I went on a bit of a classic sci fi spree this autumn—although with limited success, since I didn’t greatly like The Invisible Man or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde! I think that may be why I kept reading them—I wanted to find one I liked! I heard good things about The Time Machine by H. G. Wells…and I am happy to report a successful conclusion to the quest, as it was a huge improvement on the previous two!
The Time Machine begins with a kind of frame story, with the unnamed Time Traveller telling his friends about his theory of time as a fourth dimension man might move through. This is a bit dull for a chapter or two—but then the friends come in for another dinner, and are surprised to see the bedraggled Time Traveller come staggering in. He then begins an extended story about his travels 800,000 years into the future, about the child-like Eloi and the hideous, subterranean-dwelling Morlocks.
This is a huge improvement on my previous two forays into classic sci fi because, apart from the first couple chapters, we’re firmly grounded in the main character’s point of view! In fact, all three books share the similarity of coming from an outside perspective, with the main character eventually telling his story—except probably 80% of The Time Machine is occupied by the Time Traveller’s story, rather than maybe 25% of The Invisible Man, and even less of Jekyll and Hyde.
The Time Traveller is not exactly a complex and developed character, but this is made up for by his exciting adventures. He’s essentially sojourning into foreign lands (even though he mostly stays on the banks of the Thames), meeting strange people and trying to decipher strange customs. The mysteries are engaging and the threats are real and alarming.
After traveling 800,000 years forward, the Time Traveller goes hundreds of thousands of years farther on, to a strange, dying Earth. This is as creepy as the Morlocks, and almost sadder than the society of 800,000. The Time Traveller first sees humanity turned degenerate, but his trip farther forward sees humanity gone—and perhaps worse, forgotten.
There’s a sadness to the book, to say the least, with its social commentary and its suggestion of the ultimate futility of it all. So I’m very glad for the presence of Weena. The Time Traveller’s little friend and, perhaps, love interest from 800,000 years in the future, Weena offers just a little hope for mankind. When all the other virtues have faded, kindness and gratitude still survive. And even though she has a sad ending, I like to think there may be an unwritten epilogue for her, after the story ends—because an ending that wasn’t definite to begin with becomes even less so in a book involving time travel!
I doubt that’s what Wells had in mind—it doesn’t seem like him. But even if he didn’t write us a happy ending, he did write an exciting adventure through time. And I feel I can conclude my quest through classic sci fi satisfied!
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4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Time Machine”
So have you ever read anything by Jules Verne? He can be a bit wordy, but some of his books are a great deal of fun. The sequel to “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “The Mysterious Island,” is probably my favorite. C.S. Lewis also wrote a sci-fi trilogy that is quite readable as well.
You know, I’ve never read anything by H.G. Wells, but have had a desire to. Wonder if I ever will!
I am so pleased to hear you enjoyed this one as I have it on my Classics Club list to read 🙂
An interesting feature of The Time Machine is that it can be revised to meet the concerns of the present generation. Wells initially saw the degenerate society of the far future as an outgrowth of the British class system of the late 19th century, with the upper class growing beautiful but useless (except as food) as the working class grew functional but disgusting. (We never learn what the future is like outside England.) George Pal’s 1960 movie, in the midst of the Cold War, saw the Morlock-Eloi split as a result of World War III. The most recent movie said the problem was caused by abuse of the environment. Perhaps that’s the sign of a great work of literature, that it can be given a universal theme.