The Crystal Egg

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"The Crystal Egg" is a science fiction short story written by H. G. Wells in 1897.

The story tells of a shop owner, named Mr. Cave, who finds a strange crystal egg that serves as a window into the planet Mars.

The story was written the same year in which Wells was serializing The War of the Worlds in Pearson's Magazine, a year before it was published as a novel. Because of the vaguely similar descriptions of the Martians and their machines, "The Crystal Egg" is often considered a precursor to The War of the Worlds, though there is no clear foreshadowing of the events that transpire in the novel.

Story summary[edit]

Mr. Cave has an antique shop in Seven Dials, a district in the West End of London which, at the time the story was written, was a poor area. He is well educated but is in an unhappy situation. His wife, who is younger, treats him with contempt, as do his stepson and stepdaughter. He is in declining health.

He is a friend of Mr. Jacoby Wace, who is Assistant Demonstrator of Anatomy at a nearby teaching hospital and is interested in unusual characters like Mr. Cave. It becomes clear towards the end of the story that the narrator, who plays no part in the events, is an acquaintance of Mr. Wace.

Among antique items which have come into Mr. Cave's possession is a crystal egg. Wandering about the shop one night, he notices that a light comes from it. Studying it closely, "it gave him the impression that the object had for a moment opened to him the view of a wide and spacious and strange country." He takes the egg to Mr. Wace for safe keeping, after his reluctance to sell it to a customer has exacerbated his relationship with his wife and stepchildren.

Mr. Wace is unable to see the view inside the egg as clearly as Mr. Cave, whose fatigued mental state seems to enhance his perception of the vision seen within it. However he believes in Mr. Cave's discovery, and during several session he takes notes as Mr. Cave describes what he sees. After a few days Mr. Cave takes the egg home with him between sessions, as the quarrel it caused has subsided; he likes to view the scene within whenever he can.

A description of what is seen inside the egg occupies about a third of the story. The crystal egg seems to have a counterpart in another place, through which the strange scenery is visible. The sky, and the two moons sometimes present, suggest that the view is of the planet Mars. The counterpart is one of several crystals on top of masts on a large building, around which there are flying creatures who apparently own it. They sometimes look closely at these crystals, presumably to study a remote scene.

Mr. Wace, visiting Mr. Cave's shop after a break of several days caused by pressure of work, is shocked to find that Mr. Cave has died. Some of his stock, including the egg, has been bought by another trader in order to pay for the funeral. This trader, Mr. Wace finds, has sold the egg; the customer, probably unaware of its special properties, cannot be traced. All that remains of the affair are the notes of Mr. Cave's observations. Mr. Wace, and his friend the narrator of the story, are left speculating on the significance of the crystal egg: it seems to have come from Mars, and there may be others like it on Earth, counterparts of the other crystals seen, "sent hither from that planet, in order to give the Martians a near view of our affairs."

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