Book Review: The Time Machine

Book Name: The Time Machine
Author: H.G. Wells
First Published: 1895

The Time Machine was H. G. Wells’ first novel of literary importance. He would go on to write The Island of Dr. Moreau and The War of the Worlds soon after. At the time of his writing of The Time Machine, he was a young man of 29 years, a hard working former apprentice to a draper who felt the class system in England all to keenly. Gaining access to books through the connection of his mother who worked in service as a lady’s maid, he was able to gain an understanding to the classics of literature from her employer’s private library. He would later become a socialist, a supporter of women’s suffrage and become a man who loved to fight for causes. H G Wells would marry twice and carry on several affairs with women artists and authors, having several additional children out-of-wedlock in addition to his two sons by his wife Amy Robbins.

The idea for time travel came from a student debating society at Imperial College in London. The debate was on new scientific ideas about the nature of time and from there, Wells spliced science fact into his fascination of government and the effects of the English class system. During the period that he was writing the novel, he was renting a flat with his soon to be second wife, Amy Robbins. His landlady disapproved of the relationship and would spend time outside his window in the dead of night making rude comments about Wells and his private living arrangements. It is said that much of the Morlocks, the villains of the story, were based on this woman’s personality!

The Time Machine is the story of a victorian scientist and inventor from England. He is entertaining dinner guests in his home and reveals to them that he has built a machine that can travel through time. The time traveller leaves the dinner party to test his device and travels into the far future where he discovers the Eloi, a tribe of simple people that have no concept of work and seem to have little curiosity about their environment. The time traveller speculates that they are a peaceful communist society, the result of humanity overcoming nature and evolving to where intellect and strength are not advantageous for survival.

During his efforts to communicate with Eloi, and in particular an Eloi woman named Weena, the time machine is stolen. The time traveller realizes that the machine has been dragged into a close by building that resembles a sphinx. During the night, he is threatened by the nocturnal Morlocks and within their underground home he finds the technology that makes the Eloi way of life possible. The Morlocks control the Eloi to their advantage, using the simple people as their livestock.

The Morlocks, fearing the strangeness that the traveller represents, using the captured time machine to bait the traveller into an underground trap, little realizing that once he gains access to his machine, he is able to use it to escape them. The traveller pushes forward in time to the end of the world before he returns back to his origin, arriving a scant 3 hours later in the evening to the astonishment of his dinner guests. He relates his adventures to his guests and produces two exotic blooms from his pocket that he claims were given to him by Weena as proof. The following day, the time traveller prepares to make a second journey, promising to return in a half hour, but in the end he does not and after three years of waiting, the original narrator of the story realizes that he will never be seen again.

My first exposure to this classic science fiction story and author was via the 1960 movie The Time Machine starring Rod Taylor. It was a special effects giant of its day, winning an academy award for stop-motion photography. I was completely enamored of film and it led me to seek out the book by H.G. Wells. From there I started to read more of his scientific romance stories and became hooked on his writing. Later, I would also become a fan of the 1979 movie Time After Time where the characters Herbert George Wells and Amy Robbins supposedly meet and fall in love in the 1970’s before they return via time machine to Well’s Victorian era where he is inspired to write his famous science fiction novels. The character of George Wells in the movie is very much as real life H G Wells might have been in personality.

H. G. Wells is considered one of the progenitors of the science fiction genre and of scientific romance in particular. His views on the future were not always pleasant, but in his writings there is such a sense of reality that you can believe his reasoning and accept his views as a logical progression of where humanity might go. I personally find that the book has a steampunk feel to it, although it was created decades before the steampunk movement in literature began. The author and the protagonist of The Time Machine originate during victorian times and the story concerns an inventor of a fantastic machine that likely runs on steam like technology. Perhaps in a way, The Time Machine could be considered a forerunner to the steampunk sub-genre.

The Time Machine Book CoverYou can download a free copy of The Time Machine at Project Gutenberg. It is one of the very first novels that they transcribed for the project.

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