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CHAPTER SUMMARY WITH NOTES
Book One: The Coming of the Martians
Chapter Twelve (What I Saw of the Destruction of Weybridge and Shepperton)
With the beginning of the day, the narrator makes plans to get his wife and leave the country, while the artilleryman intends to meet up with his battery. At the latter’s insistence, the narrator agrees to join him on a detour around the third cylinder and the Martians’ machines that are towering by it. They take provisions of food and whiskey and head off. In the street are three burned bodies, numerous dropped possessions, and a broken cart. The houses are mostly intact, but there is no sign of inhabitants, most of which have escaped or hidden. Though the woods on one side of the railroad line are almost completely burned to the ground, the trees on the other side bear only a few scorch marks.
When the narrator and artilleryman come out of the forest and onto the road, they meet up with three cavalrymen and tell them about the Martians. Although he seems a little skeptical, the lieutenant in the group tells the soldier to report to Brigadier-General Marvin in Weybridge. Since the narrator knows the way, he continues with him.
As they travel out of the Heat-Ray’s range, they see women and children cleaning out a small house, six guns waiting at attention, and troops whose work was interspersed with glances in the direction of the approaching Martians. The town of Byfleet is a mess, as people prepare to leave. They have not yet realized the gravity of their situation, as demonstrated by one man who is insisting to a soldier that his potted orchids come along. The narrator attempts to convince him otherwise, but even his words do not seem to drive all self-assurance out of the man.
Weybridge is in a great state of disorder as well. The regular trains have been stopped in order to transport the military and its equipment, so a crowd of people are waiting on the platform, soon to be engaged in an intense struggle for seats. The boats that ferry people across the river to land in front of an in with a lawn are running, but it is already evident that they will not be able to take everyone. The general atmosphere is not yet one of panic, people are confident in their eventual success over the Martians, but there are anxious glances at the skyline and frequent shouts.
Suddenly shots are fired but the guns are concealed by the trees and the Martians still out of sight. The battle continued for some moments, invisible to the crowd, until five Martian machines appeared, heading towards the river. There was silence among the crowd and then panic broke out. Recognizing the Heat-Ray in the hands of one, the narrator and others begin jumping into the river.
As one of the machines starts wading across, the six guns hidden behind the town of Shepperton go off. The fourth shell hits it directly in the face, killing the Martian concealed inside the metal machine. Excitement seizes the narrator and others, over this first victory. The machine staggers on, until it finally falls in the river. This, and its still flailing tentacles made the water quite hot and whirling about but the narrator did not get out. With the other machines still advancing and the guns having no affect this time, he went under the water. When he resurfaced, they were standing near the mangled metal.
The Martians use their Heat-Ray on Weybridge and the surrounding area. People who were running frantically about the towing path beside the river were picked off, one by one. The Heat-Ray sweeps over the water and onto the town of Shepperton, sending a scalding wave down on the narrator and forcing him to struggle to shore. He falls in full sight of the Martians and one of the machine’s feet lands close by his head, but he is spared, as the four machines carry the fallen metal body off.
The events of this chapter can be related to two historical events. Although it is somewhat questionable whether Wells intended for the parallels to be drawn, it could be useful for remembering and understanding.
Firstly, the scenes described here are similar to Pompeii, whose inhabitants were buried under volcanic debris and ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted. The charred bodies in the road and the dropped possessions have frozen the moment of the appearance of the Martians on the town. The Heat-Ray is not all that dissimilar to the volcano, especially when one thinks of the near boiling water of the river as compared to lava. Both Vesuvius and the Martians left behind a “valley of ashes” (from the end of the previous chapter).
Secondly, the artilleryman’s comment that “It’s bows and arrows against the lightning, anyhow,” brings to mind the European conquest of the Americas. The quick, smoking shot of a gun and the metal armor of the white men must have seemed to the New World people as the Martians seem to men. Also, the Martian machines came marching across the wide meadow whereas men’s cannons were more concealed, allowing for their only victory so far.