Reading War of The Worlds, Chapters 6 & 7

Chapter 6 – The Heat Ray In The Chobham Road

The humans are not coming off much better than the Martians in this chapter. Some things never change…

Chapter 7 – How I Reached Home

He does a fabulous job of capturing the way that the most vivid and extreme experiences are suddenly just part of our experience, a memory, and how we can’t conjure up the feelings any more. One minute the narrator has collapsed by the road the and next he’s back to himself again.

A few minutes before there had only been three real things before me —- the immensity of the night and space and nature, my own feebleness and anguish, and the near approach of death. Now it was as if something turned over, and the point of view altered abruptly. There was no sensible transition from one state of mind to the other. I was immediately the self of every day again — a decent, ordinary citizen. The silent common, the impulse of my flight, the starting flames, were as if they had been in a dream. I asked myself had these latter things indeed happened? I could not credit it … p. 266

It’s not often I come across a word I don’t either know or can’t figure out from the context. But this has me stumped:

The intense excitement of the events had no doubt left my perceptive power in a state of erethism. p.269

Oh, how fabulous. It’s a term, more properly erethism mercurialis, which is a neurological condition, also known as Mad Hatter’s Disease (because hat makers used mercury to make the brims of hats stiff. The mercury fumes — my chemist husband has told me this story in the past — are a neurotoxin and made people irritable, physically weak and could result in delirium.)
And he knows how to end a chapter!

I did not know it, but that was the last civilized dinner I was to eat for many strange and terrible days…p. 269

Tell me you’d put this book down and walk away now and I’d call you a liar!

Reading War of The Worlds, Chapters 4 & 5

Chapter 4 – The Cylinder Opens

The poor shop assistant! Wells really leaves him dangling.

The description of the Martian is creepier and more alien than anything I’ve actually seen in a film.

 Chapter 5 – The Heat Ray

This is a big feature of the musical, so I’m eager to see what really happens…

I remained standing knee-deep in the heather, staring at the mound that hid them. was a battleground of fear and curiosity.

I did not dare go back towards the pit, but I felt a passionate longing to peer into it… p.259

Ack! Aren’t you right there with him?

“Did you see a man in the pit?” I said; but he made no answer… p. 259

Does nobody else care about the poor shop assistant? And they call the Martians brutes?!

I stood, staring, not as yet realizing that this was death leaping from man to man in that little distant crowd. All I felt was that it was something very strange. An almost noisless and blinding flash of light, and a man fell headlong and lay still; and as the unseen shaft of heat passed over them, pine-trees burst into fire, and every dry furze-bush became with one dull thud a mass of flames…p.261

This is so very chilling. He’s not telling us he’s horrified. He’s allowing us to see it as it happened, only with the knowledge of what’s actually happening.

The end of this chapter is masterful: the fear that descends on him ‘like a thing falling on me from without’, infected me too!

Reading War of The Worlds, Book One, Chapter Three, On Horsell Common

war of the worlds by h.g. wells, chapter 3 As with any extraordinary event, a crowd has gathered. Boys, as they will, are throwing stones at the unknown phenomenon. The narrator muses on how utterly incomprehensible this is to the average ogler:

Fewof the common people in England had anything but the vaguest astronomical ideas in those days…p.253

Unlike in the musical, our narrator seems not to be the Journalist, but an independently wealthy gentleman, with nothing to do but dabble with intellectual ideas and hobnob with others who do the same. That’s how he gains access to the inner circle around the cylindar.

My mind ran fancifully on the possibilities of its containingmanuscript, on the difficulties in translation that might arise, whether we shoud find coins and models in it, and so forth…I felt an impatience to see it opened..p.254

…and even if you knew nothing else about this story, the writing here tells you to scream ‘Idiot! Run!’ at the narrator :)

Chapter Notes

I love the sense of pause in this chapter.

He describes the scene, the crowd, the oppressive heat of the day (‘not a could in the sky nor a breath of wind’). He shows us ‘half a dozen flys or more fromthe Woking station…a basket-chaise from Cobham, a rather lordly carriage’, all the sightsee-ers of every class, coming to gawk.

He’s really ratchetting up the tension without being at all flashy.

Reading War Of The Worlds, Book One, Chapter Two

Many people in Berkshire, Surrey and Middlesex must have seen the fall of it… p. 249

 This was one of the things I loved about this story when I was young and listening to the musical version. I knew these place names…I lived in Surrey. It was the 1970s, almost 80 years after the book was written, but it wasn’t hard to picture the setting. We spent Sundays going for walks through the very countryside he travels.

Reading it now (over 30 years after we moved far away from Surrey) I had to go and look up places like Chertsey, Ottershaw and Woking and make sure I hadn’t made this up. Sure enough, my old hometown is definitely in the vicinity, and there are plenty of place names on the map that I recognise here.

He approached the mass, surprised at the size and moreso at the shape…p.250

The writer in me is wondering how the narrator knows this. I’m going to assume that Ogilvy meets up with him later and relates this. My critique group would never let me away with this kind of perspective shift (unexplained) these days. Modern readers are so demanding. Sigh.

(I’m so nervous for Ogilvy. Not just because I remember what’s coming, from the album, but because Wells says “poor Ogilvy” the firsttime he mentions him in this chapter. You know that can’t be good. Foreshadowing, people!

He met a wagonerandtriedto make him understand, but the tale he told and his appearance were so wild — his hat had fallen off in the pit — that hte man simply drove on. p 251

Heavens! Imagine being seen without your hat! Clearly, a madman. ;)

One can imagine them, covered with sand, excited and disordered, running up the little street in the bright sunlight just as the shop folks weretaking down their shutters and people were opening their bedroom windows… p. 252

Poignant and foreshadowy. Tension builds…

Chapter Two Notes

Wells is doing a good job of writing a suspense thriller, here. We know it’s going to go bad, from everything he’s said so far, but still he lets us see the excitement of Ogilvy the astronomer and Henderson the journlist as these two men of curiosity investigate the most exciting new thing that’s ever happened to them. He really takes his time, building up the World ThatWas, without boring the reader.

I feel compelled to read on, how about you?

Reading War Of The Worlds Book One, Chapter One

Dedication: to my brother Frank Well, this rendering of his idea.

P. 238

Given how successful this book became, it seems like a very generous gesture to acknowledge it wasn’t his idea. But of course he couldn’t have known how successful it was going to be (one might say “no-one would have believed…”)

Book One – The Coming of the Martians

I-The Eve Of War

No-one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century… P.244

I will never not hear those words in Richard Burron’s voice!

Men went to and fro…serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. P.244

New word! Excellent word.

The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. P. 245

First: wait, what?! I don’t know this story and must look it up. If it’s true (and it probably is), ugh!

Second: “in spite of their human likeness”?! Even as smart and modern and enlightened a thinker as H. G. Wells is hampered by the conventions and scientific limitations of his time. Even when he senses the pure error of the thing.
“Men like Schiaparelli…failed to interpret the fluctuating appearances of the markings they mapped so well.” P. 245

Reading this 117 years later, we know so much more. But it’s fine. I’m reading this as alternate history or alternate reality spec-fic!

…the serio-comic periodical Punch…made happy use of it in a political cartoon. P.247

Oh, I do hope someone eventually mocked this up…

It seems to me now almost incredibly wonderful that, with that swift fate hanging over us, men could go about their petty concerns as they did. P. 248

I love that he spends half a page detailing the tranquil, idyllic banalities of daily life-as-it-was (he’s “learning to ride the bicycle” — not a child’s occupation in the machine’s own youth!)

Chapter One Notes:

This whole chapter is solidly, delightfully science fiction. He talks about current scientific knowledge, real research locations and scientific instruments and practices, but puts them to work in his “what if” story. Love it!

War of The Worlds by H. G. Wells Readalong

  I’m reading “War of the Worlds” for the first time, despite feeling like I know it off by heart. 

I don’t. I know Jeff Wayne’s concept album of the story off by heart. I grew up listening to it obsessively. I was around six years old when it came out and I know we had a copy of it soon after. I used to lie on the floor of our living room, not far from the site of the events in the story, and pore over the artwork in the double album’s booklet. I must have had to ask my parents to put on the LPs for me, because I’m sure I wasn’t allowed to do such a delicate task at the time.

I was obsessed. Old enough to grasp the horror of the story and the vivid illustrations (buildings falling on elegant, panicked Victorian women and men, crows picking at strings of flesh…), but too young to understand about consequences and grief and to be scarred by the whole thing. 

I remember dancing along to it with a friend, acting out the story, lip-syching before it was a thing.
Later, when I was a newly-wed, we got hold of a cassette copy of the Orson Welles radio play and listened with fascination to that ‘mockumentary’ version too.
Now my own chilren are listening to the Jeff Wayne version, and singing along.

But I still haven’t read the book.
So I ordered a copy of the Everyman Library volume “Threee Science Fiction Stories by H. G. Wells” (Including The Time Machine, which I have read, and The Invisible Man, which I only know from the classic black and white film). 

I started reading today and I couldn’t help but make notes as I went along. So I’m posting them here as a ‘read along’ (in the vein of Debbie Ohi’s Final Attempt To Read The Lord of The Rings readalong from 2001). Feel free to join in, pitch in, or just follow along.


Time And Focus

Sometimes I beat myself up about not writing more. And I should be writing more, don’t get me wrong.

But I sat down to write today and it was 3:58 pm.

I knew roughly what I needed to write (because I’ve outlined this thing). I knew the characters I was writing about (because I’ve sketched them out). I knew that I was only really writing about one transaction and then throwing in a ‘wha—?’ at the end of the scene.

And I wrote it, pretty much that easily.

And now it’s 5:56. Just like that. Boom…two hours later. Time-travel!

It worked because I had no other responsibilities. No one interrupted me. I didn’t have to stop for anything, pick anyone up, make food for anyone, fill in any forms, or answer any phone calls.

Theoretically, I could do this every day, while my kids are out at school and my husband’s out at work. And that’s certainly the aim.

But I just wanted to capture this here. Because that was two solid hours of bum-in-chair, tippety-tapping away at the keyboard on a story that I’d already done most of the planning for. 1935 words. Two hours.

Writing takes time. And focus.

I can still write when I don’t have both, and when the stars don’t align, but it’ll be harder. And I’ll have to try harder. And I should be kind to myself if every day doesn’t go like this (which it won’t). Which is not to say, ‘make excuses for myself’. This was a good writing day. One to shoot for.

Bum-in-chair, lassie. Every day.