Title: The War of the Worlds
Author: H.G. Wells
Genre: Science Fiction
Is This Part of a Series?: No
*I purchased a used copy of this book as part of my graduate studies
This is the story of an alien invasion of England/the world and the horrible things the aliens do–and the ways that people attempt to survive and counter the aliens.
This book is not my favorite book, by any means, but when I picked it up, I went into it with the intended focus of looking at how point of view was used in the book. And I learned a great deal. I had also expected it to be a bit dry and stuffy in manner due to it being first published in 1898. While it was written in a different cadence, I found that it was still enjoyable. Turns out that the wonderful Stonecoast mentor Nancy Holder was spot on when she recommended I read this: I enjoyed it, I learned about the roots of my chosen genre (speculative fiction), and I learned about the use of point of view (an important tool in any writer’s toolbox, regardless of chosen genre).
The Nitty Gritty:
So, my focus when reading this book was on the use of point of view. I am a firm believer that, when done right, point of view is as invisible as the word “said” in a piece of writing. When the right point of view is chosen, it is no longer a choice the author made, but a path for the reader to be “there” with the character(s). In the case of Wells, The War of the Worlds is set in first person, from the point of view of a character that is a scientist and philosopher. The character is also physically located in the middle of where the action takes place. This makes the character trustworthy right from the beginning: he has the professional authority to make observations and judgements on the Martians and the location of his house positions him to be an observer from the very start of the invasion. He was even a part of what happened before the invasion when astronomers were noticing unusual lights on Mars.
Less noticeable was the narrator’s lack of naming the people he encountered while on his adventure. He never meets Bob, John, or William. Instead, he meets “the curate”, “the artillery man”, and “the lieutenant”. Even his wife is simply referred to as his wife. Later, the point of view switches from first person to third person, as the narrator (who stays the same) switches from telling his own story to telling that of his brother. This switch in POV brings with it an abundance of names. Instead of meeting people according to their post in life, we begin learning who they are and even who they are related to. Names abound in this section of the book. This fact manages to tell the reader about the brother (who cared enough about the people around him to notice and remember their names), the narrator (who cares enough about his brother to remember and share the stories of the people that were important to his brother), and even draws attention to the fact that the narrator hadn’t been using names in the first place (in case the read had failed to notice it previously).
All of this showed a skilled handling of point of view. It isn’t just about who is telling the story, it is also about how they tell the story and why they tell the story. It is conceivable that the point of view could even impact when the story is told in relation to the timeline of “actual” events. I’m confident that there is more that this book could teach about deliberate choices–word choice, character choices, more on point of view, etc. There is a reason that this is a classic.
This is also just plain an enjoyable story. It can take a bit of a shift in thinking to go from modern speech to that of an educated man from the 1890’s, but it isn’t difficult. There’s action and suspense. It’s worth a read for people who enjoy science fiction, alien invasions, or who are curious about a different type of classic. Even though it isn’t my favorite book, I do anticipate that I will read it a time or two more, both to see what I can learn and to let myself “simply” enjoy it.