Back in April, I took part in The Classics Club’s 20th Spin event, which chose the classic, science fiction novella, The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. I was really pleased with my result, because I have long wanted to read this but just didn’t seem to be getting round to it – in fact, it is left over from my first list – so this finally gave me the push I needed. However I wasn’t able to make the 31st May deadline though, as I had Howards End by E. M. Forster to finish first.
Published in 1895, the story that launched H.G. Wells’ as the father of science fiction, begins with a group of free-thinking, Victorian men in-the-midst of a luxurious after-dinner discussion by the fire side. In which their host, who comes to be known as the Time Traveller, raises the argument of time travel and a machine he has been working on. A week later a similar group meet for dinner, but their host, the Time Traveller, is conspicuous by his absence – he was seen entering his laboratory by his servants – then when he reappears he his dishevelled, half-starved and with bare, bloodied feet.
The reader and the guests are kept on tender-hooks as the Time Traveller takes some time to recover, and much speculation circulates the group as they impatiently wait for their host to return and explain. When he does he announces, “I’ve had a most amazing time….” and so begins the Time Traveller’s astonishing account of his journey 800,000 years into the future. Where he discovers two bizarre races: first the ethereal, childlike Eloi and then the creeping, subterranean Morlocks.
I just loved the atmosphere that Wells was able to create with the well-used technique of friends gathering around a fire and to hear a story told – reminiscent of many classic horror stories – which created a clever juxtaposition; as this is not your usual scary story, with its ghosts, ghouls and monsters. Instead this is an new breed of unsettling story, that travels not back but forward in time, to gives us an alarming vision of the future. Where the Earth is slowly dying, our civilisation has long gone, and the symbiotic relationship between Eloi and Morlock taps into some of our worst fears.
My only niggle would be the Time Traveller himself – Instead of the brave explorer I was sort of expecting, I got a pretty foolhardy adventurer. He lolloped about the landscape, like some giant, English dandy on holiday, with little concern for his safety or for the safety of the Eloi; who so innocently and unquestionably befriended him. In hindsight though, was this perhaps an intentional portrayal and damning commentary from Wells on the Western explorers of his time, as they explored deeper into Africa and South America with little concern for the indigenous people?
Niggle aside though, I thought The Time Machine was a truly imaginative and ahead of its time tale of the future, and with the Time Traveller’s gung-ho attitude, the adventure skipped along at a quick, exciting pace too. Good read.
Have you read this? Have you read anything else by Wells?