Toinght’s Reading – The War of the Worlds

I finally finished the audiobook version of this, read by David Tennant. I have to say that I was amazed at this book from start to finish.  It has been a while since I have read any 19th Century literature and I was unprepared for just how action-packed this story is. Really, I thought I knew everything about the story but I was so wrong. It’s a riveting read which bristles with tension, fear and excitement.

 

Here are five things that really caught my attention:

  1. The graphic descriptions that make this a real horror story – This is not a book for the faint-hearted. The narrators go through some pretty harrowing situations from being scalded in a boiling river to witnessing people trampled to death in their flight from the Martians. The descriptions do not shy away from letting us know exactly what is going on. For example, we get a full on description of how the aliens ‘feed’ as the narrator witnesses it first hand. We are thankfully spared the horror of this happening to a child (off camera for want of a better phrase). The heat ray, the black smoke and the wanton destruction wrought by the invaders are wonderfully described throughout the book.
  2. The underlying message about how we treat lesser creatures in our modern world – This is something I wasn’t expecting in such an old text. The kind of worldview that Wells gives us is remarkably modern, in which our narrator muses on how we treat animals and people in developing countries and how we are no different in some regards to those rampaging tripods. ‘Pity the poor witless souls who suffer our dominion,’ he says at one point. It conjured up a strange feeling in me, that sentence, as I thought about what Wells would think if he could see the lengths that we have gone to with factory farming in the time since the book was written. Our treatment of animals back in those days was a far cry from The horrors that exist today.
  3. The action-packed storytelling – There is barely any let up in the story and that serves it very well. No point is dwelt upon too long before we are swept forward to another. I have been watching the BBC’s new adaptation over the past few weeks and I can’t believe how much of an opportunity has been missed there. I really wanted to see Weybridge burned to the ground but they opted for a more laborious, meandering tone. The flight from London in Wells’ original is simply brilliant. That he managed to create that sense of mass panic on such a scale is a real feat on the printed page. That and the tension in the scullery scene with the curate and simply brilliant writing.
  4. The realistic view of society’s response and how this would not have changed had the events unfolded in the 21st Century – I could see just how events might play out if this were to happen in today’s world. It would not be a million miles away from Wells’ vision. People would go on with their everyday lives safe in the misguided notion that ‘someone’ would figure out what to do eventually. The way in which news of the invasion spreads is handled particularly well and we always feel like we are in the middle of things and one step ahead of people who are only a mile or so away from the action. There are those hiding in their houses because they think the Angel of Death will pass over their doors, and there are those who flee in desperation. Just like today, there are examples of those who try to profit from the situation. Alongside them , we have the ‘haves’ whose money is no longer any use to them. Our world is not so very different despite what we might think we have achieved in the last 120 years.
  5. How much it really makes me appreciate Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film version among all other interpretations – I remember a great sense of disappointment after seeing the Tom Cruise version at the cinema. I had built it up in my mind far too much before seeing it and it couldn’t ever live up to my high expectations. Year on year, I have grown more appreciation for it. That is cemented for me now by reading the book. One thing Spielberg does in the film is capture perfectly the sense of utter desperation of the protagonists. The scenes of stampeding people and the loss of the accepted norms of civilisation are perfectly rendered here just as they are in the book. The ferry scene in Spielberg’s film has the same sense that I got from the book.

So, I’m really buzzing about having experienced this novel for the first time. I really feel like I have the complete view of the story now. I would definitely listen again, but I have several other HG Wells classics to get through first.

Thanks for reading,

Richard

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