The following essay on H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds was written by a close friend I met in an on-line literary forum.
Years ago, when I started this blog, and there was nobody reading me, I met a stranger on line who encouraged me to press on.
He has granted me permission to publish his literary review of War of the Worlds here. We read this book together, in an Oprah like book club. I’m trying to send some of this search engine charma his way…
(Please do me a favor and click on his blog, and show this sexy man my support to his literary genius.)
Literary Review of “War of the Worlds” By ghostofmajestic
On the surface, H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds is about a Martian invasion of Earth. Well actually Southern England seems to be the target of our rivals from the war god planet. As to be expected, the Martians wreak havoc over the countryside, using in a very literal sense scorched earth tactics and, in scenes eerily prophetic of the first world war, chemical weapons. Presenting a narrative of the lives of two brothers witnessing the penultimate breath of human civilization, this is apocalyptic prose at its highest apex – at the point at which there appears no hope, only resignation.
As a suspenseful tale of Martian vs. Earthling conflict, the story is satisfying. The action is persistent and the tension builds as the Tripods approach London. However, again this is the story as it appears to the reader on the surface. Further examination forces this reader to conclude that Wells aspires to explore the same lines of metaphysical conjecture as both Gottfried Leibniz and his satiric critic Voltaire. The telling clue is on the very first page of Chapter 13.
Wells mentions the destruction of the city of Lisbon from earthquake, compounded by tsunami, compounded by fire. Perhaps in a comical sleight, the narrator believes the destruction to have occurred a century ago, but as we all know the date of the catastrophe was 1755, nearly 150 years preceding the setting of the novel.
The sudden destruction of Lisbon and the great suffering in its aftermath are important and vital scenes in Voltaire’s great satire Candide, a cutting criticism of the metaphysical optimism put forth by Gottfried Leibniz, the mathematician, philosopher and general polymath in his 1710 treatise Theodicy. It is title character Candide’s and his tutor Pangloss’ visit to Lisbon just after the earthquake (so soon after that their ship is nearly swallowed up by the ensuing tsunami and their traveling commrade the Anabaptist is lost to the rising waters of the bay) that begins sewing the seeds of doubt in Candide’s belief that this world is indeed “the best of all possible worlds.”
According to Leibniz, our reality, our world, is the best off all possible worlds – the very optimal that God, in his omnipotent concern and care for us, could create. Since God is good and omnipotent, and since He chose this world out of all possibilities, this world must be good–in fact, this world is the best. Even suffering and evil has its place in this best of worlds, because if there could possibly be one better, with a little less suffering and not as much evil, then God would have created that. Voltaire thought this idea to be ludicrous, and he sends his naive yet thoughtful protagonist Candide on adventures throughout Europe and the New World to reveal the very weaknesses of Leibniz’s argument. We witness the great suffering and evil that Candide witnesses, and consequently our own belief, if we had any, in the optimism of Leibniz is all but crushed like a monk under a huge stone hurled from the roof of a cathedral in Lisbon in 1755.
The events in Lisbon caused seismic tremors all throughout the intellectual strata of Europe. The earthquake struck in the morning, killing many Catholic celebrants at mass on All Saints Day. Who would blame any citizen of Lisbon for resigning himself to the revelation that this was the end of time? The horrific events of these few days would force many to ask again those ageless questions:
Why does God allow suffering?
If God is all-seeing and all-powerful, why is there evil?
These are the very questions at the root of Theodicy. This is what Leibniz attempted to answer through reason, and it is toward Leibniz’s answer that Voltaire, by way of his fictional ego Candide, thumbed his nose at.
It can be argued that Voltaire, like most deists of his era, believed that God simply did not care about the plight of man – that he had set the clockwork of creation in motion but then had left it at home by his bedside to enjoy some rest and recreation down at the beach. Many came around to adopt similar paradigms of reason and enlightenment. Events like the great earthquake in Lisbon had shaken the very foundation of faith in 18th century Europe, but what does this have to do with Mars?
In War of the Worlds, London is the new Lisbon. Instead of a comprehensive faith in the almighty, there is now faith in industry, in technology, in the projection of power, all things that have made the British Empire king. The sun does not set on the empire. Religious conviction has been subjugated to commerce, the smokestack and the exploitation of colonial possessions. Little do the imperial subjects realize that they are being watched by an intelligence far more advanced than their own, an intelligence that has plans upon their blue-green world.
What once was the best of all possible worlds for a Martian, is no longer suitable at all. Due to entropic decay, it has become a cold world depleted of the necessary resources to keep Martians free of suffering. Naturally the dark, black eyes of the Martian looked upon the warm Earth with jealousy. Plans were put into play.
Who would blame any citizen of the empire, his stiff upper lip quivering in fear, for believing that what he was witnessing with the death throes of human progress, eventually of all humanity? It must have felt something like a quaking in the earth to see the artillery batteries melt under the Martians’ mysteries heat rays. One would wonder what Candide would have thought surveying the ravaged towns and the mass of humanity fleeing, tearing at each other for advantage . . . Oh screw it, I liked War of the World best for all the ‘spolosions. I give H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds five tentacles up.