The science fiction novella, The Time Machine by HG Wells, in complete form, was published in 1895, when Wells was 34 years old. After reading The Time Machine, I asked myself, “Did you benefit from reading this book? How has this book helped you?” I had to pause, because initially my response would have been “no.” But HG Wells’ The Time Machine is still relevant because we need those books to remind us to imagine what could be. The book is also credited with popularizing the concept of time travel.
The Time Machine story starts off with the Time Traveller, an English scientist, speaking to a group of learned professionals, discussing his theory that Time is the Fourth Dimension. The narrator is among the group of people he is talking to. The Time Traveller is not doing a good job of convincing the others of his theory so he decides to prove it with a demonstration. He leaves the room momentarily, and returns with a “glittering metallic framework, scarcely larger than a small clock, and very delicately made. There was ivory in it, and some transparent crystalline substance…”
The Time Traveller places his device on a table, and explains that the model is his plan for a machine to travel through time, and demonstrates how it works. He tells them that when he presses the lever, the machine will disappear into a future Time. He also tells them to pay close attention so that they will see for themselves that no trickery is involved and he does not want to be perceived as a quack at a later date. The Time Traveller allows the Psychologist to press the lever and the model disappears.
The Time Traveller has a machine that he is building in his laboratory that is almost complete, and he intends to take a trip himself to another Time. They try to explain what might have happened to the model, and decide to sleep on things to see how they feel the next morning. The Time Traveller offers to show them his time machine that he is building, so they follow him into his laboratory.
No one really believes that it is possible to travel through time so they leave. The next week, the narrator, the Medical Man and the Psychologist are invited to the Time Traveller’s home and this time there are more learned professionals including the Editor and the Journalist. The Time Traveller is nowhere in sight and has left instructions for them to begin dinner without him if he’s not back by seven. After seven he appears looking pale, dirty, disheveled, injured, and disoriented. After drinking a couple glasses of wine, the color starts to return to his cheeks and he leaves his guests to clean up, promising to explain what happened to him.
When the Time Traveller returns to the dining room, the Editor wants the story, however, the Time Traveller is bent on eating some mutton. The narrator asks if he has been time travelling and he responds, “Yes.” The silence is uncomfortable because they have so many questions, but the Time Traveller is famished, and only wants to eat. When he finishes, he is ready to talk about his adventure through Time and Space.
The Time Traveller is willing to tell his story, but he doesn’t want to argue, and he wants to tell his tale on his own terms without interruptions. He knows that they will not believe him, but despite that, he is still willing to talk. The Time Traveller tested his Time Machine, and the narrator feels inadequate to capture the tale as the Time Traveller becomes more animated, because he cannot accurately capture the scene on paper.
As he tells his tale, The Time Traveller is in a state of frenzy as he describes in great detail his experiences as he jumps from night to day, sees the sun and the moon, moving at the speed of light. The machine finally lands and he hears voices, and sees a regal looking being, who is about 4 feet tall – from the future. He is followed by others, and surprisingly, they aren’t afraid of the Time Traveller. They communicate by mind because his voice is too harsh and deep for them. He learns to gesticulate so they can figure out what he wants to know. They touch the Time Traveller to make sure he is real. He has travelled to 802,701 A.D. (the machine dials record that date) where he meets the Eloi people. He removes the lever from the Time Machine so they do not accidentally set it off because of their curiosity.
All around him, the Time Traveller observes that the sun is much hotter,the buildings are in a state of disrepair, the curtains are dust, and the stained-glass windows are broken. The Eloi people have the mind of five year old children – lack intelligence, are physically slight and they are fruitarians. They have short attention spans and easily grow weary of his interrogations, and in this world, all disease has been stamped out. He looks at the ruinous splendor of the new world. When he looks at the complete picture, the Time Traveller deduces that the Eloi are lazy. The scene also suggests that we are at the sunset of mankind.
Shortly after meeting the Eloi, the Time Traveller discovers that the Time Machine is gone and is fearful of being stranded in a strange land. He notices one of the Eloi drowning and saves her and she becomes attached to him, following the Time Traveller everywhere he goes. After searching for his machine, he finds out that the Morlocks, who are carnivorous, took his Time Machine. Two species evolve from man, the Eloi who live in the Over-world and the Morlocks who live in the Under-world.
Not thinking clearly and developing a plan for retrieving his Time Machine, the Time Traveller descends 200 yards into well to try and retrieve the machine, and is unsuccessful and has to escape the creatures. But he discovers that they are afraid of fire. He has no weapons to defend himself, so he goes exploring and finds an iron bar, matches, and camphor. He encounters the Morlocks frequently and starts a fire to ward them off, and it gets out of hand killing many of them, but it saves his life. Unfortunately, Weena also dies.
The following quote describes what the Time Traveller observes, “Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no change and no need of change. Only those animals partake of intelligence that have to meet a huge variety of needs and dangers….The Upper world man had drifted to this feeble prettiness, and the Under-world to mere mechanical industry. But that perfect state had lacked one thing even for mechanical perfection.”
After his victory fighting off the Morlocks in the woods, the Time Traveller is ready to retrieve the machine. The doors are open to where the Time Machine is being stored, and you would think that after his experience with the Morlocks he would be careful, but he walks into the trap they set for him. With some difficulty, he is able to reattach the lever to the Time Machine and able to escape. In the struggle to be on his way, he errs with the setting and leaps further into the future. The further he goes into the future, the bleaker the picture for mankind’s survival and the state of the earth. There is more blackness and lack of life. On one spot where he lands briefly, monster crabs are chasing him.
He is in a desolate world – red eastern sky, northward blackness, the salt Dead Sea, stony beach crawling with these foul, slow-stirring monsters, the uniform poisonous-looking green of the lichenous plants, the thin air that hurts one’s lungs: all contributed to an appalling effect. The Time Traveller keeps on traveling until he returns – the machine lands in the southeast corner of his yard but he started out in the northwest corner.
At the end of this fantastic story, his audience does not know what to make of it. They don’t believe him. He questions his sanity and goes outside to look at the machine to make sure he didn’t dream the journey through Time. But the state of the Time Machine suggests it has been used to go on a journey.
The next day the narrator visits the Time Traveller. The Time Traveller takes his camera, with hopes of getting photos to prove that he time travelled. It’s been three years now and he hasn’t returned. Not quite the ending I would have liked, but I recommend The Time Machine by HG Wells.
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