The War of the Worlds (First Edition) by H. G. Wells
The War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel by H. G. Wells (1866-1946). This work was first published in serial form in Pearson’s magazine in 1897, and in book form in 1898 by William Heinemann, London. Background
H. G. Wells trained as a science teacher in the late 1880s. He became involved with Darwinism, and The War of the Worlds reflects a fascination with science and the theory of natural selection. The novel is full of speculation about the scientific nature of hypothetical aliens, as well as images that could be reflective of British imperialism.
He wrote the novel after moving to Surrey with his new wife. This environment influenced Wells’s notion to examine the effects of an alien attack on suburbia. It has two parts, Book One: The Coming of the Martians, and Book Two: The Earth under the Martians.
The book has never gone out of print.
Plot, Characters, Themes
An observatory records explosions on the surface of mars. A meteor lands in the southwest of London, near Surrey. This is where the narrator lives, and he discovers that the meteor is an artificial cylinder that contains somewhat gruesome aliens.
The Martians assemble armed fighting machines and with them, easily destroy army units and defences. More and more cylinders land, and the aliens take over as people flee to the continent. The Martians take over England completely.
The narrator is trapped in a house with a loud preaching curate who believes the apocalypse is come. This curate is captured by a Martian, and is drained of his blood – this is what the Martians live on. The Martians depart, allowing the narrator to travel into central London.
Humans are planning to rebuild civilisation beneath the ground. The narrator observes suddenly that the aliens have died from infection by normal human bacteria, to which they have no immunity. The threat is no longer, but the book ends with the narrator still feeling insecure about his safety and that of his planet.
The story is told as a factual account of an alien invasion. It is reflective of the ‘invasion literature’ common at the turn of the century, spawned by anxieties about international relations, war, and the fear that British imperial power was unsustainable. It depicts late Victorian culture, mostly in a suburban environment. Wills makes use of the British Empire as a model for the alien invaders, giving them a similar colonialist intentions. The triumph of science over religion can also be observed as a theme, in the relativity of good and evil, the uselessness of the raving clergyman and his death as a result of his loud preaching, and the defeat of the aliens due to microscopic bacteria. None of the main characters are named, and not given much past or background.
H. G. Wells was an English author, considered one of most significant developers of the science fiction genre.
Notable auction sales and collecting tips
An inscribed first edition (1898, William Heinemann, London) was sold by Christie’s for $23,900 in October 2002.
Unsigned first editions were sold for £1,625 by Christie’s in June 2008, and £1,875 by Sothebys in October 2010.
A first edition is therefore worth infinitely more when signed or inscribed by Wells. It is not recommended to restore or rebind first editions, as they are much more valuable in their original bindings, in this case buckram cloth. If the original printings in Pearson’s magazines could be found and collected, they would be very desirable to collectors.
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