The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

“The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us.”

I read this book for the Classics Club Spin #11.  Was it my spin book?  No, it was Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses, and Prejudices spin book but I decided to read along with her.  Why?  Well, her book was much shorter than my Spin book, and I couldn’t imagine getting through God in the Dock in the allotted time frame.  Yes, I’m breaking the rules, but it’s on my Classics Club list, AND at least I read something!

The unidentified Time Traveller has built a machine that he believes will transport him through time.  After he explains to his dinner guests the concept of his invention, he puts it into practice, returning the next week to regal them with the fantastic details of his adventure.

Having sent himself to 802,701 A.D., he encounters a race called the Eloi, a diminutive race that behaves in the manner of small, wide-eyed children, even though they are of adult growth.  They live an uncomplicated life of leisure, simply eating and resting, and having no initiative or curiosity to speak of. Expecting some sort of greatly evolved being living in the future, the Time Traveller experiences disappointment and puzzlement at their almost backward evolution, wondering how their lackadaisical way of life is supported. But the Traveller’s perplexity turns to dread as his machine mysteriously disappears.  Pursing the theft using reason and action, he eventually discovers another race, living in the depths of the earth; the Morlocks, hideous, pale, savage, troglodyte-like creatures who are in possession of his time machine. Unlike the Eloi land dwellers, these cavernous people exhibit an industry and an ability to reason, but in a primitive way that is only based on their survival. The Traveller discovers that they are providing the means for the Eloi’s rather vacuous paradisical existence using underground tools and machinery, yet they are also the predators of their parasitical neighbours, catching them for food during the night.  Eventually, he concocts a plan to retrieve his machine, his only link with human society, his only means of returning to a civilized world.

Source Wikipedia

Trained as a biologist, Wells developed an interest in Darwinism, and the significance of evolution is apparent in this work.  The Eloi and the Morlocks, descendents of the human race, are presented as two species that have evolved on completely different tracks, separated by social oppression and elitism.  The Traveller observes:

“Again, the exclusive tendency of richer people —- due, no doubt, to the increasing refinement of their education, and the widening gulf between them and the rude violence of the poor —- is already leading to the closing, in their interest, of considerable portions of the surface of the land ……..  And this same widening gulf — which is due to the length and expense of the higher educational process and the increased facilities for and temptations towards refined habits on the part of the rich —- will make that exchange between class and class, that promotion by intermarriage which at present retards the splitting of our species along line of social stratification, less and less frequent. So, in the end, above ground you must have the Haves, pursuing pleasure and comfort and beauty, and below ground the Have-nots, the Workers getting continually adapted to the conditions of their labour ….”

The Traveller had expected unprecedented progress, but instead found a degeneration on each side, of intelligence, empathy, mercy, discipline, respect, etc., in fact most qualities which make us human.

Wells, a commited socialist, was extrapolating some of the problems faced in his own time, such as the widening gulf between the rich and the poor, and hatred or disdain along the same class lines.  But instead of the poor simply being oppressed by the rich, Wells takes it a step further; the rich, in their mindless indulgence, become the prey.  Wells intended to communicate not only these innate problems in society but the lack of success of the solutions that communism and utopian socialism offered for the betterment of society. It’s a very bleak picture of the future.

C.S. Lewis loved Wells’ fiction as a boy, but as he matured and his tastes became more discerning, he began to see cracks in their veneer.  While he praised Wells for his original thought, and his desire to tackle the bigger questions, he found the works “thin” and “lacking the roughness and density of life.”  I’m by no means a Wells expert, but so far I’d agree with that assessment.  The book’s plot is entertaining but rather simple, lacking any subtleties or true character development.  His characters often work on an elementary level, to illustrate the questions, but without being imbued with a life of their own.  The questions themselves, while compelling, are treated quite swiftly, with the narrator often chronicling the issues instead of the reader becoming intimate with the characters and absorbing dilemma through their actions.  While the pace might be useful for a movie, it doesn’t really give the reader time to process, so the ideas thump around in our heads a little but there is no true contemplating of them that leads to a greater understanding, or development that leads to possible solutions.

Ruth from A Great Book Study was also reading The Time Machine at the same time as Cirtnecce and I, so I’m including both of their insightful reviews below.

Further Reading:

19 thoughts on “The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

  1. Much as I love reading Classics, this one has never appealed to me and your review hasn't put it on the must-read list, though I did enjoy the review. Interesting to read C.S. Lewis's take on Wells.

  2. To start with I cannot stop LOLing at "atleast I read something!!" I quite understand the thought but I love your unique way of expressing the sentiment!! Like we discussed, this book seriously lacked depth and I still cannot quite understand why Wells with such an innovative plot, for the whole concept of Time Travel was unique in his time, kind of lost himself in the plot. P.S. Thank You for including me in "Further Reading" 🙂

  3. H.G. Wells is a writer of ideas, definitely, and his work is always interesting to read. But I agree with you – this book felt rushed with all the concepts thrown in. I prefer War of the Worlds to this one.

  4. I really enjoyed this book as you know – Wells is the only science fiction writer I actually like and I have no desire really to read any other writers (and, as it happens, none of the plot lines of Wells' books appeal to me but so far I've always enjoyed them!). I see the point about them being a little thin, which I suppose is why I read them for entertainment more than anything. I felt that Wells is more inclined to provoke the reader rather than attempting to guide the reader through the thought process (if that makes sense!). Above all else, as I say, hugely entertaining! 🙂

  5. Thanks, Jane! I'm going to read more of Wells' work but with reserve. He's worth reading to get a peek in at the issues of his time. With this one, the foundation was there to set up a good book, if only his delivery was more developed and polished.

  6. I did read something for the Spin, so I can say "yay, me!" 😉

    I find that Wells gets overexcited about his pet theories and forgets that he has an audience. He's like an excited child who wants to spew out everything he's done and doesn't have the patience to wait and see if people are following him. That's why I find that reading him is messy. And he's not great at having his ideas flow. But his premises are interesting. I'm not going to kick him out on the street yet. 😉

    You're very welcome! Your reviews are always a pleasure to read!

  7. I agree, Masanobu; I think War of the Worlds is better cohesively, although if you look at what Wells is admiring in it, it can be somewhat disturbing. I'm interested in reading the Invisible Man next.

  8. Ack! It slipped my mind that you reviewed it ….. for some reason I though it was War of the Worlds. Sorry! I've added a link to your review; it's enlightening to have another perspective.

    Yes, that makes total sense. I can really see that he likes to provoke the reader, but I think in this case, I feel that he's provoking in frustration, and that frustration overshadows his "voice".

    If you want a good sci-fi dystopian novel, read A Canticle for Leibowitz. It's amazing and by far my favourite sci-fi novel yet!

  9. My kids are following in the track of CS Lewis. But as adults, they may find it lacking. They probably would like War of the Worlds, which I still want to read.

    Thanks for adding my little review.

  10. You're welcome! When you read War of the Worlds, watch what Wells (the narrator) is admiring. I found it somewhat shocking. But I did find him easier to follow in WoW than this book.

  11. It's interesting how the post Victorian writers dealt with science fiction. It reminds of the Steampunk stories that are so popular now. I haven't read Wells in years. I recall liking him but of course I wasn't realizing his humanist worldview. I wonder if I would like him as much now.

  12. I haven't read Steampunk …… at least, I don't think I have … 😉 Wells would most likely bother you now, Sharon, but at least he lets us experience in a small way some of the ideas of that era. I hope to read another one of his novels before the year ends!

  13. Great post. His works have more vision than details and definitely seem to make for better films and TV adaptations.

  14. Thanks, Frank! He had vision but I found it incomplete. And I either found myself struggling to get his point, or being hit over the head with a portion of it. As entertainment, it's fine; as literature, it's clunky. It will be interesting to discover how this one stacks up against some of his other works.

  15. I agree with you, and Lewis, and Helen @ She Reads Novels…although I haven't read The Time Machine. I've read The Invisible Man, and it was a fun escape, it was rather "thin" as Lewis says.

  16. Well, I'm glad to hear that The Invisible Man won't be torture, at least. 😉 Wells should improve with me upon further reading, because I simply won't expect as much from him.

  17. What a wonderful review. I enjoy review where the writer includes other thoughts outside their own so I really enjoyed the quotes from CS Lewis. I read The Yearling for my spin book and ended up quite captiated. I would be honored if you would take a look at my review. Thank you. The Yearling

  18. Thank you so much for your kind words, Anne! I, too, am interested in what other respected authors have to say about books. You can often dislike an aspect of a book, but not know how to communicate your dislike; however, when you read another author's words, they can often clarify the issues. I will definitely check out your The Yearling review. Thanks for visiting my blog.

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