Continuing to read extracts from this fantastic science fiction story from the 19th century. Follow the plot and pick up some English in the process. Full transcript available, and a YouTube version too.
Watch PART 1 before you watch this! Links in the description.
Recap of the story so far
6 years prior to the main events of the story, explosions are observed on the surface of Mars, but scientists assume they are gas or volcanic eruptions and are nothing to worry about.
Then, one night, a meteor falls to earth in green flash. The astronomer who finds the fallen meteorite in a pit of sand in a nearby common discovers that the object is a cylinder, is making strange noises and is even beginning to open and assumes there must be people inside it.
A crowd gathers, including the narrator of this story. The cylinder opens slowly and people are shocked and horrified to see the hideous and frightening creatures inside. They seem slow and heavy, as if earth’s atmosphere makes things difficult for them. Their appearance is a huge shock to everyone.
One person has fallen into the pit and it’s possible that they have been killed.
The narrator, although terrified, is also intensely curious about these visitors, as are the other witnesses at the sand pits where the cylinder has landed.
After the glimpse I had had of the Martians emerging from the cylinder in which they had come to the earth from their planet, a kind of fascination paralysed my actions. I remained standing knee-deep in the heather, staring at the mound that hid them. I was a battleground of fear and curiosity.
I did not dare to go back towards the pit, but I felt a passionate longing to peer into it. I began walking, therefore, in a big curve, seeking some point of vantage and continually looking at the sand-heaps that hid these new-comers to our earth. Once a leash of thin black whips, like the arms of an octopus, flashed across the sunset and was immediately withdrawn, and afterwards a thin rod rose up, joint by joint, bearing at its apex a circular disk that spun with a wobbling motion. What could be going on there?
Most of the spectators had gathered in one or two groups—one a little crowd towards Woking, the other a knot of people in the direction of Chobham. Evidently they shared my mental conflict. There were few near me. One man I approached—he was, I perceived, a neighbour of mine, though I did not know his name—and accosted. But it was scarcely a time for articulate conversation.
“What ugly brutes!” he said. “Good God! What ugly brutes!” He repeated this over and over again.
“Did you see a man in the pit?” I said; but he made no answer to that. We became silent, and stood watching for a time side by side, deriving, I fancy, a certain comfort in one another’s company. Then I shifted my position to a little knoll that gave me the advantage of a yard or more of elevation and when I looked for him presently he was walking towards Woking.
The sunset faded to twilight before anything further happened. The crowd far away on the left, towards Woking, seemed to grow, and I heard now a faint murmur from it. The little knot of people towards Chobham dispersed. There was scarcely an intimation of movement from the pit.
It was this, as much as anything, that gave people courage, and I suppose the new arrivals from Woking also helped to restore confidence. At any rate, as the dusk came on a slow, intermittent movement upon the sand-pits began, a movement that seemed to gather force as the stillness of the evening about the cylinder remained unbroken. Vertical black figures in twos and threes would advance, stop, watch, and advance again, spreading out as they did so in a thin irregular crescent that promised to enclose the pit in its attenuated horns. I, too, on my side began to move towards the pit.
Then I saw some cabmen and others had walked boldly into the sand-pits, and heard the clatter of hoofs and the gride of wheels. I saw a lad trundling off the barrow of apples. And then, within thirty yards of the pit, advancing from the direction of Horsell, I noted a little black knot of men, the foremost of whom was waving a white flag.
This was the Deputation. There had been a hasty consultation, and since the Martians were evidently, in spite of their repulsive forms, intelligent creatures, it had been resolved to show them, by approaching them with signals, that we too were intelligent.
Flutter, flutter, went the flag, first to the right, then to the left. It was too far for me to recognise anyone there, but afterwards I learned that Ogilvy, Stent, and Henderson were with others in this attempt at communication. This little group had in its advance dragged inward, so to speak, the circumference of the now almost complete circle of people, and a number of dim black figures followed it at discreet distances.
Suddenly there was a flash of light, and a quantity of luminous greenish smoke came out of the pit in three distinct puffs, which drove up, one after the other, straight into the still air.
This smoke (or flame, perhaps, would be the better word for it) was so bright that the deep blue sky overhead and the hazy stretches of brown common towards Chertsey, set with black pine trees, seemed to darken abruptly as these puffs arose, and to remain the darker after their dispersal. At the same time a faint hissing sound became audible.
Beyond the pit stood the little wedge of people with the white flag at its apex, arrested by these phenomena, a little knot of small vertical black shapes upon the black ground. As the green smoke arose, their faces flashed out pallid green, and faded again as it vanished. Then slowly the hissing passed into a humming, into a long, loud, droning noise. Slowly a humped shape rose out of the pit, and the ghost of a beam of light seemed to flicker out from it.
Forthwith flashes of actual flame, a bright glare leaping from one to another, sprang from the scattered group of men. It was as if some invisible jet impinged upon them and flashed into white flame. It was as if each man were suddenly and momentarily turned to fire.
Then, by the light of their own destruction, I saw them staggering and falling, and their supporters turning to run.
I stood staring, not as yet realising that this was death leaping from man to man in that little distant crowd. All I felt was that it was something very strange. An almost noiseless and blinding flash of light, and a man fell headlong and lay still; and as the unseen shaft of heat passed over them, pine trees burst into fire, and every dry furze bush became with one dull thud a mass of flames. And far away towards Knaphill I saw the flashes of trees and hedges and wooden buildings suddenly set alight in the distance.
It was sweeping round swiftly and steadily, this flaming death, this invisible, inevitable sword of heat. I perceived it coming towards me by the flashing bushes it touched, and was too astounded and stupefied to stir. I heard the crackle of fire in the sand-pits and the sudden squeal of a horse that was as suddenly stilled. Then it was as if an invisible yet intensely heated finger were drawn through the heather between me and the Martians, and all along a curving line beyond the sand-pits the dark ground smoked and crackled. Something fell with a crash far away to the left where the road from Woking station opens out on the common. Forth-with the hissing and humming ceased, and the black, dome-like object sank slowly out of sight into the pit.
All this had happened with such swiftness that I had stood motionless, dumbfounded and dazzled by the flashes of light. Had that death swept through a full circle, it must inevitably have slain me in my surprise. But it passed and spared me, and left the night about me suddenly dark and unfamiliar.
The undulating common seemed now dark almost to blackness, except where its roadways lay grey and pale under the deep blue sky of the early night. It was dark, and suddenly void of men. Overhead the stars were mustering, and in the west the sky was still a pale, bright, almost greenish blue. The tops of the pine trees and the roofs of Horsell came out sharp and black against the western afterglow. The Martians and their appliances were altogether invisible, save for that thin mast upon which their restless mirror wobbled. Patches of bush and isolated trees here and there smoked and glowed still, and the houses towards Woking station were sending up spires of flame into the stillness of the evening air.
Nothing was changed save for that and a terrible astonishment. The little group of black specks with the flag of white had been swept out of existence, and the stillness of the evening, so it seemed to me, had scarcely been broken.
It came to me that I was upon this dark common, helpless, unprotected, and alone. Suddenly, like a thing falling upon me from without, came—fear.
With an effort I turned and began a stumbling run through the heather.
The fear I felt was no rational fear, but a panic terror not only of the Martians, but of the dusk and stillness all about me. Such an extraordinary effect in unmanning me it had that I ran weeping silently as a child might do. Once I had turned, I did not dare to look back.
I remember I felt an extraordinary persuasion that I was being played with, that presently, when I was upon the very verge of safety, this mysterious death—as swift as the passage of light—would leap after me from the pit about the cylinder, and strike me down.
Summary of Chapter 5: The Heat Ray
The narrator finds himself irresistibly drawn back toward the crater to see more.
He observes a long pole with a circular disc on its end rising from the pit.
Other people linger, seemingly rooted to the spot in a mix of horror and curiosity.
Heartened by a lack of alien movement for a period, onlookers begin to slowly advance toward the pit.
The Deputation (group of scientists) walks toward the pit with a white flag.
The narrator later learns Ogilvy, Stent, and Henderson were part of the group.
A flash of light, three puffs of green smoke, a hissing sound, and a dome-like object rise from the pit.
With a droning noise, the group of men suddenly burst into flame.
As the “invisible, inevitable sword of heat” rotates, everything it touches turns to flame, including grass on the common and trees in the distance.
The rotating Heat-Ray stops before it reaches the narrator, and he realizes he was “helpless, unprotected and alone.”
He flees in fear with the disturbing feeling he is “being played with.”
Although the Martians seem quite weak and immobile, their technology is far superiour to ours, especially the technology we had in the late 19th century (guns, horse drawn, cannons, pre World War 1 weapons). The heat ray is absolutely devestating. It burns or melts everything it touches instantly and can reach long distances.
Summary of the next few chapters
Nobody understands the technology the Martians are using. Whatever the heat ray points at, bursts into flame.
Plenty of people around the pit have been killed and there are burned remains of their bodies lying around. Horses have also been killed as well as numerous trees and buildings set on fire.
The group of scientists are all dead.
After the Martian attack with the heat ray the crowd of people stampeded in horror and a few people were crushed to death in the panic.
The Martians stay in the pit, and appear to be working on something as little puffs of green smoke can be seen rising from the hole, and there’s noise of work inside.
The narrator runs away in fear and eventually gets himself under control and then goes home, still not completely aware of what’s going on. He comforts himself with the knowledge that the military are now going to step in, and that one shell or bomb landing in the sand pit will be enough to stop the Martians. He sees his wife and has dinner.
The news of the Martians travels slowly. People seem sceptical of the stories they’ve heard. Even the newspaper editor chooses not to print the story as he doesn’t believe the account and it hasn’t been confirmed by any enough witnesses yet. So, news travels slowly. Meanwhile, the Martians still seem to be working on something within the pit.
Some people are still curious about what’s going on in the sand pit, but as they approach it they are instantly killed by the heat ray.
The narrator compares the cylinder ominously to a poison dart, whose poison “was scarcely working yet.”
That night several companies of soldiers with large artillery guns approach the pit.
During the night, a second cylinder falls nearby.
The next day is suspenseful. The military surround the aliens in their sand pit. The narrator is not allowed to go back onto the common. Soldiers tell him that nobody is allowed into the area.
That afternoon there are sounds of gunfire and explosions. The Martians keep using their heat ray which appears to be clearing out all obstacles in its path, creating a wider and wider circle of destruction and a bigger area that nobody can enter.
The narrator is at home with is wife and at one point a big explosion nearby causes him to go outside to check. He sees the top of the nearby church sliding off and crashing to the ground, the tops of nearby trees on fire and in fact the chimney stack of his own house falling to the ground. He realises that his house is nearly in range of the heat ray, which has taken out trees and buildings between the house and the sand pit.
The narrator and his wife decide to leave, and pack a horse drawn cart with as many possessions as possible they head in the direction of London, to Leatherhead. As they travel there is fire and smoke behind them and the sound of weapons. The Martians are burning everything within range of their heat ray.
The narrator’s wife is deeply concerned about the situation, but the narrator assures her that the Martians are severely disadvantaged by their weight and inability to move quickly or breathe properly in our atmosphere. They arrive in Leatherhead and have dinner.
Then the narrator has to go back to Woking in order to return the horse and cart that he borrowed (what a good guy).
As night falls a storm comes in with rain and lightning. As the narrator is travelling through the darkness he sees a third cylinder fall from the sky in a green flash. The horse is very spooked and is hard to control.
Then in the darkness and rain, lit up by the occasional flash of lightning from the storm he sees something monstrous that causes him to loose control of the horse and crash by the side of the road.
Extract from Chapter 10: In the Storm
IN THE STORM. (extract)
At first I regarded little but the road before me, and then abruptly my attention was arrested by something that was moving rapidly down the opposite slope of Maybury Hill. At first I took it for the wet roof of a house, but one flash following another showed it to be in swift rolling movement. It was an elusive vision—a moment of bewildering darkness, and then, in a flash like daylight, the red masses of the Orphanage near the crest of the hill, the green tops of the pine trees, and this problematical object came out clear and sharp and bright.
And this Thing I saw! How can I describe it? A monstrous tripod, higher than many houses, striding over the young pine trees, and smashing them aside in its career; a walking engine of glittering metal, striding now across the heather; articulate ropes of steel dangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage mingling with the riot of the thunder. A flash, and it came out vividly, heeling over one way with two feet in the air, to vanish and reappear almost instantly as it seemed, with the next flash, a hundred yards nearer. Can you imagine a milking stool tilted and bowled violently along the ground? That was the impression those instant flashes gave. But instead of a milking stool imagine it a great body of machinery on a tripod stand.
Then suddenly the trees in the pine wood ahead of me were parted, as brittle reeds are parted by a man thrusting through them; they were snapped off and driven headlong, and a second huge tripod appeared, rushing, as it seemed, headlong towards me. And I was galloping hard to meet it! At the sight of the second monster my nerve went altogether. Not stopping to look again, I wrenched the horse’s head hard round to the right and in another moment the dog cart had heeled over upon the horse; the shafts smashed noisily, and I was flung sideways and fell heavily into a shallow pool of water.
I crawled out almost immediately, and crouched, my feet still in the water, under a clump of furze. The horse lay motionless (his neck was broken, poor brute!) and by the lightning flashes I saw the black bulk of the overturned dog cart and the silhouette of the wheel still spinning slowly. In another moment the colossal mechanism went striding by me, and passed uphill towards Pyrford.
Seen nearer, the Thing was incredibly strange, for it was no mere insensate machine driving on its way. Machine it was, with a ringing metallic pace, and long, flexible, glittering tentacles (one of which gripped a young pine tree) swinging and rattling about its strange body. It picked its road as it went striding along, and the brazen hood that surmounted it moved to and fro with the inevitable suggestion of a head looking about. Behind the main body was a huge mass of white metal like a gigantic fisherman’s basket, and puffs of green smoke squirted out from the joints of the limbs as the monster swept by me. And in an instant it was gone.
So much I saw then, all vaguely for the flickering of the lightning, in blinding highlights and dense black shadows.
As it passed it set up an exultant deafening howl that drowned the thunder—“Aloo! Aloo!”—and in another minute it was with its companion, half a mile away, stooping over something in the field. I have no doubt this Thing in the field was the third of the ten cylinders they had fired at us from Mars.
For some minutes I lay there in the rain and darkness watching, by the intermittent light, these monstrous beings of metal moving about in the distance over the hedge tops. A thin hail was now beginning, and as it came and went their figures grew misty and then flashed into clearness again. Now and then came a gap in the lightning, and the night swallowed them up.
I was soaked with hail above and puddle water below. It was some time before my blank astonishment would let me struggle up the bank to a drier position, or think at all of my imminent peril.
Summary of Chapter 10 extract
On his way he notices a red glow in the sky and then a green streak, which happens to be the third cylinder.
It begins to storm.
The narrator suddenly encounters “a monstrous tripod, higher than many houses,” smashing through the woods next to the road.
As soon as it vanishes into the woods, another tripod appears heading right for the narrator.
He tries to change direction, but the cart overturns and the horse is killed.
The tripod passes by.
The narrator describes the two tripods bending over something in the distance, which he believes is the third cylinder.
He continues on foot with difficulty, happening upon the landlord’s dead body before he reaches home.
End of part 2
To be continued in part 3.
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