The Time Machine

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The Time Machine is a science-fiction novella by H. G. Wells, first published in 1895. It is considered one of the earliest works of science fiction and the first of the subgenre of "time travelling". In fact, the very term "time machine" owes its introduction to this work.

The premise of the work is an unnamed "Time Traveller" who builds a device that he uses to travel just over 800,000 years into the future. In relating his story, Wells draws upon social conditions and trends of his own time and uses the story as a vehicle to examine these aspects of his own society.

Plot summary

The Time Traveller explains to some guests the principles of time travel and demonstrates a small prototype Time Machine. He shows them a larger such device not yet completed, but nearly so.

A week later, several guests assemble once again. The Time Traveller shows up late for the scheduled dinner party, disheveled and somewhat the worse for wear. He explains that he has been time travelling and agrees to relate the full story of his adventures.

The Time Traveller explains that, after putting the finishing touches on his Time Machine, he tried it in a brief experiment, and then set it in motion more determinately. When he stopped the machine, he found himself in a small clearing in a garden, with a large marble Sphinx-like statue nearby and some larger buildings a bit off in the distance. He is approached by a number of small, frail-looking human-like creatures.

These strange, almost childlike people were, as he shall discover later, the Eloi, and the Time Traveller has flung himself slightly over 800,000 years into the future. He finds the Eloi living in a seemingly idyllic society, one without war, famine, disease, or other social ills familiar from his own time, one where every need was freely supplied without the necessity of hard, sweat-of-the-brow labor. In sum, it appeared to be a veritable paradise, the utopia dreamed of by men of his age.

The Traveller theorizes that at some point in time between his own age and this Golden Age, mankind had finally achieved the aim of all his strivings and, mastering nature and the elements, had created the Utopia. On this theory, the observed condition of the Eloi reflected a subsequent evolutionary process of adaptation to this new environment where the presumed natural human traits of strength, inquisitiveness, inventiveness, acquisitiveness, fierceness, loyalty, aggression, etc, were de-selected by evolution as being unneeded or even counter productive under these new conditions.

He now returns to the scene of his entry into this future world and discovers, to his consternation, that the Time Machine is nowhere to be seen. By degrees, he comes to the conclusion that the device has been moved (he originally suspects the Eloi), somehow, inside the base upon which the Sphinx-like statue rests. Following this, however, he gradually comes to the conclusion that the Eloi are not the only race of men in this society.

Taking everything he now knows into consideration, he concludes that mankind had somehow differentiated into two distinct species, one (the Eloi) adapted to a daylight, above-ground existence of leisure and the other (the Morlocks) adapted to a nighttime, subterranean world of work. He speculates that this came about as the natural evolutionary outcome of the industrial conditions of his own day. The rigid class and social structure of his time had, it seemed to him, resulted in the separate evolution of the leisured aristocracy (the Eloi) and the working class (the Morlocks). In this scheme, the Eloi appeared as the "master race" with such work as was necessary to their comfort being performed underground by the Morlocks.

He also concludes that the Time Machine has been taken by the Morlocks and that he must descend into the underground in order to recover it.

He descends into the underground through one of the many wells which dot the landscape and serve as avenues of passage between the two worlds. Unable to learn much on account of the darkness, and feeling unsafe as the Morlocks crowd about him, he retreats, using his last matches as he does so.

Together with one of the Eloi (Weena) whom he has befriended and with whom there soon develops a deep bond, he sets out across country in search of more secure shelter against the coming darkness of the new moon. At the same time, the full nature of the social economy of this society dawns on him. He now realizes that the true relationship between the Morlocks and the Eloi is the same as that between husbandmen and livestock and that the Eloi are being bred and raised like cattle.

Coming to a large structure which he had seen, but not visited, on one of his earlier explorations, he finds it to be the decayed remnants of an ancient museum. Inside he finds an iron bar which he can use as a weapon, some functional matches, and a flammable substance.

While on his way back to the Sphinz statue, he and Weena are overtaken by nightfall in the woods. Losing his way, he decides to encamp until morning, first lighting a fire for protection against the Morlocks. He falls asleep, the fire goes out, and he re-awakens to find himself beset by Morlocks and Weena gone. While desperately fighting them off, another fire which he had lit the previous evening spreads into the woods, threatening to engulf all. He finds his way to a clearing where he waits out the conflagration until dawn. Meanwhile, the woods have burnt and he surmises that Weena was consumed in the flames.

Finally, he reaches his destination and, after catching up on his sleep, he approaches the statue. Finding the doors to the pedestal on which it stands open, he sees the Time Machine within. The Morlocks have baited a trap, but he has no choice but to enter. After a close fight, he is able to re-attach the control levers and he then launches himself into time.

He has flung himself into the far distant future. When he halts, the scene is that of a dying earth some 30 million years in the future. Repeatedly moving onwards in time, he visits the earth in various stages of decay and descent, then returns to his own time.

There follows some discussion among the guests, most of whom are skeptical of the tale. The next day, one of the guests returns just as the Time Traveller is preparing to leave again, this time equipped with a knapsack and a camera. He promises to return soon with proof and samples. The guest sees him leave, but three years later, he has yet to return.