I don’t often read science fiction, but when I do I usually find that I enjoy it. H.G. Wells’ 1895 novel, The Time Machine, is an early classic of the genre and I’m sorry it has taken me so long to decide to read it – especially as I’ve previously read and liked two of his other books, The Island of Dr Moreau and Ann Veronica (although the latter is not science fiction).
The Time Machine follows the adventures of a Victorian scientist known only as the Time Traveller who believes he has created a machine which can travel into the past and the future. After describing his invention to a group of friends and explaining how it works, he announces that he intends to use the machine to explore time. Assembling at a dinner party the following week, the gentlemen await the appearance of the Time Traveller – who arrives late, looking dirty and exhausted, and proceeds to narrate an incredible story.
The Time Traveller tells of his journey to the year 802,701, a world populated by the Eloi, a race of beautiful, innocent, childlike people who, far from being the advanced society he had expected, are leading surprisingly lazy, directionless lives and appear to be weaker and less intelligent than ourselves. Due to a change in language, he is unable to communicate with them to find out more about their way of life, although he does form a friendship of sorts with an Eloi woman whose name is Weena.
Later, the Time Traveller discovers that the Eloi are not the only inhabitants of this futuristic world; another race of human-like creatures live below ground, only coming to the surface at night. Known as the Morlocks, these creatures are brutish and savage but appear to be carrying out all the work and industry which enables the Eloi to live their simple lives of leisure on the land above. They also appear to have stolen the time machine, which means that unless the Time Traveller can find a way to retrieve it, he could be trapped in the future forever!
The Time Traveller comes up with several theories to explain what is happening in this futuristic world, but has to revise his opinion as more information comes to light. He speculates that the human race must have evolved at some point into two species, the rich and privileged becoming the Eloi and the working classes becoming the Morlocks. The Eloi, he thinks, have led such comfortable lives and faced so few challenges, that they have had no further need to grow and adapt:
“It is a law of nature we overlook, that intellectual versatility is the compensation for change, danger, and trouble. An animal perfectly in harmony with its environment is a perfect mechanism. Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no change and no need of change. Only those animals partake of intelligence that have to meet a huge variety of needs and dangers.”
I’ve always been intrigued by the possibilities of time travel and although I personally would be more interested in visiting the past than the future, I find it fascinating to see what people think the future will hold. Remembering when this novel was published, Wells’ vision of a future world has been developed from some of the issues which would have seemed relevant at the end of the 19th century, such as widening class divisions, theories of evolution and Darwinism. It’s a bleak and depressing view of the future – and if that really is what we have to look forward to, then imperfect as our current society may be, I’m very glad to be living in 2016!
While I enjoyed reading The Time Machine, I thought there could have been more to the story. I hadn’t realised it was such a short book (there are just over 100 pages in my edition, so it can easily be read in a few hours), and I would have liked it to have been a bit longer which would have allowed some of the ideas in the novel to be developed in more depth. Still, I’m pleased to have read such an important and influential science fiction novel and will think about reading more of Wells’ work at some point.
19 thoughts on “The Time Machine by H.G. Wells”
I have only recently read it too, after having it in my bookshelf some ten years or so, ha! :p I really enjoyed your review and found your thoughts on the book to be very similar to mine. I thought Wells’ view of the future was bleak too. What I found most fascinating, though, was the childlike nature of the innocent Eloi contrasted with the animalistic savagery of the Morlocks. I thought it was an exceptionally odd way of analysing how the class divisions could disintegrate so vastly as to turn humanity into almost-animals (the Eloi certainly don’t seem to be very intelligent, living their lives eating and sleeping like cats would do; and the Morlocks are so savage there doesn’t seem to be a single trace of humanity left in them).
Yes, it’s a very extreme view of the evolution of the class divisions – and quite unusual as I think most of us would expect futuristic humans to be more advanced than ourselves rather than regressing to become more like animals. I didn’t find it a very believable picture of the future, but certainly a fascinating one!
Can’t deny that it’s fascinating. 🙂
I read this such a long time ago, that I think I get it mixed up with the movie versions.
That’s easy to do! I don’t think I’ve ever seen any, so the story was new to me.
Several of us have just finished reading this and had the same impressions – that something was missing or more could have been added. But Wells’ concerns do come through, even in such a short story.
I wished it had been longer, but yes, it does work as a short novel and I think Wells does manage to say what he wanted to say about class and evolution.
I didn’t realise it was that short either – I really must bump it up my Classics Club list 🙂
I would have read it earlier if I’d known how short it was. I definitely recommend moving it up the list!
I enjoyed this one but Island of Doctor Moreau and The Invisible Man are the two that have stayed with me the most. I think this one would have been great as an extended novel.
I enjoyed The Island of Doctor Moreau but I haven’t read The Invisible Man yet. I was thinking about reading that one next – or maybe The War of the Worlds.
I have it on my to-listen list. Do you find it moralistic at all, as in, did Wells just invent the story to be able to pass on some less subtle messages about society?
I think he did write it as a way of expressing his views on class, capitalism and evolution, but it’s an interesting story too and definitely worth reading (or listening to) in my opinion.
I’ve only read this book once, but I’ve always remembered it. The whole Morlock and Eloi “relationship” was so unexpected when I first read this book, that it’s always stuck with me.
I’m not sure what I was expecting The Time Traveller to find in the future, but it wasn’t the Eloi and Morlocks! I think that relationship will stick with me too.
I’ve only read The Invisible Man by Wells and felt much the same way. It was entertaining, but not particularly well developed. A fun escape…but not quite what I consider great literature.
I would like to read The Invisible Man at some point. I think Wells’ novels are more about ideas and concepts than quality of writing or development of plot and character.
I just found out from Joseph that you read this one too at the same time as me and a few others. If we’d only known, we could have had a read-along! In any case, what frustrates me about Wells’ novels (so far), is that I think he does have something interesting to communicate and tries to do it, but seems incapable of doing it well. As others have noted, his concepts are good, they just get thin and stretched out through lack of development and clunkiness in the way he communicates those ideas.
I really enjoyed reading your review! I think most of us came to the same conclusions!
It was a spur of the moment decision to read this book and I discovered too late that others had just finished reading it too! I agree with your view of Wells’ novels – his ideas are fascinating but aren’t matched by his storytelling abilities. I did enjoy reading this one, though, and will continue to work my way through his other books.