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The Time Machine

The Time Machine is a novella by H. G. Wells, first published in 1895 and later directly adapted into at least two feature films of the same name, as well as two television versions, and a large number of comic book adaptations. It indirectly inspired many more works of fiction in all media. This 38,000 word novella is generally credited with the popularization of the concept of time travel using a vehicle that allows an operator to travel purposefully and selectively. The term "time machine", coined by Wells, is now universally used to refer to such a vehicle. It was also inspired by Charles Darwin and On the Origin of Species, which theorizes that humans have evolved from different species. Wells introduces an early example of the Dying Earth subgenre as well.


Wells had considered the notion of time travel before, in an earlier (but less well-known) work titled The Chronic Argonauts. 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 on its publication by Heinemann in 1895. The story was first published in serial form in the New Review through 1894 and 1895. The book is based on the Block Theory of the Universe, which is a notion that time is a fourth space dimension.

The story reflects Wells's own socialist political views and the contemporary angst about industrial relations. Other science fiction works of the period, including Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward and Thea von Harbou's Metropolis, dealt with similar themes.

The Time Machine is in the public domain in the United States, Canada, and Australia, but does not enter the public domain in the European Union until January 1, 2017 (1946 death of author + 70 years + end of calendar year).

Plot summary

The book's protagonist is an amateur inventor or scientist living in London who is never named; he is identified simply as The Time Traveller. Having demonstrated to friends 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 builds a full-scale model capable of carrying himself. He sets off on a journey into the future.

The Time Traveller details the experience of time travel and the evolution of his surroundings as he moves through time. While travelling through time, his machine allows him to observe the changes of the outside world in fast motion. He observes the sun and moon traversing the sky and the changes to the buildings and landscape around him as he travels through time. His machine produces a sense of disorientation to its occupant, and a blurring or faintness of the surroundings outside the machine.

His journey takes him to the year A.D. 802,701, where he finds an apparently peaceful, pastoral, communist, future filled with happy, simple humans who call themselves the Eloi. The Eloi are about four feet tall (~122 cm), pink-skinned and frail-looking, with curly hair, small ears and mouths and large eyes. Males and females seem to be quite similar in build and appearance. They have high-pitched, soft voices and speak an unknown language. They appear to be quite unintelligent and child-like and live without quarrels or conflict.

Soon after his arrival he rescues Weena, a female Eloi he finds drowning in a river. Much to his surprise she is grateful to him and insists on following him.

The Eloi live in small communities within large and futuristic yet dilapidated buildings, doing no work and eating a frugivorous diet. The land around London has become a sort of untended garden filled with unusual fruiting and flowering plants, and similarly strange yet collapsing buildings and other structures, all clearly no longer used, dotted around. There is no evidence of the implementation of agriculture or technology, of which the Eloi seem incapable.

The Time Traveller is greeted with curiosity and without fear by the Eloi, who seem only vaguely surprised and curious by his appearance and lose interest rapidly. He disables the time machine and follows them to their commune and consumes a meal of fruit while trying to communicate with them. This proves somewhat ineffectual, as their unknown language and low intelligence hinders the Time Traveller from gaining any useful information. With a slight sense of disdain for his hosts' lack of curiosity and attention to him, the Time Traveller decides to explore the local area.

As he explores this landscape, the Time Traveller comments on the factors that have resulted in the Eloi's physical condition and society. He supposes that the lack of intelligence and vitality of the Eloi are the logical result of humankind's past struggle to transform and subjugate nature through technology, politics, art and creativity. With the realisation of this goal, the Eloi had devolved.

With no further need for technology, agriculture, or innovations to improve life, they became unimaginative and incurious about the world. With no work to do, they became physically weak and small in stature. Males, generally being breadwinners and workers in former times, have particularly degenerated in physique, explaining the lack of dimorphism between the sexes. The Time Traveller supposes that preventive medicine has been achieved, as he saw no sign of disease amongst his hosts. With no work to do and no hardships to overcome, society became non-hierarchical and non-cooperative, with no defined leaders or social classes.

The fact that there was no hardship or inequalities in societies meant there was no war and crime. Art and sophisticated culture, often driven by problems and aspirations or a catalyst for solutions and new developments, had waned, as no problems existed and there were no conceivable improvements for humanity. He accounted for their relatively small numbers as being due to the implementation of some form of birth control to eliminate the problems of overpopulation. The abandoned structures around him would suggest that prior to these achievements, the population had been larger and more productive, toiling to find the solution that would make the new utopia a reality.

As the sun sets, the Time Traveller muses on where he will sleep. Retracing his steps back to the building where he had eaten with the Eloi, he suddenly realizes that the time machine is missing. He panics and desperately searches for the vehicle. At first, he suspects that the Eloi have moved it to their shelter. He doubts the Eloi would be capable or inclined to do this, but nonetheless rushes back to the shelter and demands to know where his machine is. The Eloi are confused and a little frightened by this. Realising the Eloi don't understand him and he is damaging his position with them, he continues his search in desperation during the night before relenting and falling into an uneasy sleep.

The Utopian existence of the Eloi turns out to be deceptive. The Traveller soon discovers that the class structure of his own time has in fact persisted, and the human race has diverged into two branches. The wealthy, leisured classes appear to have devolved into the ineffectual, not very bright Eloi he has already seen; but the downtrodden working classes have evolved into the bestial Morlocks, cannibal hominids resembling human spiders, who toil underground maintaining the machinery that keep the Eloi — their flocks — docile and plentiful. Both species, having adapted to their routines, are of distinctly sub-human intelligence.

After further adventures, the Traveller manages to get to his machine, reactivate it as the Morlocks battle him for it, and escape them. He then travels into the far future, roughly 30 million years from his own time.

There he sees the last few living things on a dying Earth, the rotation of which has ceased with the site of London viewing a baleful, red sun stuck at the setting position. In his trip forward, he had seen the red sun flare up brightly twice, as if Mercury and then Venus had fallen into it. Menacing reddish crab-like creatures slowly wander the blood-red beaches, and the world is covered in "intensely green vegetation." He continues to make short jumps through time, seeing the red giant of a sun grow redder and dimmer. Finally, the world begins to go dark as snowflakes begin to fall, and all silence falls upon Earth. In the very end of the Earth, all life has ceased, other than the lichens that still grow on rocks, and a kraken-like creature, roughly the size of a football, that slowly moves onto shore.

Feeling giddy and nauseated about the return journey before him, he nevertheless boards his machine and puts it into reverse, arriving back in his laboratory just three hours after he originally left. Entering the dining room, he begins recounting what has just happened to his disbelieving friends and associates, bringing the story back full circle to his entrance in chapter 2. The following day, the unnamed narrator returns to the Time Traveller's house. There, he finds the Time Traveller ready to leave again, this time taking a small knapsack and a camera. Although he promises the narrator he will return in half an hour, three years pass and the Time Traveller still remains missing. What happened to him, and where he ultimately ventured, remains a mystery.

Deleted text

An extract from the 11th chapter of the serial published in New Review (May, 1895) was censored from the book, as it was thought too disturbing. This portion of the story was published elsewhere as The Grey Man.

The censored text begins with the Traveller waking up in his Time Machine after escaping the Morlocks. He finds himself in the distant future of an Earth that is unrecognizable, seeing rabbit-like hopping herbivores near him. He stuns or kills one with a rock, and upon closer examination realizes they are probably the descendants of humans/Eloi. A gigantic, centipede-like arthropod approaches and the traveller advances ahead in time a day to flee, finding the creature to have apparently eaten the tiny humanoid. This dark ending of humanity was thought too shocking to be published.

Added text

The Great Illustrated Classics version of The Time Machine includes a whole chapter not found in the original novel, in which the Time Traveller blunders into the 24th century and finds a highly advanced future society where time travel is illegal. The time machine is confiscated and the Traveller is arrested, but he eventually escapes after one of the future men attempts to steal the time machine.

Film, TV, or theatrical adaptations

First Adaptation

The first visual adaptation of the book was a live teleplay broadcast 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.

1960 film

George Pál (who also made a famous 1953 "modernized" version of Wells's The War of the Worlds) filmed The Time Machine in 1960. Rod Taylor (The Birds) starred, along with Yvette Mimieux as the young Eloi, Weena, Alan Young as his closest friend David Filby (and, in 1917 and 1966, his son James Filby), Sebastian Cabot as Dr Hillyer, Whit Bissell as Walter Kemp and Doris Lloyd as his housekeeper Mrs Watchett. The Time Traveller had the first name of George. Interestingly, the plate on the Time Machine is inscribed ' Manufactured by H. George Wells'.

This is more of an adventure tale than the book was; The story begins with the Time Traveller returning from his trip, unkempt & in disarray. He relates to his friends of what he has witnessed: war's horrors first-hand in June, 1940 over London and a nuclear bomb in August, 1966. Travelling to 802,701 A.D., he finds world has settled into a vast garden. He meets the pacifist Eloi, who speak broken English, and have little interest in technology or the past. Their brethren from long ago, the Morlocks, however, have devolved into cannibalistic underground workers. He deduces the division of mankind resulted from mutations induced by nuclear war.

After relating his story, the Time Traveller leaves for a second journey, but Filby and Mrs Watchett note that he had taken three books from the shelves in his drawing room. Filby comments that George must've had a plan for a new Eloi civilization. "Which three books would you have taken?" Filby inquires to Mrs Watchett, adding " ... he has all the time in the world."

The film is noted for its then-novel use of time lapse photographic effects to show the world around the Time Traveller changing at breakneck speed as he travels through time. (Pal's earliest films had been works of stop-motion animation.)

Thirty-three years later, a combination sequel/documentary Time Machine: The Journey Back (1993 film), directed by Clyde Lucas, was produced. Rod Taylor hosted, with Bob Burns (also Ex Producer), Gene Warren Sr. and Wah Chang as guests. Michael J. Fox (who had himself portrayed a time traveller in the Back to the Future trilogy) spoke about time travelling in general. In the second half, written by original screenwriter David Duncan, the movie's original actors Rod Taylor, Alan Young and Whit Bissell reprised their roles. The Time Traveller returns to his laboratory in 1916, finding Filby there, and encourages his friend to join him in the far future — but Filby has doubts. (Time Machine: The Journey Back is featured as an extra on the DVD release of the 1960 film).

1978 TV movie

A low-quality TV version was made in 1978, with very unconvincing time-lapse images of building walls being de-constructed, and inexplicable geographic shifting from Los Angeles to Plymouth, Mass., and inland California. John Beck starred as Neil Perry, with Whit Bissell (from the original 1960 movie and also one of the stars of the 1966 television series The Time Tunnel) appearing as one of Perry's superiors. Though only going a few thousand years into the future, Perry finds the world of the Eloi and Morlocks, and learns the world he left will be destroyed by another of his own inventions. The character Weena was played by Priscilla Barnes of Three's Company fame.

1994 Audio Drama

In 1994 an audio drama was published on CD by Alien Voices, starring Leonard Nimoy as the Time Traveller (named John) 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. Interestingly, this version of the story is more faithful to Wells's novella than either the 1960 movie or the 2002 movie.

2002 film

The 1960 film was remade in 2002, starring Guy Pearce as the Time Traveller, who is mechanical engineer professor 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, before the Time Traveller moves on to find answers in 2030 New York, witness an orbital lunar catastrophe 2037, before moving on to 802,701 for the main plot. He later briefly finds himself in 635,427,810, with toxic clouds & a world laid waste to the horizon.

It was met with generally mixed reviews and earned $56M before VHS/DVD sales. The Time Machine used a design that was very reminiscent of the one in the Pál film, but was much larger and employed brass construction, along with quartz/glass (In Wells's original book, the Time Traveller mentioned his 'scientific papers on optics'). Weena makes no appearance; Hartdegen instead becomes involved with a female Eloi named Mara, played by Samantha Mumba. In this film, the Eloi have, as a tradition, preserved a "stone language" that is identical to English. The Morlocks are much more fierce and agile, and the Time Traveller has a direct impact on the plot.

2008 Alan Young Reading

2008 Alan Young reads HG Wells "The Time Machine" with new animated illustrations. 7th Voyage Productions lists this as "Coming April 1, 2008", but as of September 13 2008, it has not been released.

Sequels by other authors

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:

  • The Return of the Time Machine by Egon Friedell, printed in 1972, from the 1946 German version. The author portrays himself as a character searching for the Time Traveller in different eras.
  • 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 August 27, 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 September 20, 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 June 18, 1894.
  • Morlock Night by K.W. Jeter, first published in 1979. A steampunk novel in which the Morlocks, having studied the Traveller's machine, duplicate it and invade Victorian London.
  • 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, the hero damages the Time Machine, and arrives on Mars, just before the start of the invasion described in The War of the Worlds. H.G. Wells himself appears as a minor character.
  • 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.
  • The Time Ships, by Stephen Baxter, first published in 1995. This sequel was officially authorized 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 into the multiverse of multiverses. Like much of Baxter's work, this is definitely hard science fiction; it also includes many nods to the prehistory of Wells's story in the names of characters and chapters.
  • 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 Man Who Loved Morlocks and The Trouble With Weena (The Truth about Weena) 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 in to 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.
  • In Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time series, the Time Traveller is a very minor character, his role consists of being shocked by the decadence of the inhabitants of the End of Time. H.G. Wells also appears briefly in this series when the characters visit Bromley in 1896.
  • The Time Traveller makes a brief appearance in Allan and the Sundered Veil, a back-up story appearing in the first volume of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume I, where he saves Allan Quatermain, John Carter and Randolph Carter from a horde of Morlocks.
  • The time-travelling hero known as "The Rook" (who appeared in various comics from Warren Publishing) is the grandson of the original Time Traveller. In one story, he met the Time Traveller, and helps him stop the Morlocks from wiping out the Eloi.
  • Philip José Farmer speculated that the Time Traveller was a member of the Wold Newton family. He is said to have been the great-uncle of Doc Savage.
  • Burt Libe wrote two sequels: Beyond the Time Machine and Tangles in Time, telling of the Time Traveller finally settling down with Weena in the 33rd century. They have a few children, the youngest of whom is the main character in the second book.
  • In 2006, Monsterwax Trading Cards combined The Time Machine with two of Wells's other stories, The Island of Dr. Moreau and The War of the Worlds. The resulting 102 card trilogy, by Ricardo Garijo , was entitled The Art of H. G. Wells. The continuing narrative links all three stories by way of an unnamed writer mentioned in Wells's first story, to the nephew of Ed Prendick (the narrator of Dr. Moreau), and another unnamed writer (narrator) in The War of the Worlds.
  • In Ronald Wright's novel A Scientific Romance, a lonely museum curator on the eve of the millennium discovers a letter written by Wells shortly before his death, foretelling the imminent return of the Time Machine. The curator finds the machine, then uses it to travel into a post-apocalyptic future.

References in other works

Just to entangle reality and fiction further, H. G. Wells also appears as a character, aboard his own time machine, in the 1979 film Time After Time and the 1990s television series Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. He also briefly travels in time with the Doctor in the Doctor Who serial Timelash, the events of which are said to inspire him to write The Time Machine. In the 1996 Doctor Who movie, the Seventh Doctor is seen reading The Time Machine in the TARDIS. In the 1996 movie, Ransom, Gary Sinise's character mentions the Eloi and the Morlocks.

See also


External links


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