This was simultaneously the longest and shortest read of my adult life. With exactly 108 pages (in my 2002 paperback), this book was one of the shortest books in my collection. It should have taken me about a day, less! And yet…I had this book in my backpack for a month.
Published in 1895, The Time Machine took Victorian readers by storm and became one of H. G. Wells’ most famous titles. When it was written, perhaps the ideology, the philosophical stage it set up, and the style of the narrative was a true hit with those readers. But when I was turning the pages, I found this book difficult to get into, even entertain, and overall (for being a book about time travel) it surprisingly did not hold up well over time.
We enter the story with the nameless narrator telling us a tale about a dinner party he attended full of thinkers and interlocutors and such. The narrator then proceeds to tell us the story of The Time Traveler, who was also the host of the dinner party. The Time Traveler invented a machine which he’d used to travel into the future, 800,000 years into the future to be exact. There he saw that the human race had split into two different kinds of strange, unrecognizable creatures—the small and delicate Eloi; and the larger, ape-like, and violent Morlock. The Time Traveler faced some difficulties when the Morlocks stole his time machine, but they lived underground and were afraid of light so some simple matches he happened to possess easily subdued them, allowing The Time Traveler to regain possession of his machine and return home to then run late to dinner and immediately recount that story to his guests.
Wells’ story brought the concept of time travel into high, logical discussions, however it seemed more appropriate as a philosophical allegory, than something suitable for a novel (novella…?), but this is perhaps simply because I didn’t like the book. I found the writing to be dry and unnecessarily lagging. Wells spent a ridiculous amount of time describing his world—paragraphs upon paragraphs about The Time Traveler being amazed by the things he saw, exotic plants and natural changes and the evolution of mankind. The story, a weak one at that, then became lost within all the endless description.
At some point, the amount of descriptions thrown at me had me feeling like I was being preached at, although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was being preached at about. I mean, the time travel concept was pretty self-explanatory—it’s scary, and surprises will ensure.
There wasn’t much proper dialectic exchange in the novel either, only a few scattered here and there between The Time Traveler and the Eloi woman he fancies, or his dinner guests. The lack of dialogue only made the suspicious feeling in the back of my head, the one telling me that someone is trying to shove something down my throat, throb. Without dialogue, the novel at many points felt like the author lecturing me.
The entire recollection of The Time Traveler’s adventure, told through his perspective, also possessed a remarkably Victorian breath of arrogance about it. Readers could easily tell that The Time Traveler identified more with the Eloi, the kinder, more graceful race, albeit lazy and incompetent; while he’s fearful of the murderous Morlocks who dwell in darkness. It could very well be said that the two descendants of the human race presented by Wells were representative of the upper class and lower class in Victorian England at the time. This was Wells’ way of warning society that if they kept up with their ignorance and self-indulgence, they could devolve into incompetent or monstrous creatures. However, the entire time I just felt a little odd about the lower class, from my interpretation, being depicted as something brutish and pitiful while the upper class, despite being weaker, still retained some of their “grace.” It felt almost hypocritical of Wells, to warn about society and make such class distinctions.
The ideas that Wells presented might have been mind-boggling for Victorian readers, but (I guess thanks to Wells?) time travel is now such a norm, and so many stories have been written about it, so many stories have been written about time traveling loopholes and debunking, that Wells’ original narrative no longer holds up. It was boring to read. I know I’m starting to sound like an ungrateful child, but a boring book is a boring book.
The narrator of the novel, who witnessed The Time Traveler recount his tale at dinner, must have been at the worst dinner party in the world. For me, reading this book was like being forced to go to that one family reunion dinner I never wanted to go to, and then being trapped in a seat next to my sexist albeit intelligent uncle as he recounts how one time, he decided not to be a dick to his wife…all the while not being able to say a word, and without a drop of alcohol.
“We are always getting away from the present moment.”