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Eloi & Morlocks
by Asa Butcher
Issue 10
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The Time Machine
H. G. Wells
‘Upon that machine,’ said the Time Traveller, holding the lamp aloft, ‘I intend to explore time. Is that plain? I was never more serious in my life.’ None of us quite knew how to take it.

I suggest taking The Time Machine as the Granddaddy of all time travel adventures and as a novel that will not fail to disappoint even a century later. Herbert George Wells’ science fiction story has been made into two films, been the base for countless time travel stories ever since and entertained me until three in the morning.

In issue eight of Ovi Magazine, I reviewed Journey to the Centre of the Earth and ended by saying that ‘my next step should be patriotic and read the British Jules Verne, H. G. Wells.’ It wasn’t quite my next step, but I got there eventually and it seems fitting for the ‘Time’ issue. Wells couldn’t help being compared with Verne and he wrote in a preface to a collection of his work in 1933:

There is no literary resemblance whatever between the anticipatory inventions of the Great Frenchman and these fantasies. His work dealt almost always with actual possibilities of invention and discovery, and he made some remarkable forecasts. The interest he invoked was a practical one; he wrote and believed and told that this or that thing could be done, which was not at that time done…But these stories of mine collected here do not pretend to deal with possible things: they are exercises of the imagination in a quite different field.

The Time Machine is certainly an exercise of the imagination and yet remains disturbingly contemporary in many parts. Wells’ vision of the future, albeit in the extremely distant year A.D. 802,701, echoes some of the events happening today. For example, the Time Traveller describes the agriculture of the future to his assembled dinner guests and highlights the eventual outcome of selective breeding, “The air was free from gnats, the earth from weeds or fungi; everywhere were fruits and sweet and delightful flowers.”

The story has obvious political connotations; they are so apparent that for somebody who knows only the basics of socialism The Time Machine brings them to mind immediately. The relationship between the working class Morlocks underground and the lethargic Eloi above are clearly class distinctions, plus Wells, a Socialist himself, makes good use of the ideals in the few humorous parts:

‘Then there is the future,’ said the Very Young Man. ‘Just think! One might invest all one’s money, leave it to accumulate at interest, and hurry on ahead!’

‘To discover a society,’ said I, ‘erected on a strictly communistic basis.’

Moving away from politics and contemporary issues, the first surprise of The Time Machine was its length. It was very short and concise, which helped the story move at a great pace. The opening chapters were a little boring, with descriptions of scientific explanations, but the story held my interest once the Time Traveller had arrived in the future.

The novel is dissimilar to both movie versions and I personally believe that it is a far stronger story. It is written through the point of view of one of the Time Traveller’s friends who has joined some others for a dinner party, in which the possibility of time travel is announced. The majority of the narrative is through the form of a story being told by the returning Time Traveller and, like the dinner guests, you are captivated by his story.

Unlike the movies, the book describes everything in detail and allows you to scare yourself with your own imagination. One of the best passages of the book comes as the Time Traveller explores the Morlocks’ underground lair and realises his matches are running out; it sent chills down my spine as I imagined that the hands of numerous Morlocks groping at him in the darkness.

Wells’ use of fantasy is far more interesting than Verne’s technological forecasts, or as Wells said himself: They aim indeed only at the same amount of conviction as one gets in a good gripping dream. They have to hold the reader to the end by art and illusion and not by proof and argument, and the moment he closes the cover and reflects he wakes up to their impossibility.

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