The Time Machine  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

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 a different species. Wells introduces an early example of the Dying Earth subgenre as well.

Plot

The book's protagonist is a Victorian English scientist and gentleman inventor living in Richmond, Surrey, and identified by a narrator simply as the Time Traveller. The narrator recounts the Traveller's lecture to his weekly dinner guests that time is simply a fourth dimension and demonstrates a tabletop model machine for travelling through the fourth dimension. He reveals that he has built a machine capable of carrying a person through time, and returns at dinner the following week to recount a remarkable tale, becoming the new narrator.

In the new narrative, the Time Traveller tests his device. At first he thinks nothing has happened but soon finds out he went five hours into the future. He continues forward and sees his house disappear and turn into a lush garden. The Time Traveller stops in A.D. 802,701, where he meets the Eloi, a society of small, elegant, childlike adults. They live in small communities within large and futuristic yet slowly deteriorating buildings, and adhere to a fruit-based diet. His efforts to communicate with them are hampered by their lack of curiosity or discipline. They appear happy and carefree but fear the dark, and particularly moonless nights. Observing them, he finds that they give no response to mysterious nocturnal disappearances, possibly because the thought of it alone frightens them into silence. He speculates that they are a peaceful society. After exploring the area around the Eloi's residences, the Time Traveller reaches the top of a hill overlooking London. He concludes that the entire planet has become a garden, with little trace of human society or engineering from the hundreds of thousands of years prior.

Returning to the site where he arrived, the Time Traveller is shocked to find his time machine missing and eventually concludes that it has been dragged by some unknown party into a nearby structure with heavy doors, locked from the inside, which resembles a Sphinx. Luckily, he had removed the machine's levers before leaving it (the time machine being unable to travel through time without them). Later in the dark, he is approached menacingly by the Morlocks, ape-like troglodytes who live in darkness underground and surface only at night. Exploring one of many "wells" that lead to the Morlocks' dwellings, he discovers the machinery and industry that makes the above-ground paradise of the Eloi possible. He alters his theory, speculating that the human race has evolved into two species: the leisured classes have become the ineffectual Eloi, and the downtrodden working classes have become the brutal light-fearing Morlocks.

Deducing that the Morlocks have taken his time machine, he explores the Morlock tunnels, learning that due to a lack of any other means of sustenance, they feed on the Eloi. His revised analysis is that their relationship is not one of lords and servants but of livestock and ranchers. The Time Traveller theorizes that intelligence is the result of and response to danger; with no real challenges facing the Eloi, they have lost the spirit, intelligence, and physical fitness of humanity at its peak.

Meanwhile, he saves an Eloi named Weena from drowning as none of the other Eloi take any notice of her plight, and they develop an innocently affectionate relationship over the course of several days. He takes Weena with him on an expedition to a distant structure dubbed "The Palace of Green Porcelain", which turns out to be a derelict museum. Here, the Time Traveller finds a fresh supply of matches and fashions a crude weapon against Morlocks, whom he must fight to get back his machine. He plans to take Weena back to his own time. Because the long and tiring journey back to Weena's home is too much for them, they stop in the forest for the night. They are then overcome by Morlocks in the night, whereby Weena faints. The Traveller escapes when a small fire he had left behind them to distract the Morlocks catches up to them as a forest fire; Weena and the pursuing Morlocks are lost in the fire and the Time Traveller is devastated over his loss.

The Morlocks open the Sphinx and use the time machine as bait to capture the Traveller, not understanding that he will use it to escape. He reattaches the levers before he travels further ahead to roughly 30 million years from his own time. There he sees some of the last living things on a dying Earth: Menacing reddish crab-like creatures slowly wandering the blood-red beaches chasing enormous butterflies, in a world covered in simple lichenous vegetation. He continues to make jumps forward through time, seeing Earth's rotation gradually cease and the sun grow larger, redder, and dimmer, and the world falling silent and freezing as the last degenerate living things die out.

Overwhelmed, he goes back to the machine and returns to his own time, arriving at the laboratory just three hours after he originally left. He arrives late to his own dinner party, whereupon, after eating, the Time Traveller relates his adventures to his disbelieving visitors, producing as evidence two strange white flowers Weena had put in his pocket.

The original narrator then takes over and relates that he returned to the Time Traveller's house the next day, finding him preparing for another journey and promising to return in a short time. However, the narrator reveals that he has waited three years before writing and stating the Time Traveller has not returned from his journey.




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