So just yesterday night I finished reading The Time Machine by H G Wells. I’m sure it’s a book that most of you have heard of, and if you haven’t, you’re probably aware of the 2002 film (nothing like the book at all by the way, just saying). Before I say anything more, I implore you to give this book a go. It’s only 100 or so pages, a very short novel when compared to Tolkien and authors of that ilk, and it’s definitely worth a read. A truly thought-provoking novel, and one I am glad that I have read.
Spoilers ahead readers, so if you want to read this book then please go ahead and do so before you continue!
The way the book is written is somewhat peculiar. Rather than writing the story himself, the Time Traveller explains his adventure to a group of people. It is unclear whether they are friends, or simply a group of academics who have been gathered to hear a tale of scientific marvel.
Of all the characters in the novel, only six are given names: Filby, Mrs Whatchett, Blank, Dash, Chose, (the Journalist, Editor, and Silent Man, these also seem not to be names at all) and Weena. Several more are granted only epithets: the Time Traveller, the Psychologist, the Medical Man/the Doctor, the Provincial Mayor and the Very Young Man. Of these, only Weena is of any importance to the plot of the story. It appears that in giving only few people names and the recent merely epithets, Wells is attempting to make the story more accessible. Readers would perhaps insert the names of a Doctor that they know, or a Psychologist, or a Journalist.
What is very clear though, is that Wells specifically avoids naming the Time Traveller. At other points, when it necessary for other characters to be named – Weena for instance is referred to many times and so must have something to distinguish her from the other Eloi – Wells does so without hesitation. However, when the Time Traveller is referenced by name at one of the dinners held at his house, in place of his name is a dash. This could be to force the reader to provide a name of their own choosing, but it also suggests that Wells was protecting somebody. It gives the illusion of reality to the story, as does the method of narration.
While I’ve only read one other Utopian novel so far (you can view my post on Thomas More’s Utopia here), The Time Machine is vastly different and it knows it. The novel is incredibly self-aware…
“In some of these visions of Utopias and coming times which I have read, there is a vast amount of detail about building, and social arrangements, and so forth. But while such details are easy enough to obtain when the whole world is contained in one’s imagination, they are altogether inaccessible to a real traveller amid such realities as I found here. Conceive the tale of London which a negro, fresh from Central Africa, would take back to his tribe! What would he know of railway companies, of social movements, of telephone and telegraph wires, of the Parcels Delivery Company, and postal orders and the like? Yet we, at least, should be willing enough to explain these things to him! And even of what he knew, how much could he make his untraveled friend either apprehend or believe? Then, think how narrow the gap between a negro and a white man of our own times, and how wide the interval between myself and these of the Golden Age! I was sensible of much which was unseen, and which contributed to my comfort; but save for a general impression of automatic organization, I fear I can convey very little of the difference to your mind.” (p 42)
This passage reveals the effort that Wells has made to convey, realistically, his own fears for the way the human race will end up. His vision for the future of the human race is two hugely diverse species, the Eloi and the Morlocks. The way Wells describes the two races speaks of a huge amount of discontent with the way society valued the rich and disregarded the poor. The Eloi are a small and weak people, whose unbridled joy at the arrival of a stranger speaks to the Time Traveller of a fundamental lack of intelligence. This weakness is described by the Time Traveller as a result of the way that the upper classes rely on others for the work that needs doing; an exaggeration of the aristocratic ‘weak chin’, if you will.
The Morlocks on the other hand are a mystery to the Time Traveller at first, but they soon reveal themselves to be a race of curious and cruel monsters. They hunt the Eloi for food, and appear to be interested in the Time Traveller for the same reason. They are afraid of the light, as any creature who had been forced deeper and deeper under ground would evolve to be, but they soon learn how to extinguish fire – at least from the matches that the Time Traveller brought with him from the past – and that reduces their fear of it. What’s more, the Morlocks determined what it was the Time Traveller wanted from them and were able to lure him in to a trap. This exaggerated depiction of the two extremes of society shows Wells’ fear for the future of humanity.
Besides the intriguing way that Wells shows his idea of the future, the novel is interesting in that it is narrated by one of the Time Traveller’s friends, not the Time Traveller himself as you might expect. This method of storytelling means that the reader takes the story on as a third person, rather than a second. It also allows for the ambiguous ending of the novel.
Once the Time Traveller has returned home, he is very clearly not the same. Whilst the narrator is visiting him, a strange occurrence happens, the Time Traveller leaves the room and appears busy with something. The narrator hears a shout and from then on the Time Traveller is never seen again.
Personally, I like to believe that the Time Traveller returned to the year 802,701, before Weena’s death, to live there in peace with the Eloi. But we cannot know for certain because the ending is left open. What this means is that each reader takes their own ending, whether happy or sad.
Overall, what I find brilliant about this book is that I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t stop thinking about whether Wells will prove to be right. I can’t stop thinking about what happened to the Time Traveller, whether he left voluntarily or if some strange circumstance forced him to leave.
So there you have my take on The Time Machine by H G Wells. It really is a fascinating novel and I recommend it to everyone.
’til next time, readers, where I will be talking about The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole.