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Literature / The War of the Worlds (1898)
aka: The War Of The Worlds

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This isn't a war. It never was a war, any more than there's war between man and ants.

"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 to take offnote  and still among the most famous, in which late-Victorian England, then homeland of the world's greatest empire, is conquered with casual ease by technologically advanced beings from Mars. In the end, only chance saves humanity from slavery or annihilation. The novel is arguably the ancestor of nearly every single book, TV show, movie and video game that features aliens. Certainly, it codified many of the tropes we now associate with alien invasion stories, while making a few new ones in the science fiction genre in general.

The story begins with the unnamed narrator, a lightly-disguised version of Wells, visiting an observatory, where he is shown explosions on 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 humans are making grandiose plans for resistance, but it is clear they have no prospect of success: Great Britain, one of the most technologically advanced and powerful countries on Earth, 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 suddenly stop appearing. After returning to London, the narrator finds that all the Martians have mysteriously dropped dead, their remains being picked apart by birds. It was only later that they figure out that the aliens died from nothing more than common illness, as they had virtually no immunity to Earth's microbiological lifeforms.

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 (although literally speaking, Englishmen did not usually drink human blood).

For other media based on the novel see the Franchise page.

The War of the Worlds provides examples of:

  • Accentuate the Negative: Wells may have written the alien invasion hitting Britain first as an example of Creator Provincialism, possibly for the same pragmatic reason the Spielberg film has them hitting the USA first (If you want to conquer Earth, take out its greatest military power first. In the late 1800s that was Britain, today it's the USA), or as a subtle criticism of the actions of the British Empire. 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.
  • Accidental Murder: The narrator knocks the curate out with a hatchet to stop him from attracting the Martians, but it's implied that the blow actually killed him.
  • Action Girl: Miss Elphinstone, considering she kept a revolver under the pony chaise's seat.
  • Adaptational Badass: In the novel, humans manage a few isolated successes against individual Martian tripods, and there are mentions of damaged tripods. The Martians simply pause, regroup, and change tactics or introduce new technology each time which makes those prior successes much less likely - they start flooding the ground underneath with chemical weapons prevent soldiers lying in wait with cannons, they introduce flying machines after the HMS Thunderchild manages a Pyrrhic victory. In 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, they would either be an Easily Thwarted Alien Invasion or the fight would have been more drawn-out as the aliens developed countermeasures.
  • Agent Scully: An early example in Ogilvy.
  • Alien Invasion: One of the very first such stories to be told if not the OG Trope Maker. Allegedly, it was a sci-fi reinvention of Invasion-type stories that were limited to Earth territories. Also serves as an Unbuilt Trope since it establishes aliens as unprepared for Earth's living conditions due to a lack of a proper immune system—a trope which future writers would incorporate in later alien invasion stories.
  • Alien Kudzu: the Red Weed
  • Aliens Are Bastards: Subverted. The Martians launch their invasion only because they are facing imminent extinction, and their brutality towards the humans is qualified by comparisons to the colonial powers' own Moral Myopia towards "inferior" cultures. The author even gives the supposed bad guys a sort-of happy ending by inferring that while the invasion of Earth failed, others found a more secure settlement on Venus.
  • Aliens Never Invented the Wheel: Despite inventing both tripods and the Heat Ray, the Martians have no concept of the wheel.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 0. Much of Southeast England and the Greater London Area is purged of human life and converted to a Martian habitat. Early in the book the unnamed narrator bemoans that modern people have no conception of things like the variety of magazines and newspapers England once enjoyed. However, with the help of other nations the country is clearly rebuilding by the end of the book.
  • Audio Adaptation:
  • 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 (or rather, proto-Lovecraftian). Even granted the genre was an outgrowth of terrestrial varieties, future Alien Invasion stories seem to have largely missed this delightful precedent.
  • Biological Weapons Solve Everything: Earth's bacteria do in the aliens. This is kept in most adaptations, from radio to the 1950s movie. Subverted at first in the 80s TV show that just had the aliens in hibernation. Later one of the characters develops a bacteria to kill off the aliens for good.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Although humanity survives and is learning from alien technology, it's clearly been a desperately close thing, and the Martians remain technologically vastly superior. The narrator is still suffering nightmares.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: As with so many other Tropes that WOTW either originated or codified, Martian biology is very alien while attempting to be grounded in realism:
    • Martians basically look like a giant octopus, and most of their bio-mass is brain matter. Wells hypothesizes that humans might actually end up evolving into something similar: their technology became so advanced that various organs became redundant, and eventually atrophied. The only things remaining are the brain, and "the hand" - educator and agent of the brain. In this case, whether they originally had something like a hand, the "fingers" just evolved into long tentacles. That's really all a Martian is - a brain with tentacles. They also have two large disc-shaped eyes, and a weak chinless mouth.
    • Martians can actually walk upright on their tentacles - on Mars itself. Earth's higher gravity makes this impossible, and they must pathetically drag themselves around...when not riding around in giant mecha.
    • Martians have no digestive system of any kind. Their technology advanced to the point that they just intravenously inject blood from other species into their bodies. They don't actually "consume" blood, or digest it, but use it to directly feed the tissues of their bodies.
    • Martians do have a basic heart and lungs - but their "mouth" directly feeds into the lungs. It's not so much a mouth as a nostril by this point, though it's placed in such a way that it looks like a mouth (or, as Wells suggests, it started out as a mouth earlier in their evolution but got fused as other parts atrophied).
    • Martians reproduce by budding, so they don't have any reproductive organs.
    • Most importantly, Martians have no immune system. Wells speculates that they originally must have, but it atrophied long ago: their technology became so advanced that they eliminated all disease in their ancient past.
  • Black Box: The Heat-Ray is one of these; early attempts to reverse-engineer it in the wake of the Martian defeat have been completely unsuccessful, and two deadly incidents at London laboratories have disinclined anyone else from trying.
  • Body Horror: One of the types of bacteria that the Martians fell victim to are necrotic bacteria. It could also be that since they had no immune system at all (or one that couldn't defend against earth bacteria), everything they got sick with was allowed to devour their tissues.
  • Brain Monster: The Martians are huge brains with tentacles, eyes, and a large, "V" shaped nose (which the narrator describes as a mouth but only facilitates breathing), having pared their bodies down to vital organs plus hands.
  • 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.
  • Central Theme: Natural selection. Throughout the novel, the narrator frequently compares humanity to animals, noting that the Martians view humanity no differently than how humanity views vermin. Despite humanity's success in bringing the natural world to heel, it stands no chance against the Martians' scientific might. Humans created their own little world on Earth where they could be concerned with frivolities like jobs or schedules, and in the process forgot that they were still subject to the natural order like any other organism. Ironically this is precisely why the Martians lose in the end. The Martians, in their hubris, thought that their technological power made them exempt from the rules of nature when in reality their nonexistent immune systems made them defenseless against Earth's microorganisms. In the novel's epilogue, the narrator comments that the Martians watching the whole thing unfold from their own planet must have received a lesson in humility. Humanity was only able to dominate Earth's harsh ecosystem after millennia of struggle and setbacks. No species, no matter how advanced, could have done the same without similar perseverance.
  • Citywide Evacuation: After the incapability of the army to stop the Martian advance on London in the face of the Black Smoke becomes apparent, the entire population of the city flees north and east in a chaotic stampede ultimately aiming to get on a ship to mainland Europe.
  • 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, overlapping with Nothing Is Scarier. At one point, the narrator hears in the distance the sound of heavy gunfire that sounds like artillery pieces firing six times, then a pause, then another six. 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.
    • An Elseworlds story explored what would happen if the original Superman (as in the one without the wide range of powers he has in modern times) went up against the Martian invasion.
  • Cool Boat: HMS Thunder Child. At the time, a torpedo ram like Thunder Child represented the most powerful destructive force in the world - fully armoured, 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." The idea is so thoroughly forgotten that the few adaptations that include the scene at all have it replaced with a conventional battleship, which incidentally renders its tactics (ramming as a first resort) nonsensical.
  • Cool Plane
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Considering it does a pretty effective job of implying the general insignificance of humanity (and, to a certain extent, the Martians); made even better by the fact that the credited pioneer of the genre H. P. Lovecraft would have only been about eight or nine when it was published.
  • Covers Always Lie: Because of the book's age and public-domain status, it has a rich history of misleading and even downright nonsensical covers. Common blunders include depicting Martians laying waste to modern cities, complete with glass skyscrapers and sports cars, or depicting the fighting machines as some sort of hovercraft (both of which imply the publishers only saw the 1953 film and never read the book). At least one Spanish edition shows the Enterprise in flight, while a certain Romanian edition seems to indicate that the Martians are gigantic flying eyeballs.
  • 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.
    • Forget Ireland; Edinburgh and Birmingham are mentioned as sending ships down to London after the aliens die. At the time the book was written communication across long distances was uncertain and became disrupted by the attack - a reporter had managed to send something about the aliens, but since no one could get back to him about the rather strange things he'd said, and they were generally complacent, they didn't immediately assume everything he had sent was not just true but if anything underselling it. Consequently while the Greater London Area was being wiped off the map, the rest of the country only had a vague notion that things were going wrong.
    • Given that the book is often interpreted to be an allegorical representation of the British conquest of the island of Tasmania from the native point of view, the concentration on a small area is understandable.
    • The 1996 anthology War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches sets out to avert this through a collection of short stories depicting the invasion from the point-of-view of historical and literary figures all over the world.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The entire war. While the humans manage to down several tripods, it's pretty one-sided. The Martians pause after every one of the (usually small) human victories and make some adjustments to their tactics and technologies which render those victories impossible. The Black Smoke prevents humans from lying in wait with cannons, and the flying machine prevents ramming.
  • Deadly Gas: The "black smoke" used in the novel.
  • Death of a Child:
    • By humans no less: a young boy is trampled to death in the mob panic of the first attack.
    • Later on, a "lad" is killed by having his blood drained by the Martians.
  • Death Ray: The Martian "Heat Ray". In a classic case of an Unbuilt Trope predating The Coconut Effect, it's much more realistic than the vast majority of examples. There's no visible beam or unnecessary flashiness (aside from some flickering, likely a combination of dust being incinerated and heat mirages), just a lot of energy being projected on the target.
  • 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, aside from the relatively modern perspective of thinking "How could a being from another world possibly be enough like Earth organisms to be vulnerable to their microbes?".
    • Dying off to disease also fits in with the parallels with imperialism: European explorers coming to contact with previously undiscovered (from European point of view) groups of people often involved new and previously faraway diseases being spread in one direction or another, with severe consequences. Africa used to be known as the "White Man's Grave" because Europeans were never able to penetrate the African interior until the advent of modern medicine in the 19th century. Up to that point, they mostly stuck to the coast to establish resupply ports on the long sea journey to Asia and to do trade with the African kingdoms further inland (including slaves).
  • Didn't Think This Through: The humans attempt to communicate with the Martians by advancing on their spacecraft while brandishing a white flag, not knowing whether the Martians would understand what this means or even if they were inclined to see humans as people. It gets them killed.
  • Disaster Scavengers: The protagonist in the novel, and most of the people he meets, after the Martians topple human civilization.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Yes, the most notable colonial power of all time being invaded by blood suckers is part of Wells' point.
    "And before we judge them [the Martians] 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 own "inferior"invoked 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?"
    — Chapter I, "The Eve of the War"
    It may be, on the other hand, that the destruction of the Martians is only a reprieve. To them, and not to us, perhaps, is the future ordained.
  • Double-Meaning Title: One would initially think the title "The War of the Worlds" refers to the war between the human and Martian species, but it also literally refers to the war between the planets Mars and Earth themselves. While the Martians effortlessly manage to defeat humanity, the ecosystem of Earth decisively defeats the invasive life forms from Mars in the end. Mars in the novel is a planet where disease has been utterly eradicated, meaning that any and all Martian life is completely defenseless against Earth's bacteria.
  • 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: Albeit not by human efforts.
  • Energy Weapon: 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" is 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.
  • ET Gave Us Wifi: It is mentioned in the epilogue that mere days after the end of the invasion, the "Secret of Flying" has been reverse-engineered from the flying-machine the Martians were building.
  • Fan Sequel: A lot, due to its Public Domain status. A TV show, a comic book, an adult cartoon, a bootleg sequel starring Thomas Edison, an Anthology of different stories about the martian invasion from around the globe (and on Mars itself in one instance); said instance being a crossover with John Carter of Mars), and a novel that crosses over with the Cthulhu Mythos (To Mars and Providence).
  • First Contact: Not that there's any communication involved.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The red weed dies off not long before the Martians do.
    • The very first paragraph notes that the Martians look upon humanity in the same way as humanity looks upon bacteria; something invisible, easily dismissed and not really worth bothering with. This isn't an incidental metaphor; bacteria ends up being very important to defeating the Martians.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Despite apparently being a good friend to the narrator, Ogilvy is almost never mentioned again after his early death. In fairness the narrator is in a desperate life or death struggle for just about the rest of the book.
  • Forgotten Trope: War of the Worlds was actually a Science Fiction twist on the then-vibrant genre of the "Invasion Story".
  • Genius Bruiser: The narrator's medical student brother. He's up front when a bicycle shop is looted and rides a bicycle with a flat tire several miles before it completely falls apart under him. Described as an expert boxer, goes up against three men to assist Mrs. and Miss Elphinstone travelling in a dogcart and pony. He also steers the dogcart across a stream of people fleeing London. The man's enough of a bruiser to be twice mistaken for a railroad employee at Waterloo Station, but intelligent enough to refugee across the Channel with Mrs. and Miss Elphinstone.
  • Ghost City: London in the novel, New York City in the radio play and and Los Angeles in the '53 film.
  • Glass Cannon: In the original book the tripods are not armored at all, they're just so fast contemporary artillery can't hit them without getting very lucky and they've usually wiped out opposing forces before they can get more than two shots off. The few times we do see them hit they go down immediately. Rather than armoring them, the Martians bring out new weaponry. Adaptations set later than the original change this detail.
  • Go Mad from the Apocalypse:
    • The Artilleryman has gone completely deranged after seeing the relentless slaughter of the Martians' march, and when the narrator finds him he is digging a tunnel and boasting about how when he makes it to the city he is going to lead people into creating underground cities and wage guerrilla warfare against the Martians. The narrator is even less impressed when he notices that the Artilleryman's tunnel is only five to ten feet deep even after what may be days of him digging. The Jeff Wayne musical further highlights it by giving the Artilleryman a song of his own as he is digging — the latter half (after the reveal about the tunnel) is deliberately sung in a more deranged tone of voice.
    • The Curate acts quite insane and irrational (eating all the food, screaming to attract Martians), possibly Hearing Voices, and proclaiming that God has sent the Martians down to punish mankind "mad apocalypse preacher"-style.
  • The Greys: The novel predates this archetype, but it's interesting to note that the Martians are informed to have enslaved a second alien race, described as "standing about six feet high and having round, erect heads, and large eyes in flinty sockets". Three live ones were brought in each cylinder, and had their blood drained for consumption during the journey.
  • Hat of Authority: After running into the town of Woking to tell people that an otherworldly artificial cylinder has landed, Ogilvy is largely ignored not because of his crazy story, but because of his wild appearance; he is hatless.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The HMS Thunderchild comes to the rescue of a ferry full of evacuating refugees as three tripods close in to destroy it. It actually manages to take out two of the tripods using its weaponry before the damage at the hands of the Martian heat rays kicks in, causing the ship to catch fire and begin to sink. As a last-ditch effort, the crew elects to ram full speed ahead into the leg of the third tripod. As they do, the ammo storage detonates, destroying the third.
  • Hoist by Their Own Petard: Maybe. When discussing the lack of microorganisms in Mars' biosphere, the narrator suggests the possibility that the Martians had used their medical technology to wipe out all native microorganisms, and therefore all diseases, on their home planet. Meaning that it was by their own hand that the Martians became woefully inept against the diseases found in Earth's biosphere.
  • Homeworld Evacuation: May be the Ur-Example: the Martians attempt to evacuate Mars en masse using fairly primitive space travel due to their planet being in the process of drying up. Unfortunately for humanity, they've chosen Earth as their backup (with Venus as the backup to the backup, as the Earth invasion fails).
  • Hope Spot: HMS Thunder Child takes down two Tripods. Despite being on fire and almost dead in the water, it charges a third Tripod as its ammunition 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.
  • Hostile Terraforming: Martians use areoforming as a weapon, essentially. Possibly an Ur-Example.
  • 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. The artilleryman predicts this as a future for humanity after the aliens take over.
  • Humans Are Insects: The novel speaks of how humans have acquired a newfound empathy for wild animals in the wake of the Martian attacks, having learned what it's like to be exterminated as vermin by a vastly more powerful species. One character also rejects characterizing the events of the novel as a war, arguing that "It never was a war, any more than there’s war between men and ants." In his analogy, the Martians are the men and the humans are the ants. He also says humans shouldn't judge the Martians too harshly, as they've done the very same thing through wiping out animal species before, and even other human groups too.
  • 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 never show any desire to communicate with humanity at all.
  • Inscrutable Aliens: The Martians make no attempt to communicate, and the humans can only speculate on their motives.
  • I Will Fight Some More Forever: Even after the tripods prove almost impossible to hit, the military still keeps (ineffectively) using ordnance on them.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Great Britain is subjected to a horrific and bloody invasion by a merciless and technologically advanced foe. In other words, they suffer through the exact same fate as the native civilizations that they conquered.
  • Les Collaborateurs: The Artillery soldier believe that the Martians eventually will recruit certain humans to steady their hold of Earth and to keep their other human subjects in check once they'd finished conquering it. More so, he believes that the Martians will offer former priests and politicians local influence and privileges in exchange that they propagandize in favor of the Martian supremacy, as well as offer former soldiers the chance to serve as their auxillary troops. Just like how Europe's colonial powers that Great Britain was the biggest part of would offer local chieftains, aristocrats and warriors local influence and privileges in their colonies in exchange for their allegiance.
  • Little Did I Know: The narration opens with this applying to all of humanity, who "with serene complacency", go about their affairs little knowing that "intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic" are studying them and drawing plans for an Alien Invasion.
  • Man on Fire: The effects of the Heat-Ray cause humans that are hit by it to spontaneously burst into flames.
  • Martians: One of the earliest and most famous (or infamous) depictions of intelligent beings from the Red Planet. While "Martians invade!" is now more likely to be played for laughs, Wells' Martians—physically alien, utterly ruthless, and sufficiently technologically advanced as to be able to crush what was then the strongest nation on Earth with very little effective resistance from the hapless humans—are still a chillingly-rendered catastrophe.
  • Million to One Chance: An early example, possibly the Trope Namer, provided by Ogilvy the astronomer.
  • Mirroring Factions: The Martians and the humans. The main character compares the Martians and humans with each other many times; specially their invasion of Great Britian with Great Britian's own invasions across the globe during that time. He even theorizes that the Martians may had evolved from human-like ancestors and that the next step in our own evolution might be the forms of the Martians.
  • Monumental Damage: Mainly of famous London landmarks, most notably the Houses of Parliament and St Paul's.
  • 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."
    • The artilleryman's speculation of eventual human collaborators with the Martians becoming essentially domesticated cattle, along with his own plan of literally going underground to form a resistance, is a recipe for Elois and Morlocks.
    • 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 A.D.: Published in 1898, the novel was set "early in the twentieth century."
  • No Endor Holocaust: Averted in the BBC 2019 series, where England is shown to be ecologically devastated by the red weed even after the Martians have been defeated. It's implied that the invasion wasn't defeated at all, merely an expendable advance guard engaging in Hostile Terraforming, and the rest of the Martians will move in once the human race has died off.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot — These aren't just Martians, they're Humongous Mecha cyborg vampire Martians.
  • 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, not to mention the narrator and his brother, remain nameless.
  • 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!"
    • It's worth noting this applies to pretty much every single character in the novel, including the Artilleryman, the protagonist's brother, and the Curate. The only characters with full names receive minor mentions at best; Dr. George Elphinstone is the only one even remotely important to the plot and he never appears at all.
  • 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. The main problem was that the Martians were too fast for the artillery of the time to hit without a great degree of luck, hence why HMS Thunder Child, which could both move while firing and used ramming, was able to take down a tripod and damage two others before being destroyed.
      • The problem is also that the Martians stop and learn from any victories humans score against them, changing their tactics and introducing new weapons and technology in response. Later adaptations tend towards giving the Martians such an advantage that they're simply immune to human efforts from the start, possibly to avoid drawing out the conflict.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The Martians need human blood, therefore they could be technically considered some kind of vampires.
  • Possible War: A Recycled In Space version of the Invasion literature popular at the time, with Martians being substituted for Germans or the French.
  • 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! # Justified as this is what Torpedo Rams were built for, and at the time this was believed to be an effective tactic. Torpedo Rams were far less useful in real life but given that the tripods are standing on three rather skinny legs, ramming them to knock them off balance makes a fair amount of sense.
  • 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!
  • La Résistance: The Artilleryman's plan involves establishing one.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • Scary Dogmatic Aliens: Firmly on the "aliens as consquistadores" (or, rather, "aliens as British colonialists") model. The Martians don't bear malice towards humanity; it just happens that they don't give a damn if your life isn't as important as their need for blood as a resource.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The opening paragraphs of the book state that:
      "During the opposition of 1894 a great light was seen on the illuminated part of the [Martian] disk, first at the Lick Observatory, then by Perrotin of Nice, and then by other observers. English readers heard of it first in the issue of Nature dated August 2. I am inclined to think that this blaze may have been the casting of the huge gun, in the vast pit sunk into their planet, from which their shots were fired at us."
    • That light was real, and it was indeed mentioned in the August 2, 1894 issue of Nature. However, the actual report is arguably even more naive about Martians than Wells himself.
    • The opening paragraphs also compare the Martians' actions to the British genocide of the native Tasmanians, which had concluded roughly 20 years prior to the book's publication.
  • Sickly Green Glow: Martian walkers are stated to occasionally blow glowing green smoke. This is apparently some kind of easily plasmatized gas called "Viridigen" according to the Martian Technology Report.
  • Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: Used by the British military to plot the spread of the lethal Black Smoke, the better to coordinate their artillery and evacuation efforts.
  • 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. Technology Marches Oninvoked, however, and anyone familiar with today's biology-inspired robots (including robotic spiders) will find these alien devices far more familiar.
  • 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.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Any two inhabitable planets would of course have drastically different biospheres, and as such any plant or animal from one planet probably wouldn't be able to survive long on the other due to not having any kind of natural immunity to the diseases found there. Which, of course, is exactly how the novel ends.
  • Take That!: Especially to the loathed towns of Woking and Bromley (see above). Also, there are veiled and not-so- veiled Shout-Outs and Take Thats to the Grossmith Brothers' The Diary Of A Nobody, published five years earlier. To begin with, the narrator's wife is called Carrie, as is Mrs Pooter. This hints that the central character is a bit of a Charles Pooter, suddenly abrupted from petty-bourgeois life and given a really interesting set of events to diarise. And the working-class artilleryman, given a break in social norms, is free to really pour vitriol on his social betters in a crowning piece of Class War. He could be describing Pooter:
    All these—the sort of people that lived in these houses, and all those damn little clerks that used to live down that way—they’d be no good. They haven’t any spirit in them—no proud dreams and no proud lusts; and a man who hasn’t one or the other—Lord! what is he but funk and precautions? They just used to skedaddle off to work—I've seen hundreds of ’em, bit of breakfast in hand, running wild and shining to catch their little season-ticket train, for fear they’d get dismissed if they didn’t; working at businesses they were afraid to take the trouble to understand; skedaddling back for fear they wouldn’t be in time for dinner; keeping indoors after dinner for fear of the back-streets, and sleeping with the wives they married, not because they wanted them, but because they had a bit of money that would make for safety in their one little miserable skedaddle through the world....
    • Wells also takes a jab at the first edition's illustrations of the Fighting Machines, mockingly comparing them to water towers walking on stiff legs.
    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 there his knowledge ended. He presented them as tilted, stiff tripods, without either flexibility or subtlety, and with an altogether misleading monotony of effect.
    • As one could easily guess, the entire novel is a not-so-subtle Take That! towards European colonialism, showing just how horrible the atrocities committed by imperialists really are by providing a Perspective Flip via placing the British public in the place of the conquered natives.
  • Taking You with Me: As the HMS Thunderchild begins to succumb to the damage inflicted by the heat rays and having taken out the first two of the three tripods gunning for a ferry full of refugees, it rams the third tripod at full speed, reaching it right as its ammo stores detonate, taking out the tripod.
  • Technologically Advanced Foe: The technology of the invading Martians far outstrips that of the British military (or that of any other nation on Earth). The Martians have towering three-legged "fighting-machines" (tripods), each armed with a heat-ray. After humans combine artillery fire to hit a tripod with a concealed cannon, the Martians add a chemical weapon to each tripod: the poisonous "black smoke". The tripods are capable of wiping out entire army units. The military is able to score some minor successes through combined artillery fire or the firepower of a warship like HMS Thunder Child, but these are mere drops in the ocean and the Martians, rapidly adapting, swiftly crush all resistance.
  • Telepathic Spacemen: The Martians are mentioned to communicate telepathically, with enough evidence to support this that the narrator was convinced despite strongly opposing the idea.
  • Tempting Fate: After the Martains' hostile intentions become clear, the narrator assures his wife that they're trapped in the pit they landed in due to Earth's higher gravity. The next day, the tripods come out.
  • Tentacled Terror: The very evil and very dangerous Martians are also very squid-like.
  • This Loser Is You: The Martians, as an allegory for the colonial powers of the time (especially The British Empire).
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Despite all the shit the narrator goes through over the course of the novel, he discovers that his wife managed to survive the invasion.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Upon seeing that the meteorite which has landed is an artificial cylinder with a top that is slowly unscrewing itself open, Ogilvy dashes towards it to help open it, assuming that there must be ''men'' inside. The heat coming from the cylinder starts burning him enough to bring him to his senses and see that keeping a safe distance is a much wiser course of action.
  • To Serve Man: The Martians feed on people by draining them of blood.
  • Tripod Terror: The Trope Maker.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Often cited as the forerunner of the Alien Invasion plot, the story also gives the invaders their own hazards (namely exposure to foreign diseases) and reasons for taking over the planet other than conquest.
  • Vader Breath: Martian breathing is described as "timultuous".
  • Villainous Valour: The narrator acknowledges that the Martian operate like cool-headed professional soldiers; they not only have superior technology, they know how to use it. Whenever a tripod is damaged without outright being destroyed, others stop to rescue or avenge it and allow the pilot to rebuild. Nor does the book deny the (possibly desperate) courage required to cross millions of miles of space to launch an invasion against much more numerous and little-known opposition in far-from-indestructible machines.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. In the original book Wells expounds on the idea that as planets age they become cooler and dryer, and the same thing would happen naturally to Earth one day, forcing humans to go to Venus.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): War Of The Worlds, The War Of The Worlds