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File:War-of-the-worlds-tripod 9440.jpg

 No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's... Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.


So begins The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, the first alien invasion story, and perhaps the best known, in which late-Victorian England, then homeland of the world's greatest empire, is conquered with casual ease by Martians. In the end, only chance saves humanity from slavery or annihilation.

The story begins with the unnamed narrator, a lightly disguised version of Wells, visiting an observatory, where he is shown explosions of the surface of Mars. Shortly afterwards, an apparent meteor lands close to the narrator's house in Surrey. When he goes to look, he sees the first of the Martians emerging from its spacecraft. The invaders swiftly set up strange machinery, incinerating all humans who approach.

The narrator takes his wife to presumed safety then returns just in time to witness gigantic tripods, Martian war machines armed with Heat Rays and poisonous Black Smoke, smashing their way through the massed ranks of the British Army. Three tripods are brought down in a succession of battles before the army and navy are routed, with more Martians landing, reinforcing the invaders.

A few are making grandiose plans for resistance, but it is clear they have no prospect of success. Great Britain has been utterly defeated. The narrator becomes trapped in the ruins near another Martian landing-site, where he gets a first-hand view of the aliens drinking human blood. It seems they intend to treat humanity as nothing more than food.

At this point, when the full consequences of defeat have become apparent, the Martians disappear. Returning to London, the narrator finds that all the Martians have conveniently dropped dead, killed by some terrestrial microbe.

There have been several movie versions of this story (the two most famous being released in 1953 and 2005), as well as the notorious Radio Drama, a TV series, renovelizations set in "the present day", a mostly-overlooked but surprisingly faithful RTS game, and, of all things, a Rock Opera. It has also influenced many subsequent alien invasion stories.

Interestingly, the novel was originally considered part of a different genre - the "Invasion Story", of which there was a spate in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, depicting fictional invasions or invasion plans of the author's home country, usually by German or Crypto-German forces. Only later did the "alien" part of "alien invasion" come to be considered more defining than the "invasion" part.

The novel is generally regarded as an allegory of colonialism, depicting Great Britain receiving the same kind of treatment as it had been delivering to the natives of its empire. (Metaphorically. Englishmen did not usually drink human blood. Usually.)

For the television series, see War of the Worlds. For Jeff Wayne's Rock Opera, see Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds. For the real-time strategy game, see Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds. For the 2005 Spielberg film, see The War of the Worlds. For the 2002 Dark Horse Comics version (and follow-ons) see Scarlet Traces.

Tropes used in The War of the Worlds include:
  • Accentuate the Negative: This is perhaps Older Than Radio, at the very least. Wells may have written the alien invasion hitting Britain first as an example of Creator Provincialism, or else for the same pragmatic reason the current film adaptation has them hitting the USA first. (If you want to conquer Earth, take out its greatest military power first. In the late 1800's that was Britain, today it's the USA). However, a more personal reason to Wells has been advanced. He may have had the all-destroying alien tripods land in London, at least partly with the intention of having them reduce his home region, the towns of Woking and Bromley, to smouldering corpse-heavy rubble. Wells utterly despised this part of Surrey for its parochial mentality and its lower-middle-class smug smallmindedness. He also wanted to get even for long, soul-destroying thirteen hour days spent in a miserable McJob working for a tiny-minded bully. Today's Woking boasts a statue of an alien tripod on the main street to commemorate Wells' vision.
  • Adaptation Species Change: As a result of Science Marches On, the invaders are very rarely depicted as native Martians as it's become clearer that there is no sentient life on Mars. They're instead invaders from a more distant world who used Mars as a beachhead.
  • Adaptational Badass: The Martians in every adaptation so as to keep pace with advancing real world technology.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In the original story, the Martians, while bastards, invaded because their world was dead and they needed a new one. In most later adaptations, Mars is but a beachhead for invaders who are largely doing it For the Evulz.
  • Adapted Out: Several elements of the story; the HMS Thunder Child, the Black Smoke, the Red Weed, and the humanoid Martians; usually get left out of adaptations.
  • Agent Scully: An early example in Ogilvy.
  • Alien Invasion: One of the very first such stories to be told.
  • Aliens and Monsters
  • Aliens Are Bastards: Though the narrator believes them to be of a Necessarily Evil variety, needing to flee to a new home as theirs becomes uninhabitable.
  • Author Avatar: The narrator, although Wells is mentioned as a separate person: see Mythology Gag, below
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Wells notes when introducing the Martians proper that all present expected "a man." What emerged was decidedly more Lovecraftian. Even granted the genre was an outgrowth of terrestrial varieties, future Alien Invasion stories seem to have largely missed this delightful precedent.
  • Brilliant but Lazy: The Artilleryman, who lays out a convincing prediction about the new order the Martians will bring and how humanity can eventually retake the world, but treats the whole thing as an idle hobby.

 "Oh, one can't always work," he said, and in a flash I saw the man plain.

  • Calling the Old Man Out: Played with. In the 2005 film, Robbie deduces that Ray (his/Rachel's father) is only taking him and Rachel to Boston so he can leave them there with their mother while he continues on his own without his children. This reasoning leads to literal Laser-Guided Karma when Robbie runs off to join the hopeless fight against the Martians, and Ray and Rachel assume him dead after the Martians wipe out the entire platoon in one strike.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Midway through the story, the narrator describes certain things that the humans have since learned about the Martians - among them, that they are/were vulnerable to terrestrial germs...
    • Averted in one incident involving Chekov's gunfire. At one point, the narrator hears the sound of heavy gunfire that sounds like artillery pieces. Never expanded upon.
  • Comic Book Adaptation: Or comic book sequel, rather. The Marvel character Killraven lives in the post-apocalyptic world left after the Martians made a second attack in the late twentieth century.
    • War Of the Worlds also forms the backbone of the second volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
    • Scarlet Traces by Ian Edgington and Disraeli, is also a sequel - Britain is now reaping the benefits of the Martian technology; the same team later reunited to do an adaptation.
  • Cool Boat: HMS Thunder Child. At the time, a torpedo ram like Thunder Child represented the most powerful destructive force in the world - fully ironclad, with a sharp ram on the bow, torpedo tubes, heavy guns and powerful engines to take it up to ramming speed. In the real world, however, torpedo rams were completely useless; all that they ever destroyed was a single, grounded ship and a harbour jetty. The Other Wiki says "It has been suggested by some that, in view of the limited military value the torpedo ram demonstrated, Wells's immortalization of the type in what would become a literary classic was the torpedo ram's greatest achievement."
    • Considering that this pinnacle of technology manages to blow up two Martian tripods, one of them by the shrapnel resulting from its explosion, it's not much of an achievement.
      • The Martians had fewer than thirty tripods in the book. This fight represented all but one of their total combat losses. And given that Humanity was basically completely overwhelmed by this point, for the Thunder Child those two Tripods were quite an achievement.
  • Cool Plane: The 1953 movie features Stock Footage of the cancelled YB-49 bomber. If the "flying wing" design reminds you of something, you're right. The basic principle was re-used for the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber.
    • The original novel briefly mentions a Martian flying machine (see the quote below). This was a cool plane by virtue of it pre-dating the existence of any actual Real Life planes, and yet uncannily matching the appearance of a flying wing bomber like the B-2.

 Something rushed up into the sky out of the greyness - rushed slantingly upward and very swiftly into the luminous clearness above the clouds in the western sky; something flat and broad, and very large, that swept round in a vast curve, grew smaller, sank slowly, and vanished again into the grey mystery of the night. And as it flew it rained down darkness upon the land.

  • Creator Provincialism: There is no mention of what happened outside south-east England; it's not even certain if the invasion reaches beyond England.
    • It's actually pretty clear that it doesn't: at the end the narrator notes the relief pouring in from "across the English Channel, across the Irish Sea, and across the Atlantic," implying that Europe, America, and even Ireland were left untouched.
  • Crossover:
  • Curb Stomp Battle: The entire war. While the humans manage to down several tripods, it's pretty one-sided, especially after the Black Smoke comes into play.
  • Dead Line News: the radio drama, combined with Kill'Em All. Even the narrator goes down.
  • Deadly Gas: The "black smoke" used in the novel.
  • Death Ray: The Martian "Heat Ray".
  • Deus Ex Machina: In the end, when all the weapons of Earth's mightiest superpower have failed to make any significant impact on the Martian attack, they die of exposure to Earth bacteria.
    • Although, to give H.G. Wells credit, he did make mention of them in the opening monologue. Unknowingly Heroic Microbes were in the story from page one.
    • For that matter he also makes clear midway through the book that the Martians have long since eradicated all bacteria and viruses on their own planet and live completely free of disease, as well as their feeding method which consists of injecting human blood directly into their own veins; the perfect vector for infection. It's actually all right there for anybody who is scientifically astute enough to see it coming.
  • Disaster Scavengers: The protagonist in the novel, and most of the people he meets, after the Martians topple human civilization.
  • Drop Pod: To deliver the mechs (or the materials needed to build them) to Earth.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: HMS Thunder Child takes out two Tripods before sinking whilst trying to ram a third.
  • Earth Is a Battlefield: Especially adaptations that make it clear the aliens are attacking everywhere.
  • Earth-Shattering Poster
  • Easily-Thwarted Alien Invasion: Thanks to the simplest things that god has placed upon this Earth.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: In the radio drama, large numbers of people are killed, either by heat rays or poison gas spewed from the alien spaceships. Several "field reporters" make note of this fact before they, too, succumb to the imminent danger. After a cutaway where a reporter describes millions of fleeing New Yorkers dying en masse — falling victim to gas clouds or falling into the Hudson River to commit suicide — a ham radio operator desperately calls out, "2X2L calling CQ. Isn't there anyone on the air? Isn't there anyone on the air?! Isn't there ... anyone???!!!"
  • Evil Counterpart Race: Wells intended for the Martians to be this to humanity, the British Empire in particular. They focus solely on work and expansion that their entire biology has been reduced down to the barest necessities. The author even speculates they might have been descended from Human Aliens.
  • First Contact
  • Foreshadowing: The red weed dies off not long before the Martians do.
  • Forgotten Trope: War of the Worlds was actually a Science Fiction twist on the then-vibrant genre of the "Invasion Story".
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Despite apparently being a good friend to the narrator, Ogilvy is almost never mentioned again after his early death.
  • Frickin' Laser Beams: The "Heat Ray" is a much more realistic description of the effect of a laser than most fiction has managed since lasers were actually invented. The "Heat Ray" as being invisible, making it terrifying as the protagonists can't see the beam, only what it's currently igniting. A high-powered (and by that, we mean nuclear) infrared-spectrum laser weapon would behave pretty much exactly as described. Whilst the effects were quite accurate, the production mechanism of the heat ray wasn't anything like a laser though.
  • Ghost City: London in the novel, New York City in the radio play and and Los Angeles in the '53 film.
  • Hope Spot: HMS Thunder Child takes down two Tripods. Slowly burning, it charges a third Tripod as the explosive stores explode, clearing a path for the escaping refugee ships. As they reach open water, aerial Martian constructs / more cylinders arriving from Mars (depending on the version) can be seen in the sky.
  • Human Resources: The Martians drink human blood. In addition, in the novel, humans discover they've been using a third, unnamed humanoid race as we might use livestock.
  • Humans Are Morons: Subverted. The main character observes that for all the greater technological advancements the aliens have over humans, they do not appear to have invented a tool as simple and practical as the wheel.
  • Humongous Mecha — The towering Martian tripods are one of the first appearances of this in fiction, if not THE first modern appearance.
  • I Come in Peace: Subverted. The humans attempt this when they first meet the Martians. The peace party in question is slaughtered, and things get worse after that. The Martians don't even try to hide their intentions.
  • La Résistance: The Artilleryman's plan involves establishing one.
  • Les Collaborateurs: The Artillery soldier believe that the Martians probably had recruited human prisoners as recons or auxillary troops. Canon in a comic version of the novel.
  • Million-to-One Chance: An early example, possibly the Trope Namer, provided by Ogilvy the astronomer.
  • Monumental Damage
  • Moral Myopia: Averted. The author notes that the British should be the last people to judge the Martians, considering the sins of British colonization.
  • Mr. Exposition: Ogilvy in the first chapter, before his demotion to Sacrificial Lamb. If it hadn't been for him the narrator would not have known about the business on Mars as early as he did.
  • Mythology Gag: During the sequence where the narrator is watching the Martians from the ruins, he comments that they remind him of an essay he once read about how humans might evolve in a technology-dominated future, by some chap whose name he can't quite remember. The essay actually existed, and was used by Wells as the basis for the Martians' biology; its author was Wells himself.
    • Wells also slams an artist whose depiction of the Martians he didn't like: "I recall particularly the illustration of one of the first pamphlets to give a consecutive account of the war. The artist had evidently made a hasty study of one of the fighting-machines, and it was there that his knowledge ended."
    • In a novel that Wells wrote forty years later, Star-Begotten, there's a hypothetical discussion about the existence of Martians and a man mentions he read a book written by "Jules Verne, Conan Doyle, one of those fellows": The War of the Worlds.
  • Next Sunday AD: Published in 1898, the novel was set "early in the twentieth century."
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: These aren't just Martians, they're Humongous Mecha cyborg vampire Martians.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Despite evolving in a totally different environment, the Martians are killed by Earth bacteria. It's speculated that Martian society was so sterile that they eliminated all disease countless generations ago and thus the invasion force had no protection.
  • No Name Given: for the movie, he was given the name of "Dr Clayton Forrester" (Yes, that's where it came from).
    • Although there's a Clay Forester in Jack Williamson's 1949 novel The Humanoids. Some names just say, "I am a GENIUS!"
  • Not So Different: The Martians and the Humans. The main character compares the Martians and humans with each other many times; specially the Martians' invasion with the imperialist moments during that time.
  • Not So Invincible After All: After shrugging off (nearly) everything humans can throw at them, the aliens die of some minor Earth disease their immune systems weren't familiar with.
    • Human weaponry also managed to do some damage in the original. Not enough to be really meaningful in any extended conflict, but the Martian machines were never completely invulnerable.
    • Imagine the same invasion in the year 2011, with the same tripods, same heat rays and same bloodthirsty martians. They'd be up against missiles, tanks and possibly nuclear weapons. Definitely not so invincible after all. This is why all subsequent adaptations usually give the war machines indestructible forcefields.
  • Nominal Importance: Inverted; the named characters, such as Ogilvy, Henderson, and the Elphinstones are minor players, while the majority of the significant characters, such as the Artilleryman and the Curate, remain nameless.
  • Oh Crap: In the 1953 movie, just as our heroes are coming to terms with the power of the war machine that's about to emerge from the cylinder, they look up and see the second cylinder flashing across the sky.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The Martians need human blood, therefore they could be technically considered some kind of vampires.
  • Plant Aliens: The red weed grown (or at least imported) by the Martians.
  • Public Domain Character: Or perhaps, Public Domain Civilization, since (more or less) nobody ever reuses the human characters, only the Martians. The most obvious example is in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics, though the book wasn't even in the public domain when the first knock-off appeared.
  • Ramming Always Works: # Come on, Thunder Child! #
  • Recycled in Space: When the novel was written, invasion literature (a now-forgotten genre of stories about foreign countries invading England), was popular. War of the Worlds is basically one of these stories WITH ALIENS!
  • Red Shirt Reporter: Henderson, who was too interested in the Martians for his own good. Averted with the narrator, who is another journalist.
  • The Right of a Superior Species: Unusually, this is articulated by the human narrator at the beginning of the book. After reflecting on how much more advanced and intelligent the Martians are, he concludes:

And before we judge them too harshly, we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?

  • Rock Opera: Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Arguably Ogilvy. He is friendly to the narrator, seems to be well-intentioned enough if naive, and plays an important role in the story right up to Chapter Five, in which he becomes Heat Ray fodder.
  • Scavenger World: The protagonist spends much of the novel evading detection by the Martians and trying to scrounge up enough food to survive. Just the threat of Martians advancing on London is enough to turn that well-heeled city, the pinnacle of British civilization, into a madhouse of disorganized panic.
  • Science Marches On: At the very least, there's no Martian civilization invading Earth, and much of the speculation about how the Martians' technology and biology works is based on outdated science. Wells does future-proof the story to some extent, though, by constantly stating that the characters' scientific speculation is just that, and they could be entirely wrong.
    • While preparing to make the 1953 movie, producer George Pal talked to military representatives who let him know in no uncertain terms the tripods of the original novel would be cut to pieces by modern weaponry before their drivers would suffer so much as a sniffle. Hence the movie Martians came equipped with nuke-proof force fields.
      • In some ways that makes our technological advancement over the last 100 years or so quite scary. These machines were pretty much the most deadly things that the author could think up, and yet put them against modern weapons and they would be obliterated in seconds.
      • In the book, the Martians' main advantage is that their weapon is point-and-shoot accurate, whereas artillery of the day required that the target be 'bracketed' in order to reliably place fire on the target. So the artillery would open up with their initial shots to try and find the range, and the Martian Heat-Ray would immediately and accurately destroy them. The Thunder-Child was so effective because it closed to point-blank range before opening fire.
    • The Martians are described lacking a true digestive system, instead draining blood from other creatures and replacing their own with it, thus gaining the necessary nutrients. Needless to say, the understanding of blood transfusions hadn't developed very far when the book was written.
  • Spiritual Successor: The War of the Worlds is arguably this to The Crystal Egg, a short story written by Wells the same year, featuring an optical gateway to Mars. Martians and their machines are described, although the events in The War of the Worlds are not clearly foreshadowed.
    • The Tripods, a series of young-adult novels by John Christopher, is in all but name a sequel set in an Alternate Continuity where the Martians were successful in dominating the world.
    • Except Christopher's aliens are three-legged chlorine-breathers from a (different star's) world with higher gravity than Earth, and they took over via Mind Control ("The Trippy Show") rather than war.
    • There was, of course, an actual (and, dubiously, claimed to be "authorised") sequel. It was almost entirely unrelated to the original book (setting the original invasion in Boston, America, among other things) and involved the cannibalisation of Martian technology by Earthly masterminds, including the man who both supported the publication of and lent his title to the book. This was called (and was, indeed, about) Edison's Conquest of Mars.
  • Starfish Aliens: The Martians are utterly inhuman. Even their technology is alien; they never invented the wheel, and their mechanical systems use mind-bogglingly complicated systems of levers to do the job of a cogwheel.
  • Stripped to the Bone: The fate of the Heat Ray victims in several film or graphic novel adaptations (notably the Pendragon and Graphic Classics ones).
  • Stupid Scientist: Ogilvy the astronomer, somewhat, although he does change his mind when presented with evidence.
  • Technology Marches On: The awe that the humans experience upon seeing the Marian flying machine is somewhat dated, especially considering that human flight would be achieved within the next 5 years. In contrast, every other piece of technology the Martians use has aged surprisingly well, as walking machines and directed energy weapons, though beginning to appear in real life, have yet to become subject to the industrial precision and mass-production shown in the novel.
    • The scene where the protagonist describes the Martians' aluminium refining technology. A modern reader may think "So what? Big deal". At the time the book was written, however, aluminium was extremely difficult and expensive to mass-produce, it was even considered to be a precious metal with a higher value than gold, so being able to mass-produce it was used as proof of the Martians' technological mastery.
    • Even then, today mass production of aluminium isn't exactly cheap or easy, at least not compared to something like iron. It's cheap today in large part because we recycle it far more than we do other metals.
  • The Theme Park Version: In the novel, humans manage a few isolated successes against individual Martian tripods, and there are mentions of damaged tripods. By the 1938 radio play, we are explicitly told that the Martians lose only one machine. By the 1953 film, the war machines are totally indestructible, and even an atomic bomb fails to put so much as a scratch on them. Arguably this is an unavoidable part of technology lag - the main problem the humans had in the book was hitting the fast-moving Martian machines directly with conventional artillery (as well as a lack of defence against chemical weapons), and modern weapons are both more powerful and more accurate. If later adaptions didn't "cheat" on behalf of the Martians by making them Immune to Bullets, the Curb Stomp Battle would be in the other direction.
  • To Serve Man: The Martians feed on people by draining them of blood.
  • Tripod Terror: The Trope Maker.
  • We Come in Peace, Shoot to Kill: When a group of people (including three named characters) approaches the Martans to communicate, the aliens make their intentions quickly and brutally clear.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Both Henderson and Stent. Neither one receives much Character Development or has much bearing on the plot, and they die too quickly for anyone to get too attached to them.
  • You Could Have Used Your Powers for Good: In the 1953 movie especially. The understanding of science and advancement of technology necessary to create the war machine's force fields and skeleton beams is hundreds, if not thousands of years ahead of human understanding. With that at their beck and call, certainly the Martians could have come up with a better solution to their climate change problem than invading Earth.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: The Martians initially underestimate the humans, but as they suffer setbacks they show off their superior intelligence by adapting to each unforeseen threat after it occurs - after artillery takes down one of their walkers, the Martians use dispersed formations and deploy the Black Smoke. After the Thunder Child, they start fooling around with flying machines.
  • Zeerust: One particular illustration of the tripods drawn by Warwick Goble makes them look atrociously mechanical and clunky, more like walking water towers than anything else. Incidentally, Wells hated this picture so much that he included a Take That against it in a later chapter. Other contemporary illustrations have actually stood the test of time much better.