Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Review of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

The possibility of time travel has been a topic of hot debate and intriguing theories among science fiction fans and legitimate scientists alike. Time travel has also been a central theme in literature for more than 100 years. One of the first major writers to tackle the subject was H.G. Wells with the publication of The Time Machine way back in 1895.

Although The Time Machine frequently appears on junior high, high school, and even college reading lists, I managed to avoid the novella throughout my entire academic career. In fact, the first taste I got of The Time Machine was when I watched the 2002 movie of the same name starring Guy Pearce. So I actually started reading this novella expecting one thing, but of course besides the most basic plot of time travel, the two versions are not very much alike.

In Wells' novella, the reader is first introduced to a group of educated men who regularly meet for dinner at one of the member's home. This particular member is never given a name, but is merely referred to as The Time Traveler. At one of these dinners, The Time Traveler launches into a scientific discussion and urges his companions to consider time as the fourth dimension, which apparently was a ground-breaking concept back in 1895. To add credence to his arguments, The Time Traveler produces a miniature time machine from his pocket and makes it disappear -- ostensibly by sending it into the future. While The Time Traveler's dinner companions are amused, they think that they have just been treated to a magic trick rather than to a real demonstration of time travel.

What the gentlemen don't know is that The Time Traveler has a much larger version of the time machine in his laboratory and is putting the finishing touches on it. He invites his friends over for dinner once again in a week's time. Until then, he goes to work on his machine, and even his faithful housekeeper is not allowed inside the laboratory to disturb him.

The week passes, and the gentlemen convene for dinner once again. The Time Traveler, however, is nowhere to be seen. The housekeeper has a letter from him, which instructs the gentlemen to proceed with dinner because he, The Time Traveler, will be a little late. A few moments later, The Time Traveler rushes breathlessly into the room. His appearance has greatly changed since the last time the men saw him. He has gray hair now, and also has some cuts on his hands that are almost healed. After he catches his breath, he begins to tell the gentlemen about his adventures in time travel.

And so the reader is taken into the heart of the novella, which deals with the distant future. The Time Traveler had actually been to the year 802,701 A.D. and found the future to be quite different from what he had always envisioned. In fact, instead of humankind being more advanced and intelligent than contemporary times, it seemed that they had regressed. The Time Traveler puts forth several theories as to why this might be the case, which is interesting in itself.

As with most novels of Wells' time, The Time Machine contains a great deal of social commentary in its pages. For example, the Eloi race of the future world is supposed to be Wells' own feelings about communism. The Eloi shared everything and didn't have to fight for their survival. As a result, they grew soft and weak, and their intellect suffered. The Morlocks represented the other end of the political spectrum. They were supposed to be the capitalists who blindly go about their business regardless of what is going on around them. They are morally corrupt and have even turned to cannibalism: they feast on the weaker Eloi whom they hunt and capture in the dark of night.

I found The Time Machine to be very easy reading. It is a short novella, so I was able to finish it in the space of a few hours. Modern readers probably won't find the story very exciting, but I found it quite fascinating in light of the fact that it was written more than a century ago. Personally, I thought Wells' description of the future wasn't very interesting or particularly creative, but I suppose it fit the purpose of his story as well as his views on society.

One of the things I really liked about this novella was the way the actual time travel experience was described. The Time Traveler tells us how he had the feeling that he wasn't moving at all, but that everything else around him was moving. He describes the way his housekeeper looked like she was dashing across the laboratory at high speed and the way that he could tell the days and nights were passing in quick succession while he was in the machine because of the flashes of moon and sun that he saw. At first, I kind of rolled my eyes because those images were pretty much the standard way of showing time travel in some old black-and-white movies and TV shows that I remember from my childhood. My attitude quickly changed when I realized that Wells wasn't following the standard, he was actually setting it!

Overall, I thought The Time Machine was an enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Pick up a copy today and check out this original science fiction adventure story for yourself!

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