‘Looking at these stars suddenly dwarfed my own troubles and all the gravities of terrestrial life. I thought of their unfathomable distance, and the slow inevitable drift of their movements out of the unknown past into the unknown future.’
Ages ago I read The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells and really enjoyed it, despite being immensely creeped out by it. Therefore I thought I’d give one of his more famous works a go and went for The Time Machine…and yet again found it enjoyable but extremely strange and disconcerting.
The Time Machine tells the tale of a scientist known only as ‘the Time Traveller’, who builds a time machine and goes far into the future to see the fate of the human race. When he returns eight days later, her tells his friends an incredible, yet frightening tale, of a far future world in which the human race has diverged into two species: the peaceful but simple Eloi, and the sinister Morlocks. Whilst the Eloi live in the beautiful future world in comfort and contentment, they also live in fear of the underground-dwelling, cannibalistic Morlocks who both provide for them, yet torment them, and who even try and prevent the Time Traveller’s return…
For such a short novel, this book definitely asks a lot of big questions about humanity and it’s possible future and eventual demise, and it is yet again very easy to see why H.G. Wells is commonly considered to be the godfather of science fiction.
Similarly to The Island of Doctor Moreau, the narrator of the book is just an average joe, who observes the ‘mad scientist’ character as he works. In this case the mad scientist is the ‘Time Traveller’, and a large part of the story is told from his point of view as he relates his tale of time travel to his friends (including the narrator). This framework adds another dimension to the story that I liked, as opposed to if the story was literally just made up of the Time Traveller’s narration. Because the narrator and the other people who listen to the Time Traveller’s tale aren’t sure whether or not to believe him it creates a sense of mystery around the whole thing, as there’s then a tiny bit of doubt in the readers mind as to whether or not the story is true, or whether it’s a delusion or lie.
The Time Traveller as a character is a classic case of someone who goes too far in his quest for knowledge, and discovers things that would probably have been better left a mystery. It’s questionable as to what he intends to do with his knowledge of the future of mankind, as he in all likelihood couldn’t change that destiny. Much like Doctor Moreau, he seems to be a warning against ‘playing god’, and going beyond the bounds of what is meant to be possible.
The future world he arrives in is certainly not what you would expect. Personally when I think ‘futuristic’ I think spaceships and extremely advanced technology, but H.G. Wells future world, looks nothing like this. Instead, the world has reverted back to a simplistic state, with little technology above ground, and inhabited by a people who can no longer even remember how to create fire. The Eloi have lived in such comfort and have had to do so little to survive that they have grown weak and simple, and provide easy prey for the ape-like, predatory Morlocks.
The Morlocks themselves are truly terrifying as the manifestation of the more animalistic side of human nature. As a reader, you definitely share the Time Traveller’s revulsion towards them, and it truly is frightening to think that they are supposedly the descendants of civilised human beings, as they essentially provide for the Eloi in much the same way as a farmer meets the needs of the animals he’ll later slaughter.
Just to add to the creepiness, the Time Traveller’s trip into the even further future at the end shows an even grimmer picture of the Earth’s future, and truly hammers home our own insignificance in the cosmos as a whole.
This really was a very interesting book, and definitely a masterpiece of science fiction. It’s only about 100 pages long, so was a quick read, but really does make you think (plus there’s time travel in it, and that’s always good!). I’d recommend this to any fan of science fiction, but be ready to be seriously creeped out!