I loved the classic movie version of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and imagine the remake, out in a week or so, will be pretty nifty. But after reading the original story, no movie could ever capture the sheer terror and scope of Wells’ vision of an alien invasion of his beloved English countryside.
Penguin Classics releases the one and only original story, described as the first modern tale of alien invasion and one of the most influential of all science-fiction works, and for some of us, like myself, it will be the first time we get to experience the story the way it was truly meant to be experienced – deep within the confines of imagination. The radio version chilled and the movie thrilled, but something mysterious happens when the story is being told in words. The mind is permitted to create its own vision of the monsters, the fear, the horror and the destruction.
The story is written in the first person, which only adds to the horrifying effect of the unfolding plot. We join the narrator as he leaves the comforts of his English home near Horsell Common to see what the commotion is over yonder, where a strange cylindrical object has fallen from the sky. We recoil in horror as he sees the aliens for the first time, and witnesses their true intent. And, best of all, we journey with him as he struggles to stay one step ahead of the menacing creatures and their machines that kill with black smoke and heat rays, and as he sees the death and destruction they have left in their path.
In other words, Wells drags us kicking and screaming into the hell and damnation, never letting us sit back and relax for a minute, as the narrator runs for his life. Mid-story, the narrator is holed up for several days with a panicked cleric, with the aliens working their sinister evil just beyond the wall of the caved in house the men are hiding in. I cannot remember ever reading anything so nail-biting and suspenseful, and I read a heck of a lot, folks!
The writing is exquisite, filled with descriptive passages that evoke powerful images, and the narrator becomes our hero, trying desperately to stay alive long enough to find the wife he had to leave behind in safety. Wells is a master at building suspense and tension, and on paper the powerful themes of fear and empire and the dark side of humanity become so much more evident than in the cheesy, but fun, movie.
The War of the Worlds is disturbing, and that is the way the author wanted it. This edition features background information about the author and his views on religion and society and human behavior, which he weaves so brilliantly into the plot. It also features a full biographical essay on Wells and detailed notes about the book.
Do yourself a favor and read the book before you go see the Tom Cruise version. It is just so thrilling when your own mind is allowed to take off on its own, without aid of some director’s vision and CGI effects, and see the aliens and the devastation through the veil of your own fears, hopes and dreams. You will be glad you did.