Book One: Chapters 15–17

Summary: Chapter 15, What Had Happened in Surrey

The Narrator and the curate leave the church to head toward London, but they stop and hide when they see several of the Martian vehicles approaching. Before reaching the next lines of artillery, the Martian vehicles use launch tubes to send rockets of heavy, black poisonous gas across the countryside. The Narrator watches as black clouds spread out over the ground. After losing one of the vehicles, the Martians advance cautiously, spreading the poison ahead of them, never giving the artillery another chance to fire. Soon, no soldiers are willing to fight them, other than to create traps or lay mines. By the next day, Richmond is full of the black vapor and London is being evacuated.

Summary: Chapter 16, The Exodus from London

The Narrator describes his brother’s escape from London. It is chaotic and dangerous. People are crushed trying to board trains, as some areas around London are covered in the black vapor. The Narrator’s brother steals a bicycle from a shop that is being looted and rides past a majority of the crowd. Outside of town, he fights several robbers who are attacking a pair of women. The Narrator’s brother joins the women and leads their pony and cart toward Edgware, outside of London. Traveling northeast, the three encounter a frantic stream of people and carts, trying to escape London. Many are shouting that the Martians are coming. The Narrator’s brother tries to help a few people but realizes that it is too dangerous. He joins the two women in the cart and crosses the stream of people, trying to get farther eastward. Eventually they stop at a stream to rest.

Summary: Chapter 17, The Thunder Child

The Martian vehicles occupy London, seemingly in an effort to demoralize and destroy any opposition, as they do not pursue the fleeing citizens. London’s population of six million people try to escape the city in a stampede, lacking food or supplies. Two more falling stars are seen nearby. The Narrator’s brother and his two traveling companions eventually reach the eastern coast. The water is full of different sizes and types of boats. 

The Narrator’s brother and the two women arrange for passage aboard a steamship. The captain of the ship waits until the boat is overcrowded before departing. Three Martian vehicles approach from the west. The steamship is underway and passes the Thunder Child, an ironclad naval vessel. The Martian vehicles wade into the coastal waters to attack the ships. The Thunder Child rams the first vehicle, toppling it. The second vehicle uses its Heat-Ray on the Thunder Child. Due to the momentum of the ironclad, both the Thunder Child and vehicle are destroyed. On the ship carrying the Narrator’s brother, everyone cheers that two vehicles have been defeated, as they steam away from the Essex coast. Looking up into the twilight, the Narrator’s brother sees something “flat and broad and very large” sweep across the sky. “And as it flew it rained down darkness upon the land.”

Analysis: Book One: Chapters 15–17

Both the Narrator and his brother are entrenched in situations they did not choose, but they survive by using their instincts. Although they are both curious, a human trait that leads to poor outcomes for other characters in the story, they both instinctually continue to make choices that save their lives. They choose to flee at the appropriate times and do not freeze as some characters do, and when it is feasible, they both choose to fight. The successful outcome of their intuitive choices is an example of how evolutionary behaviors can save human lives.

The scenes of the mass exodus echo Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest. Those people who panic and freeze in the Martians’ presence lie dead in their wake. Only those humans who have forethought, an evolutionary skill that the Martians possess, will survive these clashes with these more highly evolved beings. The two women whom the Narrator’s brother meets are an example of how superior thought can sometimes outpace superior strength. Even though stronger foes attempt to victimize them, they survive with the help of the Narrator’s brother, who in turn benefits from their forethought in bringing the pony cart. Unlike the panicking citizens who fight one another and ultimately fall prey to the Martians, these three band together to survive the journey to the steamship.

As the new reality of surviving catastrophe sets in, the ensuing panic and bedlam illustrate that the social order has finally crumbled. The Martians have disrupted Earth’s social order to the point where people are fighting each other in desperate attempts to hold onto things that no longer have value instead of working together to help each other escape. When the Narrator’s brother steals a bike to speed up his departure, it is a stark contrast to when the Narrator added steps to his journey so he could return the horse and cart to his neighbor. This contrast shows how vulnerable the social order is, and how quickly people will discard previously cherished social mores once the social order collapses.

The skirmish with the Thunder Child foreshadows the darkness still to come. For the first time since the Martians invaded, the citizens see a literal symbol of the superiority of their military, and when it successfully destroys two Martian vehicles, they feel a sense of hope despite the irony that the Thunder Child is destroyed in the process. When the Narrator’s brother sees something in the sky, the unnamed object casts spectral darkness over the scene of destruction and creates suspense regarding this previously unseen threat.