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The Time Machine Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Posted by j128 in Classics of World Literature, Science Fiction.

First edition of

First edition cover of The Time Machine

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells is a science fiction novel, first published in 1895, and is cited to have developed an interest in the possibilities of time travel via a machine, such as the one described in the book. The term “time machine”, coined by Mr. Wells, is universal in regards to such a vehicle.

The History of The Time Machine

Mr. Wells had actually explored the concept of time travel in a previous, lesser-known story called The Chronic Argonauts; when asked by his publisher to write a serial novel based upon the subject, he readily accepted and wrote it based it on the Block Theory of the Universe, and was paid £100 upon its publication.

The Time Machine‘s published book form was slightly abridged when it was released: an extract from the eleventh chapter was censored from the book as it was believed to be too frightening and disturbing and it has been subsequently released as The Grey Man. The censored excerpt is contained in the summary.


The story begins with the Time Traveller, the protagonist of the novel, who has just demonstrated to his invited guests by using a miniature model, that time is a fourth dimension and that a suitable apparatus can move back and forth in this fourth dimension. He built a larger machine that could carry himself and set off into the future.

Next Thursday, he returns and details his journey to his guests, which takes up the length of the book except for the last chapter or two. He describes that while time traveling it gives a feeling of disorientation to one and as the machine travels farther and farther into the future, the outside sceneries become a blur and the Time Traveller witnesses the rapid changes and evolution that occurs in the sceneries surrounding him until finally arriving in the year 802, 701 A.D.

In the year 802, 701 A.D. the Time Traveller discovers a idyllic, utopian, and peaceful future where a kind of subspecies of humans live and they are called the Eloi. They are described as being simple, childlike, and happy, and are about four feet tall with curly hair, small ears and mouths, and large eyes. There is hardly any distinction between the men and women as they are similar in build, and they have high-pitched voices and speak an unknown language, and are apparently unintelligent and live without conflict or fighting.

The Eloi live in large futuristic but dilapidated buildings, and the land around London has become a sort of sprawling garden with many curious flowerings and fruits. The Eloi eat the fruits, of which their diet solely consists of. There isn’t any evidence of technology or agriculture, which the Eloi seem incapable of doing.

The Eloi eagerly accept the Time Traveller into their community and share a meal with him, which is a spread banquet with a variety of fruits, but the Time Traveller begins yearning for a nice piece of meat, and tries to speak to them, only for the Eloi to be confused.

Afterwards he decides to explore the area and with a scientific mind, and explains the future he is in hypothetically: he muses over the factors that have resulted in the Eloi’s society and physical conditions, being that humanity had finally been successful in transforming and controlling nature through the technology, art, creativity, and politics the Eloi developed; furthermore, due to the discontinuation of improving life with technology, agriculture, and other innovations the Eloi developed a lack of intelligence and became unimaginative and lost their curiosity regarding the world.

Without work, the Eloi became physically frail and weak, and became shorter in stature. This is especially so since there is nothing to distinguish between the sexes, as in former times males had worked but now in this future they have a loss of physique, which explains the reason for this lacking dimorphism. The Time Traveller also supposes preventative medicine was also developed as there isn’t any evidence of disease among the Eloi and that also some form of birth control had been implemented so as to prevent overpopulation.

At sunset, he finds the Time Machine has disappeared and thinks that perhaps the Eloi moved it to their sanctuary, but it isn’t there, and when he begins trying to communicate with them, his behaviour and manner frightens them. He gives up trying to explain and searches for the Time Machine all night until finally falling into a restless sleep.

As the Time Traveller continues his explorations, he discovers that the utopian society is actually deceptive in that the class structure has survived from his own time and humanity has diverged into two branches: the Eloi are actually devolved from the wealthy class, and he also discovers that deep below in the depths of darkness are the fearful Morlocks, which have stemmed from the working classes bent under the wealthy, which are faintly hominid, yet cannabalistic, and resemble human spiders. They work underground and maintain the machinery that keep the Eloi – which they feed upon – docile and plentiful. They only surface at night and any unfortunate Eloi that is still wandering meets its horrible death.

During his stay in this future, the Time Traveller rescues a female Eloi from drowning, and her name is Weena. Surprisingly, she remains grateful to him and follows him everywhere, and over time the Time Traveller does develop affectionate feelings for her.

The Time Traveller eventually ascertains the Morlocks took the Time Machine into the depths of the underground in which they dwell and he goes down to find it, only to have the Morlocks groping his clothing as he makes his descent, and he only manages to keep them away with his matches. He hears loud thumping of machinery and only just manages to escape the darkness and the Morlocks.

Sometime afterwards, he and Weena go exploring and rest at night in a meadow with flowers. Weena is fast asleep while the Time Traveller has discovered the horrific realization that the Morlocks feed upon the Eloi, and the poor creatures are unaware of this horrible, horrible fact.

The Time Traveller and Weena arrive at the Palace of Green Porcelain, which is realized by the Time Traveller to be the remains of a great museum. Inside, they find various artifacts of past ages such as dinosaur fossils, minerals, machines of war, and all other things that build civilizations and that which makes them great. Weena grows apprehensive as the museum continues into darkness and the Time Traveller senses the presence of the Morlocks. He takes some of the artifacts with him as weapons: matches, camphor, and a crowbar.

The Time Traveller, with Weena in one arm, and his weapons in the other, tries to escape the persisting darkness, the Morlocks stalk him. Finally, he has to set Weena down to defend himself, and throws a lighted branch at the Morlocks, which are repelled temporarily.

He lights a fire, by which Weena is fascinated and tries to play with it, only for the Time Traveller to dissuade her from such a notion. Sitting down in the forest, the Time Traveller fights sleep only to succumb to it. Later, he wakes up, and the fire is burning low and the Morlocks have surrounded him and Weena.

The Time Traveller defends himself and Weena, attacking the Morlocks, and in the confusion the forest goes up in flames, and he is lost, and Weena is nowhere to be found, whom he comes to believe to be dead.

Now that he knows the Morlocks most certainly possess the Time Machine, he goes back down into the Morlocks’ territory and there he finds his invention. The Morlocks trap him and the Time Traveller only just narrowly escapes when he propels himself into the future.

[What follows is the censored excerpt published elsewhere as The Grey Man.]

The Time Traveller wakes up in his Time Machine after escaping the Morlocks and finds himself in an unrecognizable far future. He sees peculiar creatures, resembling rabbits or some small breed of kangaroos, only to discover they are actually some kind of plantigrade, and he suddenly sees a score of them. He hopes to capture a speciman and successfully stuns one by hitting it on the head with a stone.

Upon closer inspection, he discovers the creature has five feeble digits on both its fore and hind legs like that of a human, a roundish head with eyes positioned in the front, and lank hair. It is also tailess and has long legs.

The Time Traveller has to abandon his specimen when a giant, metallic centipede-like creature comes, and all the other grey creatures flee. He goes one day forward and finds the centipede-like predator gone and his specimen as well. He tries to capture another of these grey creatures but to no avail as none of his aims are as successful as his first one. He theorizes that these grey creatures are descendants of the Eloi and travels further into the future.

[As the above summary of the incident of the grey creatures was deemed too disturbing, it was subsequently omitted from the published book, and the following was substituted.]

The Time Traveller travels about thirty million years into the future and arrives on a kind of beach, where monstrous crabs try to grab him for a meal, but he sets one month between himself and the creatures, only to arrive again at the same spot with the crabs looming in the distance.

He continues to travel into the future, stopping every once or so in a while, curious to learn and observe the Earth’s fate. Towards the very end of the world, the only remaining life left are small life forms such as lichen and the Earth is very dead, now a harsh environment and the Time Traveller is so shocked by this revelation that he feels incapable of making the return journey, but when he sees a roundish creature about the size of a football (soccer ball) with tentacles falling from its body, the mere sight of it frightens him, pivoting him to launch the Time Machine back to his own time, with the sceneries whizzing past him at a blurring pace and he arrives back at the time where the story began.

All but one of the guests are skeptical, the only one who is not is the other narrator who is never named. They go home, with the narrator fascinated by the incredible story the Time Traveller told, yet it was so credibly and soberly told. Next day, he goes to meet the Time Traveller, and the young scientist tells the narrator to stay for lunch and that he’ll be with him within half an hour.

The narrator consents and waits for the Time Traveller. But the Time Traveller has disappeared into time and hasn’t come back yet – he’s been missing for three years.

Recommended Editions of The Time Machine

The Time Machine is indeed a marvelous work of literature and art, and it is my favourite by Mr. Wells. His writing is so compelling and creative, and the words and phrases he uses to describe his ideas and stories so well are such fine examples as are found in good storytelling.

I’ve only ever listened to The Time Machine and so I can’t really recommend it in book form, though I do suspect none of them contain The Grey Man, but if one wishes to, he can find a link below for the “short story.”

  • For audio books, I would recommend the Recorded Books (1996) edition and it is available on audio CD. It is unabridged, containing four discs, totaling four hours in length, and is excellently narrated by Simon Prebble.

Film Adaptations

Two film adaptations have been made of The Time Machine, one in 1960 and a remake in 2002 by Mr. Wells great-grandson Simon Wells. I haven’t seen either, but from my reading of the reviews, they are only loosely adapted and they each make some drastic changes to the plotline, such as the Eloi fighting against the Morlocks towards the end of the 1960 film or the Time Traveller having a girlfriend who is killed, which in turn inspires him to travel in time to prevent her death, only for her death to be a temporal paradox in the 2002 version. I really can’t say what I think about them, only that I don’t feel in any rush to see them.


The Time Machine

Review of The Time Machine About.com

Teacher’s Guide to The Time Machine – PDF format

Summary of The Time Machine – Wikipedia article

The Time Machine at Wikisource (complete)

The Grey Man at Wikisource

The Time Machine on Project Gutenberg

How Time Travel Works

Topics related to The Time Machine

Heat death – one of the “end of the universe” theories; Mr. Wells’ interpretation of heat death is based on the imaginings of scientists of his day, such as William Thomson, First Baron Kelvin (Lord Kelvin), who developed ideas during the 1850s.



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