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

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Chapter Seventeen (The “Thunder Child”)


As the Martians continue in their slow and demoralizing advance, London’s six million inhabitants continue in their hurried escape. The narrator thinks it would be quite a sight from a hot-air balloon, the sudden flow of people looking like ink spreading over paper. The Thames is packed with ships until 1:00 pm, when a bit of black vapor is spotted nearby. Panic breaks out among the crowded vessels but by 2:00 when the Martian arrives, there is nothing left but floating debris. Presumably, there were a number of collisions in the unsuccessful rush to get out of the jammed river before the vapor overtook the sailors and would-be escapees.

That same Monday but a day’s travel away, the narrator’s brother is standing guard over the carriage when he sees the sixth cylinder fall. The small party sets out again the next morning. They hear the news of the fall of London to the Martians and that around half the government has convened in Birmingham. There, officials are busily working on getting explosives for mines ready and providing bread for distribution among the fleeing population. That night, the seventh cylinder falls, this time with Miss Elphinstone watching.

On Wednesday, the three lose the pony to the Committee of Public Supply, which is basically a self-appointed group of thieves. They push on to Tillingham and, a little ways past it, they come upon the great mass of ships, diverted here now that the Thames is unusable. They are able to secure passage on a paddle steamer away to Ostend but Mrs. Elphinstone needs persuading. She wants to go back to the town of Stanmore, not go out on the sea to some foreign land. But her protests are overridden and they manage to get her on board.

The steamer stays in place for another three hours, taking on passengers until it is quite packed. At a sound of guns coming from the south, the steamer finally sets off, as do many other vessels. Ironclads appear but attention is soon focused instead on three quickly approaching Martians, the first that the brother has seen. Suddenly the steamer makes a sharp turn, throwing the brother to the ground. He gets to his feet in time to see the torpedo ram “Thunder Child” going by, to the cheers of his fellow passengers.

“Thunder Child” fires no gun and is therefore able to approach quite close to the Martians, who do not know what to make of it. The smoke canister they shoot bounces off ineffectively of the warship’s metal sides. Then they try the Heat-Ray, with more success. It penetrates the hull, and the ship responds with enough firepower to bring the Martian down.

The ship is still going. It heads towards the second Martian, who fires the Heat-Ray at it, causing it to explode. The flaming ruins of “Thunder Child” continued forward with momentum until it hits the second Martian, bringing it down. Cheering breaks out on the deck of the brother’s steamer, echoed on all the other ships around. Then the steam and the black vapor cover the scene, masking even the third Martian.

The crowded ship continues on its way, as the sun sets and guns go off in the distance. Suddenly a large, smooth object appears, going across the sky. The night is dark when it disappears from sight.


The “Thunder Child” may have taken its name from Norse mythology. Thor, the Viking god of thunder, had two children, one of whom was the only being equal to his father in strength. The warship could have been named so for the strength of its iron and its determination, which made it able to take down two Martians.

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

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McCauley, Kelly. "TheBestNotes on The War of the Worlds". . 09 May 2017