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The Time Machine

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The Time Machine is a novel by H. G. Wells, first published in 1895, later made into two films of the same name. This novel is generally credited with the introduction of the concept of time travel using a vehicle that allows an operator to travel purposefully and selectively.

Contents

The novel

Wells had considered the notion of time travel before, in an earlier (but unpublished) story titled The Chronic Argonauts. He had thought of using some of this material in a series of articles in the Pall Mall Gazette, until the publisher asked him if he could instead write a serial novel on the same theme; Wells readily agreed, and was paid 100 pounds on its publication in 1896.

The novel's protagonist is an amateur inventor or scientist identified simply as the Time Traveller. Having demonstrated to friends using a miniature model that time is a fourth dimension, and that suitable apparatus can move back and forth in this fourth dimension, he completes the building of a larger machine capable of carrying himself. He then immediately sets off on a journey into the future.

The Time Traveller details the experience of time travel and the evolution of his surroundings as he moves through time. While travelling through time, his machine allows him to observe the changes of the outside world in fast motion. He observes the sun and moon traversing the sky and the changes to the buildings and landscape around him as he travels through time. His machine produces a sense of disorientation to its occupant, and a blurring or faintness of the surroundings outside the machine.

His journey takes him to the year A.D. 802,701 where he finds an apparently peaceful, pastoral, Daoist future, filled with happy, simple humans who call themselves the Eloi. The Eloi are about four feet tall, pink-skinned and frail-looking, with curly hair, small ears and mouths and large eyes. Males and females seem to be quite similar in build and appearance. They have high-pitched, soft voices and speak an unknown language. They appear to be quite unintelligent and child-like and live without quarrels or conflict.

The Eloi live in a small community within a large and futuristic yet dilapidated building, doing no work and eating a fructarian diet. The land around London has become a sort of untended garden filled with unusual fruiting and flowering plants, with futuristic, yet dilapidated buildings and other structures dotted around, seemingly of no purpose and disused. There is no evidence of the implementation of agriculture or technology, both of which the Eloi seem incapable of.

The Time Traveller is greeted with curiosity and without fear by the Eloi, who seem only vaguely surprised and curious by his appearance and lose interest rapidly. He disables the time machine and follows them to their commune and consumes a meal of fruit while trying to communicate with them. This proves somewhat ineffectual, as their unknown language and low intelligence hinders the Time Traveller from gaining any useful information. With a slight sense of disdain for his hosts' lack of curiosity and attention to him, the Time Traveller decides to explore the local area.

As he explores this landscape, the Time Traveller on the factors that have resulted in the Eloi's physical condition and society. He supposes that the lack of intelligence and vitality of the Eloi are the logical result of humankind's past struggle to transform and subjugate nature through technology, politics, art and creativity. With the realisation of this goal, the Eloi evolved degenerately.

With no further need for technology and agriculture and innovations to improve life, they became unimaginative and incurious about the world. With no work to do, they became physically weak and small in stature. Males, generally being breadwinners and workers in former times, have particularly degenerated in physique, explaining the lack of dimorphism between the sexes. The Time Traveller supposes that preventative medicine has been achieved, as he saw no sign of disease amongst his hosts. With no work to do and no hardships to overcome, society became non-hierarchical and non-cooperative, with no defined leaders or social classes.

The fact that there was no hardship or inequalities in societies meant there was no war and crime. Art and sophisticated culture, often driven by problems and aspirations or a catalyst for solutions and new developments, had waned, as no problems existed and there were no conceivable improvements for humanity. He accounted for their relatively small numbers as being due to the implementation or some form of birth control to eliminate the problems of overpopulation. The abandoned structures around him would suggest that prior to these achievements, the population had been larger and more productive, toiling to find the solution that would make the new utopia a reality.

As the sun sets, the Time Traveller muses on where he will sleep. Retracking his tracks back to the building where he had eaten with the Eloi, he suddenly realises that the time machine is missing. He panics and desperately searches for the vehicle. At first, he suspects that the Eloi have moved it to their shelter. He doubts the Eloi would be capable or inclined to do this, but nonetheless rushes back to the shelter and demands to know where his machine is. The Eloi are confused and a little frightened by this. Realising the Eloi don't understand him and he is damaging his position with them, he continues his search in desperation during the night before relenting and falling into an uneasy sleep.

(section under construction)

The Utopian existence of the Eloi turns out to be deceptive. The Traveller soon discovers that the class structure of his own time has in fact persisted, and the human race has diverged into two branches. The wealthy, leisure classes appear to have evolved into the ineffectual, not very bright Eloi he has already seen; but the downtrodden working classes have evolved into the bestial Morlocks, cannibal hominids resembling albino apes, who toil underground maintaining the machinery that keep the Eloi – their flocks – docile and plentiful. Both species, having adapted to their routines, are of distinctly sub-human intelligence.

Soon after his arrival he rescues Weena, a female Eloi he finds drowning in a river. Much to his surprise she is grateful to him and insists on following him. After some adventures and the eventual death of Weena at the hands of the Morlocks, the narrator returns to his machine and travels into the far future. There he sees the last few living things on a dying Earth, before returning to his time to tell his story to friends. Then he attempts to time travel again and disappears forever into time.

The story reflects Wells' political views; he was a committed socialist, and the narrator reasons that the state he sees is the outcome of capitalist class structures. The novel may also have influenced the Thea von Harbou novel and subsequent movie Metropolis. He probably did not see it as an accurate portrayal of the future.

The Time Machine is in the public domain in the United States, Canada, and Australia, but does not enter the public domain in the European Union until January 1, 2017 (1946 death of author + 70 years + end of calendar year).

The text of the novel is available here (http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/~emorgan/texts/literature/american/1800-1899/wells-time-188.txt).

An extract from the 11th chapter of the serial published in The New Review (May 1895) was not included in the book version, as it was thought too violent. This portion of the story was published elsewhere as The Grey Man.

The Grey Man begins with the Traveller waking up in his Time Machine after escaping the Morlocks. He finds himself in the distant future of an Earth that is unrecognizable, seeing kangaroo-like hopping creatures being attacked and eaten by a giant centipede that comes out of the ground. It is implied that these are the future forms of the Eloi and Morlocks, respectively.

Film versions

George Pal (who also made a famous "modernized" version of Wells' The War of the Worlds) filmed The Time Machine 1960. This is more of an adventure film than the book was; also the division of mankind results from mutations induced by a nuclear war during the twentieth century, and the Eloi speak English. The film was remade in 2002, starring Guy Pearce and Jeremy Irons and directed by Wells' great-grandson Simon Wells, with an even more revised plot. It garnered dismal reviews and was not very successful. In both movies the Eloi were given language abilities and a love affair between a female Eloi and the Time Traveller is part of the plot.

The earlier film is noted for its then-novel use of time lapse photographic effects to show the world around the Time Traveller changing at breakneck speed as he travels through time.

The film's story (1960 version)

It is New Year's Eve in London. A small group of Victorian men dressed formally are talking in a room. In the center of the room there is a table with a wooden box on it. They are talking about dimensions. One of the men says that he can understand three dimensions: e.g. the length, width, and height of the box, but cannot understand a fourth dimension. The fourth dimension is theoretical, and people do not perceive it as existing. The protagonist (George) says that that is because we are not free to move backwards and forwards at will in the fourth dimension, but are confined to a point on it: the present.

Then George opens the box and inside it is a small-scale replica of the time machine. He explains how it has a lever which when pushed forward will cause travel of the machine into the future, and if pulled backward will cause travel of the machine into the past. Spatially though, the machine stays in the same position on the table. Then George demonstrates by pushing forward the small lever, causing the machine to blur, then disappear.

Later the meeting is over. The clock ticks 12am: it is the new year of 1900. George tells happy new year to the lady housekeeper. George opens the door to a room in his house which faces a garden, and in the room there is a full-scale version of the time machine. The machine is like an open sleigh with one seat, a large disk behind the seat which is capable of revolving, and controls in front of the seat. The controls have the lever which can be pushed forwards or backwards, three small elliptical displays: one green, one yellow, and red. The yellow and green are smaller and above the red display: they are for month and the day. The red display is for the year. He sits on it, pushes the level forward slightly. He notices that the candle is melting faster and that the clock on the wall is going faster than his watch (which is unaffected). Then he pushes the lever more and the hands of the clock revolve visibly around the clock. He sees the sun and the clouds running across the sky, again and again, through the skylight windows of that room which is like a greenhouse (because so much of the walls and the ceiling are made out of glass, so that he can see the outdoors). He sees the shifting shadows and patches of sunlight moving across the non-glass walls of the room.

At a certain forward (futureward) speed he sees what happens to the window display of a store for women's dresses across the street. The display has a lady mannequin which is seen by George to quickly be dressed and undressed by the store-keeper. He slows down and stops the machine on occasion to see how the mannequin has been dressed, wondering how her dress will change in the future. So he starts the machine again, pushing the lever forwards, and sees people scurrying quickly through the street and the mannequin being dressed and undressed.

Then there are flashes in the sky. Eventually the room becomes boarded up and he can no longer see outside. He stops the machine and steps out of it. It is 1917. His room, and other rooms in the house, are full of cobwebs. Some cobwebs block the doorway, so he cuts through them with his hand. He steps out of the house, which has been fenced up around with wooden boards. He pushes some boards out of the way, also unboards the glass windows of the room he is in. He walks over to the store and meets a man in uniform who he thinks is his old friend David Filby. But George finds out that the man is not David but rather his son James. The father has died in the Great War, but James remembers that his father mentioned a friend of his called George, because the abandoned house across the street had never been liquidated by David but instead kept in memory of his friend, who David believed would one day return. James invites George in for tea, but George refuses, instead going back into the house, to the machine.

More travelling forward in time. When George stops the machine again, in 1940, there are dirigible balloons in the sky and sounds of bombings: "It must be the new war". Then a bomb falls on top of his house and burns it to the ground, but leaves him and the machine intact, since they are not stationary in the present of the surrounding environment but travelling though it.

He stops again in 1966. He steps out of the machine onto the grass, and sees several people walking towards him, then past him, into some doorway. Across the street Filby's store has turned into a more modern building taking up a large portion of the block. There is an elevated train. James Filby is now older, with grey hair, and wearing something similar to a space suit, which protects against radiation. James comments that he vaguely remembers having met George somewhere, sometime earlier. Then alarm sirens are heard, and George cannot keep James from walking towards the doorway: "we must go into the shelter." Then something appears in the sky, and James says: "There is the atomic satellite." James goes into the shelter, and George is left alone. Then there is an explosion, the sky turns red. The explosion releases lava from the Earth's underground, so hot lava is moving down the street and George gets back into the machine and starts going forward in time. Soon the lava covers the machine up, then it dries up. George is nervous, wringing his face with his hands and praying that if he goes far enough into the future that the lava cover above him will disappear.

Past the year 800,000 the roof of dried-up lava starts crackling and falling, then clears off. He sees new plants and trees growing on the ground. Then a building rises up. He stops the machine in the year 802,701 and steps onto the grass. In front of the time machine is a grotesque building with a big statue of a head on top of it. The face is narrow and triangular: in a way it resembles the statues on Easter Island.

Then George visits the natural surroundings. There are a lot of trees, some with fruit. He calls it a paradise, but then he wishes he had someone to share that paradise with. He finds a domed building with a staircase leading up to it. Parts of the domed roof of the building have broken, and small pockets of grass grow on the stone steps leading towards the entrance of the building. He goes inside the building and sees several low round tables. Around the tables are no chairs but pillows, on the ground, for sitting. The tables are set with white plates, wine (?) glasses, and a big bowl full of fruit in the middle of each table.

Then he sees some people in the distance. They are young (adult) people, dressed in simple, plain clothing of solid pastel colors. They are sitting near a river. In the river a young woman is drowning. None of the others seem to notice her. Then George gets into the river and rescues her.

Later she walks up to him and asks him "Why did you?" (save her life). He asks her for her name and she answers "Weena". He asks for the name of her people and she answers "Eloi". But she does not know how to write, so George writes these names down on the ground in printed capital letters using his finger to clear away dust. He dots the end of the word, then Weena dots the beginning of it.

The young people walk up the steps of the domed building. Inside the building they sit around the tables and eat the fruit. George sits at one table and tries to engage others in conversation. He mentions how some of the big fruit they are eating would be considered unusually large by the civilization he came from. The young people seated around him are not very conversant. He asks them if they have a government, or any laws. A young man responds "We have no laws." George asks them if they have books. The young man responds "Books? We have books." He leads George into another room. There are some books on bookshelves. George picks up a book, but the book is very old and it crumples up easily in his hand. Then he sweeps his hand through a row of books and the books crumble to dust. Back in the large dining room, George gets angry and chides the young people for being so ignorant, indifferent, oblivious.

In his fit, he walks out of the domed building and goes towards the time machine, but the time machine has disappeared. The tracks of its sleighs have been left on the ground, indicating that the machine had been dragged into the building with the big head-statue on top of it, behind a pair of big, smooth, plain metallic doors. George tries to open the metal doors, unsuccessfully: he bangs at the doors with a rock, but the rock breaks up into pieces.

Weena tells George that the Morlocks are inside that building; that they would have dragged the machine into it. At night, Morlocks move furtively behind the bushes, and George lights up matches trying to discern them, but the Morlocks prefer to stay hidden.

Weena shows George a place behind the building where there are big circular holes on the ground: uncovered man-holes, except that they are wider and have low walls around them, like wells. Looking into them George can see that they are like air-shafts leading into a subterranean place. There are columns of metallic handle-bars built into the walls of these air-shafts, which a person can use to climb up or down. Also, through these holes a mysterious periodic hammering noise is heard to issue from the subterranean place.

George starts climbing down one of these shafts, but then a siren alarm is heard and he starts climbing back up. The alarms issue from several cones which have sprouted around the big head-statue above the building. Each cone has a column of about three holes through which the sound is emitted. Weena has started walking at a slow steady pace towards the front of the building, and she joins other Eloi who are walking at the same slow, steady, somnambular pace towards the front of the building. George runs after her, looks for her. At one point he grabs one girl but when he gets her to turn around it turns out she is not Weena, so he lets her go. He complains that they move dumbly like cattle. He does not reach Weena in time: she and several other Eloi have gone into the building through the metal doors which were open while the siren alarms where sounding but which closed soon after Weena got in. Many Eloi were left outside, in front of the door.

Then George goes around to the back of the building, to where the holes on the ground are. He climbs down the air-shaft of one hole, reaching the subterranean place, which is like a big artificial cave. In one chamber he sees human cadavers, the result of cannibalism: the Morlocks eat humans. In other chambers there are big machines which look like big electric transformers: with metallic coils spun around pairs of vertical tubes which support (and are joined to) a horizontal tube at their top. What these machines do is not specified by the movie.

The Morlocks use whips to corral the Eloi into a certain chamber. The Morlocks are now seen to be hideous hominid, ape-like creatures. They have big chests, bluish skin, big dark drooping eye-chambers, but instead of having eye-balls they have light-emitting (or reflecting?) points of light in the middle of their dark eye-chambers. Thus, they can see in the dark, but they are afraid of light. George turn on some matches, attempting to frighten the Morlocks which use whips and who are corralling the Eloi. Eventually he discovers that if he punches a Morlock with his fist, the Morlock will recoil: Morlocks do not move too fast. Fighting ensues. At one point a Morlock has George dominated with his whip, then one of the male Eloi summons up enough courage to punch that Morlock with his fist, which saves George for the moment. Weena pitches in: George tells her to grab the torch which he had previously lighted up. With the torch they scare off a lot of the Morlocks who are accosting them. Then they use it to light up flammable material in the cave, such as some hanging "curtains" at the entrance of one of the chambers where the Morlocks were trying to herd the Eloi. This starts a fire and it definitely scares off the Morlocks. Then the Eloi manage to get out of the cave, back to the surface, through the air-shafts. Back on the open ground, the Eloi, under George's guidance, hurl tree branches into the holes, which feed the fire inside. The Eloi move away from the area behind the building where all the holes are. The holes explode, and they see this entire area (with the holes) cave in, fall down flat, crushing the subterranean place.

In front of the building, the metal doors are now open, and the Eloi tell George that they see his machine in there. George goes in, but the metal doors close in behind him. A Morlock appears, and George travels to the future on his machine, to see the Morlock die and turn to dust, leaving his ape-like cranium and his bones behind. Then George travels to the past, back to 1900, to January 5th. He tells his story to his friends, the same group of men as at the beginning of the story, but only Filby believes him. George takes a flower out of his pocket and shows it to them: it is a flower which Weena gave him after he rescued her. He gives the flower to Filby who knows about botany, to see if Filby can identify it, but he can not. When the other men are leaving, outside, Filby tells them that, if anything, it is a rarity to find such a flower blooming in winter. Then he goes back in the house.

By the time he reaches inside the room where the time machine was, it is too late: George has left again. This time there are marks on the ground of where the time machine was dragged back from where it had been dragged by the Morlocks (the machine was dragged in back inside from the snowy garden outside). Filby tells the lady housekeeper what the tracks on the ground mean. Then he comments that someone like George would not go back to another time without first having come up with a plan. Looking at the library he sees that there are three books missing. Filby asks the lady housekeeper what three books she would choose to take with her if she were to restart a civilization. Then he remarks that "he has all the time in the world."

Sequels by other authors

Well's novel has become one of the cornerstones of science-fiction literature. As a result, it has spawned many offspring. Books expanding on Wells' story include:

  • The Hertford Manuscript by Richard Cowper, first published in 1976. It features a "manuscript" which reports the Time Traveller's activities after the end of the original novel. According to his "manuscript" the Time Traveller disappeared because his Time Machine had been damaged by the Morlocks without him knowing it. He only found out when it stopped operating during his next attempted time travel. He found himself on August 27, 1665, in London during the outbreak of the Black Death. The rest of the novel is devoted to his efforts to repair the Time Machine and leave this time period before getting infected with the disease. He also has an encounter with Robert Hooke. He eventually dies of the disease on September 20, 1665. The story gives a list of subsequent owners of the manuscript till 1976. It also gives the name of the Time Traveller as Robert James Pensley, born to James and Martha Pensley in 1850 and disappearing without trace on June 18, 1894.
  • Morlock Night by K.W. Jeter, first published in 1979. It is an odd steampunk novel in which the Morlocks, having studied the Traveller's machine, duplicate it and invade Victorian London
  • The Space Machine by Christopher Priest, first published in 1976. Because of the movement of planets, stars and galaxies, for a time machine to stay in one spot on Earth as it travels through time, it must also follow the Earth's trajectory through space. In Priest's book, the hero damages the Time Machine, and arrives on Mars, just before the start of the invasion described in The War of the Worlds. H.G. Wells himself appears as a minor character.
  • The Time Ships, by Stephen Baxter, first published in 1995. This sequel was officially authorised by the Wells estate to mark the centenary of the original's publication. In its wide-ranging narrative, the Traveller's desire to return and rescue Weena is thwarted by the fact that he has changed history (by telling his tale to his friends, one of whom published the account). With a Morlock (in the new history, the Morlocks are intelligent and cultured) he travels through the multiverse as increasingly complicated timelines unravel around him, eventually meeting mankind's far future descendants, whose ambition is to travel into the multiverse of multiverses. Like much of Baxter's work, this is definitely hard science fiction; it also includes many nods to the prehistory of Wells's story in the names of characters and chapters.
  • The Man Who Loved Morlocks and The Trouble With Weena are two different sequels, the former a novel and the latter a short story, by David J. Lake. Each of them concerns the Time Traveller's return to the future. In the former, he discovers that he cannot enter any period in time he has already visited, forcing him to travel in to the further future, where he finds love with a woman whose race evolved from Morlock stock. In the latter, he is accompanied by Wells, and succeeds in rescuing Weena and bringing her back to the 1890s, where her political ideas cause a peaceful revolution.
  • In Michael Moorcock's 'Dancers at the End of Time' series, the Time Traveller is a major character, although his role mainly consists of being shocked by the decadence of the inhabitants of the End of Time.
  • The Time Traveller makes a brief appearance in Allan and the Sundered Veil, a back-up story appearing in the first volume of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where he saves Allan Quartermain, John Carter and Randolph Carter from a horde of Morlocks.
  • The superhero known as 'The Rook' (who appeared in various comics from Warren Comics) is the grandson of the original Time Traveller.
  • Philip Jose Farmer speculated that the Time Traveler was a member of the Wold Newton family. He is said to have been the great-uncle of Doc Savage.
  • In the movie Gremlins, the Time Traveller's machine (the one from the 1960 movie) is briefly glimpsed at an inventor's convention.

Just to entangle reality and fiction further, H. G. Wells also appears as a character, aboard his own time machine in the 1979 film Time After Time and the 1990s television series Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. He also briefly travels in time with the Doctor in the Doctor Who serial Timelash, the events of which are said to inspire him to write The Time Machine. In Ronald Wright's novel A Scientific Romance, a lonely museum curator on the eve of the millennium discovers a letter written by Wells shortly before his death, foretelling the imminent return of the Time Machine. The curator finds the machine, then uses it to travel into a post-apocalyptic future.

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