“The Crystal Egg” is a short story by H. G. Wells about the discovery of a communication device between Earth and Mars, the crystal egg of the title. First published in the New Review in May 1897, it was subsequently reprinted in Tales of Space and Time (1899) and The Country of the Blind and Other Stories (1911). The story was published in the same year that Wells’s novel The War of the Worlds was serialised in Pearson’s Magazine, and the Martians described in both works share several characteristics, including tentacles around the mouth.
The story begins with two men peering into the window of a grimy-looking shop in Seven Dials, London, belonging to Mr Cave, who according to the sign above the shop is a naturalist and dealer in antiquities. The object of the men’s attention is a brilliantly polished crystal egg, which they resolve to buy. Mr Cave tells them the price is £5, a considerable sum,[a] but it soon becomes clear that he does not want to sell the egg at any price, much to the annoyance of his “coarse-featured, corpulent” wife. Afraid that if the crystal remains in the shop he will be forced to sell it, he takes it for safe-keeping to a friend, Mr. Jacoby Wace, Assistant Demonstrator of Anatomy at a nearby teaching hospital, promising to come back later and explain.
That same evening, Mr Cave tells his friend that he had come by the crystal egg together with other bits and pieces at the forced sale of another curiosity dealer’s effects. Having no idea of its value he had displayed it for sale at ten shillings, but wandering about the shop one night, he noticed a light coming from it. Studying the crystal 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.”
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 sessions 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 his refusal to sell 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 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.”
J. R. Hammond, founder of the H. G. Wells Society, has written that “The Crystal Egg” exhibits all the qualities that made Wells one of the outstanding storytellers of his time: “convincing narrative, skilful and assured characterisation, accomplished use of scientific detail, and careful pacing of incident and dénouement.”
- H. G. Wells bibliographyA list of the novels and short stories written by H. G. Wells during the more than fifty years of his literary career.
- At the time the story was written, a clerk in London could earn £1.25 per week