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Free Study Guide-The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells-Free Book Notes
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Book One: The Coming of the Martians

Chapter Five (The Heat-Ray)


Out of the pit rises a pole with an awkwardly spinning disk at its top. Now very concerned about what could be happening, the fear-stricken onlookers begin to move cautiously about, forming up in two groups. The narrator heads toward a higher vantage point, stopping to speak briefly to one of his neighbors before going on.

Others are beginning to move forward slowly, encouraged by the lack of movement in the pit and the presence of more people coming in from Woking, the nearby town. The Deputation, a small group of men bearing a white flag, arrive and lead.

The advance halts when three bright puffs of green smoke rise in the air, illuminating the frozen figures around the pit. A hissing noise, followed by a loud humming, announces the appearance of a domed object. Silent flames flashed out from it, directed at one man after another. A brief moment of fire, followed by a stumbling fall, pronounced the death of each. Trees, bushes, and buildings burst into flames as the concentrated heat came.

The narrator finds himself standing right in its the path, but is unable to move, transfixed and uncomprehending. Before reaching him though, the object lowers back down into the pit, leaving behind some smoking remnants and an eerily undisturbed silence.

Fear struck the narrator with a sudden blow, and he turned and ran. His quiet tears were accompanied by a strong sense that the cylinder’s death would reach him right before he reached safety.


Light and fire, traditionally symbols of life, are instead used in this chapter to be the destruction that the Mars creatures’ inflict. Not only has this “heat-ray” killed men, but it also scorched the attempted peace mission. Although it is quite possible that the creatures did not understand the white flag, they were never interested in peace. They have landed on Earth with the intent of invasion, not the spread of goodwill. The first deaths (aside from the unfortunate shopkeeper) and the ruin of the white flag are the buildup towards war.

The narrator’s overwhelming anxiety and conviction that his fate is an inescapable destruction is a small-scale version of the fear that will soon spread over Earth.

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