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Summary of The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND ANALYSIS

Chapter Fifteen - What Had Happened in Surrey


Summary


Around 8:00 pm, three of the Martians come out of the pit and, communicating by howls, begin advancing in a line that spans about three miles. The men operating the Ripley guns fire a few shots in vain and then hastily take off, while their target continues to gain ground. Those on St. George’s Hill are more successful. A shell brings the machine down, having damaged one of its legs. Then the other two machines come to its aid, using the Heat-Ray on the Hill and standing guard for the half hour that it takes the Martian to repair the leg.

A little before 9:00 pm, four more Martian machines appear, carrying black pipes. They hand the extras to the original three, and then all of them spread out. Standing in a crescent shape and armed with these new weapons, they begin to move forward. The narrator knows it is useless to try to outrun their approach so he takes cover in a roadside ditch. The curate on the other hand, panics at their approach and runs, until he sees what the narrator is doing and follows suit.

Standing there, the narrator thinks of all the guns waiting quietly for the machines to come within range. He thinks that the main question on their minds is one of understanding-whether the Martians think of us as sentient beings plotting opposition, or simply frustrated animals, pursuing random antics.

His thoughts are forgotten as the night air is disrupted by remote shots, but not from men’s weapons. The narrator watches as the Martian nearest him holds the tube like a gun and shoots out a canister. There is no answering fire from the hidden military, only silence. The narrator and curate notice the low-lying mounds that are gathering but are unable to figure out what is happening.


Later the narrator learns more about the Martians’ new weapon. The tubes fire out canisters that hit the ground and let loose a kind of black smoke. However, it does not act like a gas. It is heavier than air and settles like dust along the ground. Therefore it is possible to escape by sticking to buildings and trees over fifty feet in height. When it comes in contact with water, it forms a “powdery scum” that eventually sinks. Water that is strained from it was safe but, in the more gaseous form, it is deadly.

The Martians rely mostly on the black canisters that night, firing them wherever they suspect weapons are hidden. The switch from the Heat-Ray is explained as either because its materials are of a limited supply or because they had no desire to destroy the land they are invading. This is supported by their cleaning up of most of the vapor, which they did by shooting steam into it.

Men were firing off shots in vain just before the vapor reached them. After this, efforts would be limited to mines and pitfalls; there would be no more organized assaults against the machines. It was all that could be done to alert London to the need for flight. The fourth cylinder falls that night.


Notes


The Martians are described as resembling “a speck of blight,” which is appropriate. Blight can mean either a plant disease that results in wilting and death (similar to the Heat-Ray’s effect on plants) or it can refer to something that destroys hopes, which the Martians’ destruction has certainly done.

In Chapter Nine, the narrator had told a group of soldiers about the Martians and one of them had said they sounded like octopuses. This fits a little better, now that they have weapons that can dispense an “inky vapour.” It is interesting to note that both the deadly smoke and the Heat-Ray would later come to have real-life counterparts in World War I, when poison gas and flame throwers were first used in warfare.


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Summary of The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

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