“I’ve had a most amazing time….” So begins the Time Traveller’s astonishing firsthand account of his journey 800,000 years beyond his own era—and the story that launched H.G. Wells’s successful career and earned him the reputation as the father of science fiction. With a speculative leap that still fires the imagination, Wells sends his brave explorer to face a future burdened with our greatest hopes…and our darkest fears. A pull of the Time Machine’s lever propels him to the age of a slowly dying Earth. There he discovers two bizarre races—the ethereal Eloi and the subterranean Morlocks—who not only symbolize the duality of human nature, but offer a terrifying portrait of the men of tomorrow as well. Published in 1895, this masterpiece of invention captivated readers on the threshold of a new century. Thanks to Wells’s expert storytelling and provocative insight, The Time Machine will continue to enthrall readers for generations to come.
How does a novella (a short novel) of only 32,000 words become so influential that it spawns an entire subgenre of science fiction? First published in 1895, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine was almost certainly the first work of fiction to deal with the concept of time travel. Not only has the story hugely affected science fiction, but it may also have given physicists reason to think in more than three dimensions. Wells introduces the concept of time as the fourth dimension at the beginning of this novella and from there he also goes on to discuss the idea of the Earth as a dying planet.
Many of the themes brought up in The Time Machine are still perfectly valid well over a hundred years later. The disparity between the beautiful, leisured but uncaring race, the Eloi, and the mechanically inventive but brutal Morlock could be easily said to parallel the disparity between art and commerce in today’s world. And, of course, with the climate change and extinction scenarios currently being played out, the thought of a dying world is never too far removed from any educated 21st century person.
Wells had considered the notion of time travel before, in an earlier work titled The Chronic Argonauts. This short story was published in his college’s newspaper and was the foundation for ‘The Time Machine.’ Wells frequently stated that his story ‘The Chronic Argonauts‘ highly reflects what was written in ‘The Time Machine.’ He had thought of using some of this material in a series of articles in the Pall Mall Gazette, until the publisher asked him if he could instead write a serial novel on the same theme; to which Wells readily agreed, and was paid £100 (equal to about £9,000 today) on its publication by Heinemann in 1895.
The story was first published in serial form in the January to May numbers of William Ernest Henley’s new venture New Review. The first book edition (possibly prepared from a different manuscript) was published in New York by Henry Holt and Company on 7 May 1895; an English edition was published by Heinemann on 29 May. These two editions are different textually, and are commonly referred to as the ‘Holt text’ and ‘Heinemann text‘ respectively. Nearly all modern reprints reproduce the Heinemann text.
The story reflects Wells’s own socialist political views, his view on life and abundance, and the contemporary angst about industrial relations.
In 1960, the novel was made into an American science fiction film by the same name (also known promotionally as H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine) in which a man in Victorian England constructs a time-travelling machine which he uses to travel to the future. The film starred Rod Taylor, Alan Young and Yvette Mimieux.
The film was produced and directed by George Pal, who also filmed a 1953 version of Wells’s The War of the Worlds. Pal had always intended to make a sequel to his 1960 film, but it was not produced until 2002 when Simon Wells (born 1961), great-grandson of H.G. Wells, working with executive producer Arnold Leibovit, directed a film with the same title. The film won an Academy Award for time-lapse photographic effects showing the world changing rapidly.
Awards and honors
- Academy Award for Best Effects, Special Effects winner (1961) – Gene Warren and Tim Baar
- Hugo Award nomination (1961)
- AFI’s 10 Top 10 – Nominated Science Fiction Film
The 1960 film was remade in 2002, starring Guy Pearce as the Time Traveler, a mechanical engineering professor named Alexander Hartdegen, Mark Addy as his colleague David Filby, Sienna Guillory as Alex’s ill-fated fiancée Emma, Phyllida Law as Mrs. Watchit, and Jeremy Irons as the Uber-Morlock. Playing a quick cameo as a shopkeeper was Alan Young, who featured in the 1960 film. (H.G. Wells himself can also be said to have a “cameo” appearance, in the form of a photograph on the wall of Alex’s home, near the front door.)
The film was directed by Wells’s great-grandson Simon Wells, with an even more revised plot that incorporated the ideas of paradoxes and changing the past. The place is changed from Richmond, Surrey, to downtown New York City, where the Time Traveler moves forward in time to find answers to his questions on ‘Practical Application of Time Travel;’ first in 2030 New York, to witness an orbital lunar catastrophe in 2037, before moving on to 802,701 for the main plot. He later briefly finds himself in 635,427,810 with toxic clouds and a world laid waste (presumably by the Morlocks) with devastation and Morlock artifacts stretching out to the horizon.
It was met with generally mixed reviews and earned $56 million before VHS/DVD sales. The Time Machine used a design that was very reminiscent of the one in the Pal film, but was much larger and employed polished turned brass construction, along with rotating quartz/glasses reminiscent of the light gathering prismatic lenses common to lighthouses (In Wells’s original book, the Time Traveller mentioned his ‘scientific papers on optics’). Hartdegen becomes involved with a female Eloi named Mara, played by Samantha Mumba, who essentially takes the place of Weena, from the earlier versions of the story. In this film, the Eloi have, as a tradition, preserved a “stone language” that is identical to English. The Morlocks are much more barbaric and agile, and the Time Traveler has a direct impact on the plot.
Awards and Honors
Although it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Makeup at the 75th Academy Awards, it lost to ‘Frida.’ Some critics did however praise the special effects, declaring the film visually impressive and colorful, while others thought the effects were poor. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times scorned the film, and found the Morlock animation cartoonish and unrealistic, due to their manner of leaping and running. However, Ebert notes the contrast in terms of the social/racial representation of the attractive Eloi between the two films… between the “dusky sun people” of this version and the Nordic race in the George Pal film. Aside from its vision of the future, the film’s recreation of New York at the turn of the century won it some praise. Bruce Westbrook of the Houston Chronicle writes “The far future may be awesome to consider, but from period detail to matters of the heart, this film is most transporting when it stays put in the past.”
The film received a 29% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 148 critic reviews.