The Time Machine: Then and Now

It’s been about fifteen years since I first read The Time Machine.  It was so unlike anything I’d read before.  Afterwards, I even wrote my own time-travelling story, which was more like fan-fiction than anything else.

I don’t often reread books, but as I build my H. G. Wells collection, I figured I’d reread each book and see how it held up over time.  (No pun intended!)  The Time Machine was the first book by Wells I’d read and seemed like a natural starting point.

The story begins in Victorian England.  A group of friends – a doctor, a journalist, a psychologist, and others – gather at the Time Traveller’s house for their customary meal and conversation.  The Time Traveller at this stage has just created a model of his machine which he says he can build at full-scale and use to travel through time.  The demonstration leaves his guests skeptical, but not long after that, the Time Traveller shows up to one of his own dinners, bedraggled and telling a wild story of adventure and romance.  The rest of the book is a flashback (or is it a flashforward?) which follows his exploits into the future, where the human race has become split into binary factions, the childlike, helpless Elois and the industrious, sinister Morlocks.

I’d like to think I was an astute child, but the sheer selfishness and stupidity of the Time Traveller was apparently lost on me.  For the most important trip of his life, he leaves very unprepared, which comes back to bite him later.  More disturbing is his romance with the woman-child named Weena.  The age difference is ambiguous, and if that wasn’t bad enough, he seems more interested in his own well-being than hers.  Overall he’s a terribly unlikable narrator, and the worst of it is, Wells doesn’t seem to realize that.

The story itself is still exciting, even this many years later.  Unlike the recent adaptations of Doctor Who, which follow a breathless plotline, Wells makes use of “negative space,” if you will, to highlight the more perilous moments.  There’s almost a pastoral bent to his descriptions of the futuristic countryside, forests, and rivers.  It makes for a poignant contrast between the appearances of peace and the realities of warfare (or rather, terrorism), which the Morlocks inflict on the peace-loving Elois.

Is the plot realistic or plausible?  Not really – but I’m not sure it was intended to be. It does, however, give you an insight on the late Victorian psyche, at least from Wells’s perspective.

If you like classic steampunk, then you have to read The Time Machine.  If you can rewind to childhood and read it then, all the better.