Book Summary: The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

The Time Machine Book Summary

One Thursday evening, four or five men assembled for dinner at a friend’s home near London. But as the evening passed, their host failed to appear. Finally, at half past seven the guests agreed it was a pity to spoil a good dinner and seated themselves to a delicious meal.

The main topic of their conversation was time travel, a subject their host had seriously argued as a valid theory during an earlier dinner. He had gone so far as to show them the model of a curious machine he had built, which, he declared, could travel through the fourth dimension – time.

While the guests conversed, the door suddenly opened and in limped their host. He was in a state of disarray. His coat was dusty, dirty and smeared with green; his hair was markedly grayer than the last time they had seen him, his face pale, and his expression haggard and drawn as if by intense suffering.

As he stumbled back through the door in tattered, bloodstained socks, he promised his guests that he would return shortly with an explanation for his actions and appearance.

Soon after, the gentleman did reappear, and commenced with his remarkable story.

That morning, his machine at last completed, he had begun his journey through time. Increasing the angle of his levers, at first he was able to maintain a sense of time and place. His laboratory still looked the same, but slowly its image dimmed.

Then, faster and faster, night followed day, until the palpitation of night and day merged into one continuous grayness. New questions sprung up in the Traveller’s mind: What had happened to civilization? How had humanity changed?

Now he saw great and splendid architecture rising about him, while the surrounding expanse became a richer green, with no interruptions made by winter. The Time Traveller decided to stop. He fell from his machine to find himself at the foot of a colossal, winged, sphinx-like figure carved out of white stone on a bronze pedestal.

The huge image, outlined by early-morning mist, made him somewhat ill at ease. Then he noticed figures approaching; slight creatures, perhaps four feet high, very beautiful and graceful, but indescribably frail. These beings advanced toward the Time Traveller, laughing without fear, and began touching him all over.

“So these are the citizens of the future,” he mused. They acted like five-year-old children, and the Traveller was disappointed with their lack of intelligence and refinement.

These gentle people, called Eloi, bore their visitor to a towering building that appeared ready to collapse. Their world in general seemed in disrepair – a beautiful, tangled waste of bushes and flowers; a long-neglected and yet weedless garden. The Eloi served their guest a meal that consisted entirely of fruit.

During this repast, they all sat as close to the Time Traveller as they could. With much difficulty he began to learn their language, but the Eloi, with their very short attention spans, tired easily of teaching him. That evening the Traveller began to hypothesize how these people, who all looked identical, dressed alike, and reacted to life in the same way, had evolved.

Perhaps, he thought, mankind had overcome the numerous difficulties of life facing it in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Under new conditions of perfect comfort and security, perhaps power and intellect – the very qualities he most valued – had no longer been necessary. He decided that he had emerged into the sunset of humanity; a vegetarian society – for he had noticed no animals – where there was no need for either reasoning or strength.

As night drew near, the Time Traveller suddenly realized that his time machine had vanished. Engulfed by the fear of losing contact with his own age and being left helpless in this strange new world, he flew into a desperate rampage, a futile attempt to find his machine. Soon the voyager’s panic faded as he realized his machine was probably inside the huge stone figure near the spot where he had “landed.”

He pounded on the bronze doors without effect, but he was certain he had heard some voice from inside – a distinct little chuckle. Calm, welcome sleep, finally overcame the adventurer, and he reasoned that in time he would succeed in breaking into the stone behemoth to regain his machine. Another day passed.

The Time Traveller came to realize that he had been wrong about the little beings. The Eloi had no machinery or appliances of any kind, yet they were clothed in pleasant fabric and their sandals were fairly complex specimens of metalwork. Perhaps this was a truly advanced society.

Several days later, the Time Traveller rescued an Eloi woman from drowning. Her name was Weena. Weena, unable to vocally express her gratitude and regard for the Time Traveller, slept by his side in the dark. This took great courage because the Eloi feared darkness and never ventured from their buildings after sunset.

This point also puzzled the Time Traveller: If the Eloi lived in a perfect society, then why were they so afraid of the dark? On the fourth day of his adventure the Traveller came across other earth creatures.

These subterranean, ape-like vermin were called Morlocks. Summoning courage, the Time Traveller warily descended into their world to learn what he could about them. There he found the machines that he had not seen above ground. Morlocks were apparently another race of man’s descendants, no longer able to tolerate the sun-lit surface of the planet. Here were the enemies who had taken his time machine.

Judging by their smell and appearance, they were obvious carnivores. Suddenly the Traveller understood why the gentle Eloi feared darkness. They were like fatted calves, kept well and healthy, only to be seized and eaten when the Morlocks grew hungry. Eloi society wasn’t perfect after all.

A few days later, Weena and the Time Traveller set out to search for a weapon they could use to break into the pedestal where the machine was hidden. Coming across an ancient museum, they collected matches, some camphor for a candle, and, most important of all, an iron mace.

The sun was setting as they emerged from the museum. Though filled with a sense of doom, and having several miles of forest between them and safety, they nevertheless started for home in the shadowy darkness. Morlocks proceeded to close in on them along the way.

The beasts were temporarily driven off each time the Time Traveller lighted a match, but finally, in an effort to slow them down, he ignited a larger fire. In minutes the entire forest was aflame. The Traveller was able to escape – but Weena was lost in the blaze.

Standing on a knoll, he looked out over the burning wasteland, and mourned the loss of his devoted Eloi friend. When morning came, the Time Traveller began retracing his steps to the place where he had originally landed. On the way he pondered how brief the reign of human intellect had been.

Our priceless, heroic, human existence had been traded for a life of comfort and ease. Now, as the voyager approached the stone relic, he found the door of the pedestal open. Inside was his time machine. It was an obvious trap, but the Morlocks had no idea how the device worked.

The Traveller sprinted to his machine and adjusted the lever, while fighting off several Morlocks. Then he found himself enveloped by the same welcome grey light and tumult he had before observed. Alas, he had escaped that dismal future. The visit to the Eloi took place in the year 802,701.

The Time Traveller next journeyed through millions of years, seeing even more alien creatures than before. Finally halting 30 million years after he had departed, he found a distant age where the sun no longer shone brightly. In bitter cold and deathly stillness, the horrified Traveller started back toward the present.

The guests listened with mixed emotions to the last of this tale. Their host seemed sincere; but was such a feat possible? A few days later one of his friends came to hear more.

Again, the Traveller excused himself, asking his guest to wait momentarily and he would be back with evidence of this excursion. Three years elapsed and the Time Traveller had not reappeared. He was considered by his friends as a lost, lonely wanderer, somewhere in time.

The Time Machine Characters

The Time Traveller, an inquisitive, scientific man

Weena, a future woman

The Time Machine Review

The Time Machine, H.G. Wells’s first novel, is often referred to as “pseudo-scientific.” Along with Jules Vernes, Wells was a pioneer in science fiction writing, though he never liked having his novels compared to Vernes’s. Wells claimed his novels always meant to depict political beliefs, and were never intended to be realistic.

Brought up in a lower-class section of Bromley, Kent, England, the author witnessed the conspicuous class distinctions of the late 19th century. In The Time Machine Wells portrays what he felt could happen to mankind as the divisive gulf between the indolent rich and hard-working poor became wider and wider.

Though written in the late 1800s, Wells’s descriptions of the weak Eloi and the predatory subterranean Morlocks are rooted in scientific hypotheses that are at once interesting, feasible and frightening possibilities for humanity’s future.

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