The Time Machine
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The Time Machine is a science fiction novella by H. G. Wells, published in 1895 and written as a frame narrative. The work is generally credited with the popularization of the concept of time travel by using a vehicle that allows an operator to travel purposely and selectively forwards or backwards in time. The term "time machine", coined by Wells, is now almost universally used to refer to such a vehicle.
First edition cover
|Author||H. G. Wells|
|Cover artist||Ben Hardy|
|Text||The Time Machine at Wikisource|
The Time Machine has been adapted into three feature films of the same name, as well as two television versions, and a large number of comic book adaptations. It has also indirectly inspired many more works of fiction in many media productions.
Wells had considered the notion of time travel before, in a short story titled "The Chronic Argonauts" (1888). This work, published in his college newspaper, was the foundation for The Time Machine.
Wells frequently stated that he had thought of using some of this material in a series of articles in the Pall Mall Gazette until the publisher asked him if he could instead write a serial novel on the same theme. Wells readily agreed and was paid £100 (equal to about £11,000 today) on its publication by Heinemann in 1895, which first published the story in serial form in the January to May numbers of The New Review (newly under the nominal editorship of W. E. Henley). Henry Holt and Company published the first book edition (possibly prepared from a different manuscript) on 7 May 1895; Heinemann published an English edition on 29 May. These two editions are different textually and are commonly referred to as the "Holt text" and "Heinemann text", respectively. Nearly all modern reprints reproduce the Heinemann text.
The story reflects Wells's own socialist political views, his view on life and abundance, and the contemporary angst about industrial relations. It is also influenced by Ray Lankester's theories about social degeneration and shares many elements with Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novel Vril, the Power of the Coming Race (1871). Other science fiction works of the period, including Edward Bellamy's novel Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (1888) and the later film Metropolis (1927), dealt with similar themes.
Based on Wells' personal experiences and childhood, the working class literally spent a lot of their time underground. His own family would spend most of their time in a dark basement kitchen when not being occupied in their father's shop. Later, his own mother would work as a housekeeper in a house with underground tunnels, where the staff and servants lived in underground quarters. A medical journal published in 1905 would focus on these living quarters for servants in poorly ventilated dark basements. In his early teens, Wells became a draper's apprentice, having to work in a basement for hours on end.
This work is an early example of the Dying Earth subgenre. The portion of the novella that sees the Time Traveller in a distant future where the sun is huge and red also places The Time Machine within the realm of eschatology, i.e. the study of the end times, the end of the world, and the ultimate destiny of humankind.
The book's protagonist is an English scientist and gentleman inventor living in Richmond, Surrey, in Victorian England, and identified by a narrator simply as the Time Traveller. The narrator recounts the Traveller's lecture to his weekly dinner guests that time is simply a fourth dimension and his demonstration of a tabletop model machine for travelling through it. He reveals that he has built a machine capable of carrying a person through time, and returns at dinner the following week to recount a remarkable tale, becoming the new narrator.
In the new narrative, the Time Traveller tests his device. At first he thinks nothing has happened but soon finds out he went five hours into the future. He continues forward and sees his house disappear and turn into a lush garden. The Time Traveller stops in A.D. 802,701, where he meets the Eloi, a society of small, elegant, childlike adults. They live in small communities within large and futuristic yet slowly deteriorating buildings, and having a fruit-based diet. His efforts to communicate with them are hampered by their lack of curiosity or discipline. They appear happy and carefree, but fear the dark and in particular fear moonless nights. Observing them, he finds that they give no response to mysterious nocturnal disappearances. (Perhaps they had become traumatized and would not discuss it.) He speculates that they are a peaceful society.
Returning to the site where he arrived, the Time Traveller is shocked to find his time machine missing and eventually concludes that it has been dragged by some unknown party into a nearby structure with heavy doors, locked from the inside, which resembles a Sphinx. Luckily, he had removed the machine's levers before leaving it (the time machine being unable to travel through time without them). Later in the dark, he is approached menacingly by the Morlocks, ape-like troglodytes who live in darkness underground and surface only at night. Exploring one of many "wells" that lead to the Morlocks' dwellings, he discovers the machinery and industry that makes the above-ground paradise of the Eloi possible. He alters his theory, speculating that the human race has evolved into two species: the leisured classes have become the ineffectual Eloi, and the downtrodden working classes have become the brutal light-fearing Morlocks.
Deducing that the Morlocks have taken his time machine, he explores the Morlock tunnels, learning that due to a lack of any other means of sustenance, they feed on the Eloi. His revised analysis is that their relationship is not one of lords and servants but of livestock and ranchers. The Time Traveller theorizes that intelligence is the result of and response to danger; with no real challenges facing the Eloi, they have lost the spirit, intelligence, and physical fitness of humanity at its peak.
Meanwhile, he saves an Eloi named Weena from drowning as none of the other Eloi take any notice of her plight, and they develop an innocently affectionate relationship over the course of several days. He takes Weena with him on an expedition to a distant structure that turns out to be the remains of a museum, where he finds a fresh supply of matches and fashions a crude weapon against Morlocks, whom he must fight to get back his machine. He plans to take Weena back to his own time. Because the long and tiring journey back to Weena's home is too much for them, they stop in the forest, and they are then overcome by Morlocks in the night, and Weena faints. The Traveller escapes when a small fire he had left behind them to distract the Morlocks catches up to them as a forest fire; Weena and the pursuing Morlocks are lost in the fire and the Time Traveller is devastated over his loss.
The Morlocks open the Sphinx and use the time machine as bait to capture the Traveller not understanding that he will use it to escape. He reattaches the levers before he travels further ahead to roughly 30 million years from his own time. There he sees some of the last living things on a dying Earth: Menacing reddish crab-like creatures slowly wandering the blood-red beaches chasing enormous butterflies, in a world covered in simple lichenous vegetation. He continues to make jumps forward through time, seeing Earth's rotation gradually cease and the sun grow larger, redder, and dimmer, and the world falling silent and freezing as the last degenerate living things die out.
Overwhelmed, he goes back to the machine and returns to Victorian time, arriving at his laboratory just three hours after he originally left. He arrives late to his own dinner party, and after eating, relates his adventures to his disbelieving visitors, producing as evidence two strange white flowers Weena had put in his pocket. The original narrator then takes over and relates that he returned to the Time Traveller's house the next day, finding him preparing for another journey. The Time Traveller promises to return in a short time, but the narrator reveals that he has waited three years before writing, and the Time Traveller has never returned.
A section from the eleventh chapter of the serial published in New Review (May 1895) was deleted from the book. It was drafted at the suggestion of Wells's editor, William Ernest Henley, who wanted Wells to "oblige your editor" by lengthening the text with, among other things, an illustration of "the ultimate degeneracy" of humanity. "There was a slight struggle," Wells later recalled, "between the writer and W. E. Henley who wanted, he said, to put a little 'writing' into the tale. But the writer was in reaction from that sort of thing, the Henley interpolations were cut out again, and he had his own way with his text." This portion of the story was published elsewhere as "The Grey Man". The deleted text was also published by Forrest J Ackerman in an issue of the American edition of Perry Rhodan.
The deleted text recounts an incident immediately after the Traveller's escape from the Morlocks. He finds himself in the distant future of an unrecognisable Earth, populated with furry, hopping herbivores resembling kangaroos. He stuns or kills one with a rock, and upon closer examination realises they are probably the descendants of humans / Eloi / Morlocks. A gigantic, centipede-like arthropod approaches and the Traveller flees into the next day, finding that the creature has apparently eaten the tiny humanoid. The Dover Press and Easton Press editions of the novella restore this deleted segment.
Significant scholarly commentary on The Time Machine began from the early 1960s, initially contained in various broad studies of Wells's early novels (such as Bernard Bergonzi's The Early H.G. Wells: A Study of the Scientific Romances) and studies of utopias/dystopias in science fiction (such as Mark R. Hillegas's The Future as Nightmare: H.G. Wells and the Anti-Utopians). Much critical and textual work was done in the 1970s, including the tracing of the very complex publication history of the text, its drafts and unpublished fragments.
A further resurgence in scholarship came around the time of the novella's centenary in 1995, and a major outcome of this was the 1995 conference and substantial anthology of academic papers, which was collected in print as H.G. Wells’s Perennial Time Machine. This publication then allowed the development of a guide-book for academic study at Master's and Ph.D. level: H.G. Wells's The Time Machine: A Reference Guide.
The scholarly journal The Wellsian has published around twenty articles on The Time Machine, and a U.S. academic journal The Undying Fire, devoted to H.G. Wells studies, has published three articles since its inception in 2002. Richard Wasson explores the use in The Time Machine of myth and ex-nomination of class.
Subtext of the names Eloi and MorlockEdit
Wells' source for the name morlock is less clear. It may refer to the Canaanite god Moloch associated with child sacrifice. The name Morlock may be a play on mollocks – what miners might call themselves – or a Scots word for rubbish, or a reference to the Morlacchi community in Dalmatia. Regarding the latter hypothesis, it might be noted that the Balkan Morlachs had attracted the attention of West and Central European travellers and writers, including famous ones such as Johann Gottfried Herder and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and were often described and depicted in various writings as an archetype of "primitive people", "backwardness", "barbarism", and the like.
The Time Machine can be read as a symbolic novel. The time machine itself can be viewed as a symbol, and there are several symbols in the narrative, including the Sphinx, flowers, and fire.
- The statue of the Sphinx is the place where the Morlocks hide the time machine and references the Sphinx in the story of Oedipus who gives a riddle that he must first solve before he can pass. The Sphinx appeared on the cover of the first London edition as requested by Wells and would have been familiar to his readers.
- The white flowers can symbolize Weena's devotion and innocence and contrast with the machinery of the time machine. They are the only proof that the Time Traveller's story is true.
- Fire symbolizes civilization: the Time Traveller uses it to ward off the Morlocks, but it escapes his control and turns into a forest fire.
Radio and audioEdit
Escape radio broadcastsEdit
The CBS radio anthology Escape adapted The Time Machine twice, in 1948 starring Jeff Corey, and again in 1950 starring Lawrence Dobkin as the traveller. In both episodes, a script adapted by Irving Ravetch was used. The Time Traveller was named Dudley and was accompanied by his skeptical friend Fowler as they traveled to the year 100,080.
1994 Alien Voices audio dramaEdit
In 1994, an audio drama was released on cassette and CD by Alien Voices, starring Leonard Nimoy as the Time Traveller (named John in this adaptation) and John de Lancie as David Filby. John de Lancie's children, Owen de Lancie and Keegan de Lancie, played the parts of the Eloi. The drama is approximately two hours long and is more faithful to the story than several of the film adaptations. Some changes are made to reflect modern language and knowledge of science.
In 2000, Alan Young read The Time Machine for 7th Voyage Productions, Inc., in 2016 to celebrate the 120th Anniversary of H.G. Wells' novella.
2009 BBC Radio 3 broadcastEdit
Robert Glenister starred as the Time Traveller, with William Gaunt as H. G. Wells in a new 100-minute radio dramatisation by Philip Osment, directed by Jeremy Mortimer as part of a BBC Radio Science Fiction season. This was the first adaptation of the novella for British radio. It was first broadcast on 22 February 2009 on BBC Radio 3 and later published as a 2-CD BBC audio book.
The other cast members were:
- Donnla Hughes as Martha
- Gunnar Cauthery as Young H. G. Wells
- Stephen Critchlow as Filby, friend of the young Wells
- Chris Pavlo as Bennett, friend of the young Wells
- Manjeet Mann as Mrs. Watchett, the Traveller's housemaid
- Jill Crado as Weena, one of the Eloi and the Traveller's partner
- Robert Lonsdale, Inam Mirza, and Dan Starkey as other characters
The adaptation retained the nameless status of the Time Traveller and set it as a true story told to the young Wells by the time traveller, which Wells then re-tells as an older man to the American journalist, Martha, whilst firewatching on the roof of Broadcasting House during the Blitz. It also retained the deleted ending from the novella as a recorded message sent back to Wells from the future by the traveller using a prototype of his machine, with the traveller escaping the anthropoid creatures to 30 million AD at the end of the universe before disappearing or dying there.
Platt explained in an interview that adapting The Time Machine to audio was not much different to writing Doctor Who, and that he can see where some of the roots of early Doctor Who came from.
1949 BBC teleplayEdit
The first visual adaptation of the book was a live teleplay broadcast from Alexandra Palace on 25 January 1949 by the BBC, which starred Russell Napier as the Time Traveller and Mary Donn as Weena. No recording of this live broadcast was made; the only record of the production is the script and a few black and white still photographs. A reading of the script, however, suggests that this teleplay remained fairly faithful to the book.
In 1960, the novella was made into an American science fiction film, also known promotionally as H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. The film starred Rod Taylor, Alan Young, and Yvette Mimieux. The film was produced and directed by George Pal, who also filmed a 1953 version of Wells' The War of the Worlds. The film won an Academy Award for time-lapse photographic effects showing the world changing rapidly.
In 1993, Rod Taylor hosted Time Machine: The Journey Back reuniting him with Alan Young and Whit Bissell, featuring the only sequel to Mr. Pal's classic film, written by the original screenwriter, David Duncan. In the special were Academy Award-winners special effect artists Wah Chang and Gene Warren.
1978 television filmEdit
Sunn Classic Pictures produced a television film version of The Time Machine as a part of their "Classics Illustrated" series in 1978. It was a modernization of the Wells' story, making the Time Traveller a 1970s scientist working for a fictional US defence contractor, "the Mega Corporation". Dr. Neil Perry (John Beck), the Time Traveller, is described as one of Mega's most reliable contributors by his senior co-worker Branly (Whit Bissell, an alumnus of the 1960 adaptation). Perry's skill is demonstrated by his rapid reprogramming of an off-course missile, averting a disaster that could destroy Los Angeles. His reputation secures a grant of $20 million for his time machine project. Although nearing completion, the corporation wants Perry to put the project on hold so that he can head a military weapon development project. Perry accelerates work on the time machine, permitting him to test it before being forced to work on the new project.
The 1960 film was remade in 2002, starring Guy Pearce as the Time Traveller, a mechanical engineering professor named Alexander Hartdegen, Mark Addy as his colleague David Filby, Sienna Guillory as Alex's ill-fated fiancée Emma, Phyllida Law as Mrs. Watchit, and Jeremy Irons as the Uber-Morlock. Playing a quick cameo as a shopkeeper was Alan Young, who featured in the 1960 film. (H.G. Wells himself can also be said to have a "cameo" appearance, in the form of a photograph on the wall of Alex's home, near the front door.)
The film was directed by Wells's great-grandson Simon Wells, with an even more revised plot that incorporated the ideas of paradoxes and changing the past. The place is changed from Richmond, Surrey, to downtown New York City, where the Time Traveller moves forward in time to find answers to his questions on 'Practical Application of Time Travel;' first in 2030 New York, to witness an orbital lunar catastrophe in 2037, before moving on to 802,701 for the main plot. He later briefly finds himself in 635,427,810 with toxic clouds and a world laid waste (presumably by the Morlocks) with devastation and Morlock artifacts stretching out to the horizon.
It was met with generally mixed reviews and earned $56 million before VHS/DVD sales. The Time Machine used a design that was very reminiscent of the one in the Pal film but was much larger and employed polished turned brass construction, along with rotating glass reminiscent of the Fresnel lenses common to lighthouses. (In Wells's original book, the Time Traveller mentioned his 'scientific papers on optics'). Hartdegen becomes involved with a female Eloi named Mara, played by Samantha Mumba, who essentially takes the place of Weena, from the earlier versions of the story. In this film, the Eloi have, as a tradition, preserved a "stone language" that is identical to English. The Morlocks are much more barbaric and agile, and the Time Traveller has a direct impact on the plot.
Time After Time (1979 film)Edit
In Time After Time, H.G. Wells invents a time machine and shows it to some friends in a manner similar to the first part of the novella. He does not know that one of his friends is Jack The Ripper. The Ripper, fleeing police, escapes to the future (1979), but without a key which prevents the machine from remaining in the future. When it does return home, Wells follows him in order to protect the future (which he imagines to be a utopia) from the Ripper. In turn, the film inspired a 2017 TV series of the same name.
Classics Illustrated was the first to adapt The Time Machine into a comic book format, issuing an American edition in July 1956.
The Classics Illustrated version was published in French by Classiques Illustres in Dec 1957, and Classics Illustrated Strato Publications (Australian) in 1957, and Kuvitettuja Klassikkoja (a Finnish edition) in November 1957. There were also Classics Illustrated Greek editions in 1976, Swedish in 1987, German in 1992 and 2001, and a Canadian reprint of the English edition in 2008.
In 1976, Marvel Comics published a new version of The Time Machine, as #2 in their Marvel Classics Comics series, with art by Alex Niño. (This adaptation was originally published in 1973 by Pendulum Press as part of their Pendulum Now Age Classics series; it was colorized and reprinted by Marvel in 1976.) From April 1990, Eternity Comics published a three-issue miniseries adaptation of The Time Machine, written by Bill Spangler and illustrated by John Ross — this was collected as a trade paperback graphic novel in 1991.
Wells's novella has become one of the cornerstones of science-fiction literature. As a result, it has spawned many offspring. Works expanding on Wells's story include:
- La Belle Valence by Théo Varlet and André Blandin (1923) in which a squadron of World War I soldiers find the Time Machine and are transported back to the Spanish town of Valencia in the 14th century. Translated by Brian Stableford as Timeslip Troopers (2012).
- Die Rückkehr der Zeitmaschine (1946) by Egon Friedell was the first direct sequel. It dwells heavily on the technical details of the machine and the time-paradoxes it might cause when the time machine was used to visit the past. This culminates in Westminster Abbey being used as a butcher shop of human beings by the Morlocks in the 20th century, and a total disruption and collapse of the time stream. There the hero and Merlin must find — and destroy — the Time Machine, to restore the time stream and history. The 24,000-word German original was translated into English by Eddy C. Bertin in the 1940s and eventually published in paperback as The Return of the Time Machine (1972, DAW).
- The Hertford Manuscript by Richard Cowper, first published in 1976. It features a "manuscript", which reports the Time Traveller's activities after the end of the original story. According to this manuscript, the Time Traveller disappeared, because his Time Machine had been damaged by the Morlocks without him knowing it. He only found out when it stopped operating during his next attempted time travel. He found himself on 27 August 1665, in London during the outbreak of the Great Plague of London. The rest of the novel is devoted to his efforts to repair the Time Machine and leave this time period before getting infected with the disease. He also has an encounter with Robert Hooke. He eventually dies of the disease on 20 September 1665. The story gives a list of subsequent owners of the manuscript until 1976. It also gives the name of the Time Traveller as Robert James Pensley, born to James and Martha Pensley in 1850 and disappearing without trace on 18 June 1894.
- The Space Machine by Christopher Priest, first published in 1976. Because of the movement of planets, stars, and galaxies, for a time machine to stay in one spot on Earth as it travels through time, it must also follow the Earth's trajectory through space. In Priest's book, a travelling salesman damages a Time Machine similar to the original, and arrives on Mars, just before the start of the invasion described in The War of the Worlds. H.G. Wells appears as a minor character.
- Morlock Night by K. W. Jeter, first published in 1979. A steampunk fantasy novel in which the Morlocks, having studied the Traveller's machine, duplicate it and invade Victorian London.
- Time Machine II by George Pal and Joe Morhaim, published in 1981. The Time Traveller, named George, and the pregnant Weena try to return to his time, but instead land in the London Blitz, dying during a bombing raid. Their newborn son is rescued by an American ambulance driver and grows up in the United States under the name Christopher Jones. Sought out by the lookalike son of James Filby, Jones goes to England to collect his inheritance, leading ultimately to George's journals, and the Time Machine's original plans. He builds his own machine with 1970s upgrades and seeks his parents in the future. Pal also worked on a detailed synopsis for a third sequel, which was partly filmed for a 1980s U.S. TV special on the making of Pal's film version of The Time Machine, using the original actors. This third sequel, the plot of which does not seem to fit with Pal's second, opens with the Time Traveller enjoying a happy life with Weena, in a future world in which the Morlocks have died out. He and his son return to save Filby in World War I. This act changes the future, causing the nuclear war not to happen. He and his son are thus cut off from Weena in the far future. The Time Traveller thus has to solve a dilemma — allow his friend to die, and cause the later death of millions, or give up Weena forever.
- The Man Who Loved Morlocks (1981) and The Truth about Weena (1998) are two different sequels, the former a novel and the latter a short story, by David J. Lake. Each of them concerns the Time Traveller's return to the future. In the former, he discovers that he cannot enter any period in time he has already visited, forcing him to travel into the further future, where he finds love with a woman whose race evolved from Morlock stock. In the latter, he is accompanied by Wells and succeeds in rescuing Weena and bringing her back to the 1890s, where her political ideas cause a peaceful revolution.
- The Time Ships, by Stephen Baxter, first published in 1995. This sequel was officially authorised by the Wells estate to mark the centenary of the original's publication. In its wide-ranging narrative, the Traveller's desire to return and rescue Weena is thwarted by the fact that he has changed history (by telling his tale to his friends, one of whom published the account). With a Morlock (in the new history, the Morlocks are intelligent and cultured), he travels through the multiverse as increasingly complicated timelines unravel around him, eventually meeting mankind's far future descendants, whose ambition is to travel back to the birth of the universe, and modify the way the multiverse will unfold. This sequel includes many nods to the prehistory of Wells's story in the names of characters and chapters.
- The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider Get Down: A Dime Novel by Joe R. Lansdale, first published in The Long Ones (1999). In this story, the Time Traveller accidentally damages the space-time continuum and is transformed into the vampire-like Dark Rider.
- The 2003 short story "On the Surface" by Robert J. Sawyer begins with this quote from the Wells original: "I have suspected since that the Morlocks had even partially taken it [the time machine] to pieces while trying in their dim way to grasp its purpose." In the Sawyer story, the Morlocks develop a fleet of time machines and use them to conquer the same far future Wells depicted at the end of the original, by which time, because the sun has grown red and dim and thus no longer blinds them, they can reclaim the surface of the world.
- The Time Traveller and his machine appear in the story Allan and the Sundered Veil by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill, which acts as a prequel to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume One. The Time Traveller shares an adventure with fellow literary icons Allan Quatermain, John Carter, and Randolph Carter.
- David Haden's novelette The Time Machine: A Sequel (2010) is a direct sequel, picking up where the original finished. The Time Traveller goes back to rescue Weena but finds the Eloi less simple than he first imagined, and time travel far more complicated.
- Simon Baxter's novel The British Empire: Psychic Battalions Against the Morlocks (2010) imagines a steampunk/cyberpunk future in which the British Empire has remained the dominant world force until the Morlocks arrive from the future.
- Hal Colebatch's Time-Machine Troopers (2011) (Acashic Publishers) is twice the length of the original. In it, the Time Traveller returns to the future world about 18 years after the time he escaped from the Morlocks, taking with him Robert Baden-Powell, the real-world founder of the Boy Scout movement. They set out to teach the Eloi self-reliance and self-defence against the Morlocks, but the Morlocks capture them. H.G. Wells and Winston Churchill are also featured as characters.
- Paul Schullery's The Time Traveller's Tale: Chronicle of a Morlock Captivity (2012) continues the story in the voice and manner of the original Wells book. After many years' absence, the Time Traveller returns and describes his further adventures. His attempts to mobilize the Eloi in their own defense against the Morlocks failed when he was captured by the Morlocks. Much of the book is occupied with his deeply unsettling discoveries about the Morlock / Eloi symbiosis, his gradual assimilation into Morlock society, and his ultimately successful attempt to discover the true cause of humanity's catastrophic transformation into two such tragic races.
- The Great Illustrated Classics in 1992 published an adaptation of Wells' novella that adds an extra destination to the Time Traveller's adventure: Stopping in 2200 AD on his way back home, he becomes caught up in a civil war between factions of a technocratic society that was established to avert ecological catastrophe.
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- Stover, Leon (1996). The Time Machine: An invention – A critical text of the 1895 London first edition. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. p. 9. ISBN 0786401249.
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- Media related to The Time Machine at Wikimedia Commons
- Works related to The Time Machine at Wikisource
- Quotations related to The Time Machine at Wikiquote
- The Time Machine at Project Gutenberg
- "Selected Bibliography of Scholarship on H.G. Wells's The Time Machine"
- The Time Machine public domain audiobook at LibriVox