"It is a law of nature we overlook, that intellectual versatility is the compensation for change, danger, and trouble."
Author: H. G. Wells
Publisher: William Heinemann
The Time Machine, I’m happy to report, is a great little novel. When I say little, I only mean that I felt it to be too short. It was so good I was expecting more! And then all of a sudden, it was over! Darn!
Plot & Narration
Here’s a quick rundown of the plot:
The story is narrated by a friend/dinner guest of the Time Traveller, an English gentleman whose name we never learn. During dinner one evening, the Time Traveller explains to his dinner guests that he’s been successful in building a time machine. He gives a demonstration with a miniature version before revealing that he’s created a large version that people can use. He goes on to say that in one week’s time, when they all have dinner at his place again, he’ll be back from his time travels and will tell them everything that he saw.
Well, the week comes and goes and we are back at the Time Traveller’s house. He shows up late to his own party in quite a state!
“He was in an amazing plight. His coat was dusty and dirty, and smeared with green down the sleeves; his hair disordered, and as it seemed to me greyer-either with dust or dirt or because its colour had actually faded. His face was ghastly pale.”
So the Time Traveller’s not looking too hot, and when he finally collects himself he tells his dinner guests about his time travelling adventures.
Long story short, his travels took him to the year 802,701, which, not going to lie, is quite a long time from now. There, he encounters two distinct creatures, or species (or are they?): the Eloi and the Morlocks. The Eloi are these cute pint-sized humans that literally spend all day long frolicking in the fields picking flowers, and the Morlocks are creepy, hairy creatures that live underground. It becomes the Time Traveller’s theory that at some point humanity had become so advanced and comfortable that innovation was no longer needed, and so began the intellectual descent of man into the Eloi (a sort of post-utopia story as opposed to a post-apocalyptic story). He also conjectures that the Morlocks had long ago been the servant class of men, banished to the underground, who now provide for the Eloi out of habit, but also, by the way, probably eat them.
The Time Traveller realizes that the Eloi are afraid of the dark, which is when the Morlocks come out to take an Eloi. Throughout his week in the future, the Time Traveller begins to put two and two together on this matter.
And can I just say, that again we have a story in which the narrator wasn’t there. Just like Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the narrator of The Time Machine is on the outside, being told the truth about things after the fact. Only in Journey to the Center of the Earth does the narrator actually experience the events about which he’s narrating. I think it’s safe to say that this narrative structure was common in the late 1800s (because a sample of four is totally representative of all books published at that time :P).
One of the main takeaways from The Time Machine is that the future, remember it’s 802,701 AD, is nothing at all like what the Time Traveller imagined it would be. It’s a lot worse in probably the weirdest, most disturbing way possible. This leads us to the quotation at the top of this post. If everything was just great all the time, humans would have no reason to exercise their noggins! We need changes and challenges and things to do! I mean, how many people actually feel useless and dumb when they’ve got nothing to do? Pretty much everyone ever.
The Time Traveller ends up in a future in which humans basically achieved everything, that’s his theory anyway, and then had nothing left to work for. It’s a good message, I think. And in today’s day and age, it’s all too easy to succumb to Eloi-syndrome and just hang out putting flowers in everyone’s pockets. (Not to say that we shouldn’t do that, everyone likes receiving flowers, but the Eloi are airheads and can barely understand basic concepts is what I’m getting at.)
Maybe it’s just part of being human: we’ve always got to have something to work for, otherwise we’ll end up like the Eloi (or the Morlocks!). (Mr. Karl Marx had a lot to say about man’s relationship to work, but I shall leave that for another post.
Stay tuned for more posts about this subject and for the next book, The War of the Worlds.
Quotations: Wells, H.G. The Time Machine (Enriched Classics). Canada: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Kindle Edition.