “For the last three quarters of the century, we’ve been told that this fictionalized CBS broadcast sent Americans into a panic; that citizens across the country did not realize that this was science-fiction (despite the fact that it was explicitly stated at the beginning and twice during the broadcast) and thought the USA was under attack from an invading Martian army.” I believe because the narrator was throwing out facts that seemed real, that people honestly probably thought that this was something that had occurred or was occurring. It also made me think of the story we read in your class during the fall, “A Journal of the Plague Year.” I also remember this book seeming very real due to all the “facts” and statistics that DeFoe used.