Monday, January 18, 2016

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

The Time Machine
H. G. Wells
Published 1895
Reading England Challenge, Back to the Classics (19th Century)

The Tine Machine was not very major "Reading England" material, but I added it since the setting is around London and the Thames at the end of the nineteenth century, as well as hundreds of thousands and millions of years later, into the future.  England in the late 1890s was a time of great scientific and technological advances and progress, as well as a time of conflict between laborers and the wealthy upper class.  

The Time Traveler was a scientist who built a time travel machine in his laboratory with the intent to explore the future, using the fourth dimension, which is space (not the astronomical kind either).  He expected to find a future utopia where man had ultimately solved all of his worldly conflicts with labor, poverty, and the environment; however, that was not to be the case.

The Time Traveler, George, in the film version, 1960

Hundreds of thousands of years into the future, he found a world of beauty, like a Garden of Eden, where the temperature was warmer, and the inhabitants had their pick of the land (vegetation) for food. Incidentally, the Time Traveler thought this was great news, until he met the people of this strange world. They were not very intelligent or knowledgeable, as they could not communicate with the Time Traveler about their world.  They were weak, lazy and leisurely, with no curiosity or interest in life, and there were no families.  These people, called the Eloi, were juvenile-like.  

He also learned that they lived in continuous apprehension of night and darkness, and of the underworld beneath them.  That was where the Morlock lived.  The Time Traveler discovered that it was the Morlock who took care of the Eloi, but they also ate the Eloi.  The Morlock attacked in darkness because their eyes could no longer adapt to the sun or light.  You see, the Morlocks were descendants of the modern world's factory workers who had to work in dank, dark conditions and dangerous situations.  Over time, power shifted, and the descendants of the Eloi, the wealthy upper class people, became lazy and lost control.  Now it was the underground workers who controlled the upper class society of non-laboring citizens.  

Eating with the disinterested Eloi, "The Time Machine" film, 1960

For the short time that the Time Traveler stayed in this strange world, the Morlock stole his time machine, and he had a few run-ins with them in his attempt to learn about them. Eventually, he did get his contraption back, and instead of going home to 1895, he went on to see if there was any hope for human beings in the distant future.  Unfortunately, he found a dying earth with strange unusual creatures. It was totally disappointing.  Therefore, he returned home where he met with his colleagues and friends to narrate his strange tale to them.  

And just like a drug, he couldn't stop himself; by the end of the story he was back in the saddle of the time machine again, in search still of a better world for humankind.

The Morlocks, "The Time Machine," 1960


It is difficult not to confuse the story in the book to the story of the 1960 film version because they are different, and the film fills in some of the missing pieces from the book.  The film focused more on war. When Wells wrote The Time Machine, WWI and II had not occurred, yet.  The film addressed life during and after war, and how it changed man.  Man was drawn into underground shelters at the sound of the sirens, a practice that continued long into the future.  That is how the Morlock captured their prey; people had become conditioned to go underground and seek shelter from danger, at the sound of the siren.

Also, according to the film, man was detached from human relationships and emotion.  At one point, an Eloi was drowning, and no one was compelled to save her.  It is totally believable.

This was a great book to read to my imaginative younger children.  My eight-year old transformed a recliner in our living room into a time machine, and since we read them the book, they have not stopped discussing time travel.  While the vocabulary level is extremely scientific, and not elementary, they were still able to follow the adventure of the idea of time travel.  Time travel is such an adventurous concept.


Sharon Wilfong said...

I read this years ago. Yes, Wells certainly promotes his humanistic worldview. Notice how pessimistic the humanists are? They provide no hope. I'm studying Revelation with BSf (international Bible Study- I don't know if you've heard of it) and one thing that becomes clear is how we don't have to live without hope. Humanists can only see how life progresses inside the limitations of sinful man (while refusing to regard him as sinful). We can see how God has overcome the world.

Ruth said...

It is distressing to read a hopeless worldview! And had a read this before I became a Christian, I would have been woefully fearful of the future. It is a relief to know that God is in control of all things, and that it is not man or global warming that is going to destroy the earth in End Times.

Revelation is fascinating and frightening, but for the Christian it is hopeful.

consoledreader said...

I've seen 2002 film adaptation, which I don't remember being very good. I also remember reading a children's classics adaptation of it when I was a kid, but I've never tried the real H. G. Wells version. I wonder if the book is a commentary on the potential negative effects of social experiments.

Have you read The War of the Worlds?

Ruth said...

I remember not liking the 2002 film. It really deviates from the book, too. I suppose every generation can come up with its own version of what the future will be like, by using the social ills of its days.

I didn't do any research on why Wells wrote The Time Machine, but I know he highlights the complications between manufacturers and laborers.

And I want to read The War of the Worlds one of these days. There are a couple of film editions I enjoyed: a black and white version and the one with Tom Cruise.

Anonymous said...

I read this as part of my Classic Club Spin and I found it exactly as you said ...a great adventure story; but nothing more. Seems like Wells began with a plan and lost the plot and the interest somewhere in the middle. But a young reader would for sure enjoy it. I like how your eight year old built his own Time Travel machine! :)

Ruth said...

Think of all the possibilities Wells could have gone with time travel, but it was kind of like it fell flat.

Cleo said...

Again, I have to get my review up for this. I think Wells' ideas were probably very interesting, but they didn't emerge fully formed in the book. The ideas weren't developed well, and the plot wasn't that interesting, so you were left with nothing you could really grab onto. I'll read more of him, but I won't expect much.

Ruth said...

Sorry, Cleo. I meant to reply to you, and then stuff happened here, and I forgot. But I saved your msg in my email, and so here I am.

I think I agree with you about this. So I wonder if Wells went small b/c he wanted to make his points about labor v. the wealthy. He is effective in that regard, but our brains just want to expand all the ideas that could have come out of this.