The Time Machine (A book review)


  • Wells, Herbert George (H.G.)

Original Publication Date 

  • 1895

Main Characters

  • The Time Traveller; the Writer; Weena

Roger’s Review

This is perhaps the original book about time travel, maybe even the first, since HG Wells is often considered the father of science fiction.  It also spawned a sequel, The Time Ships, written by Stephen Baxter.  Whereas Wells wrote The Time Machine in 1895, Baxter did not write The Time Ships until 1995.  The The Time Ships is also reviewed in this blog.  I was not even aware that it existed until I began researching stories about time travel that existed, and came across The Time Ships  in that list.

There are numerous You Tube videos available online regarding Wells’ novels and discussions about Wells and his visions.  Here is a link to a good 10 minute video  that talks about Wells relationship to science fiction.

There have been two movies made of the original novel, both with name of the novel.  Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux starred in the 1960 version.  That was my personal favorite as a child and teen.  Guy Pearce starred in the 2002 film adaptation of the novel and I am not as fond of that adaptation.  There was one other movie made that was loosely based upon Wells’ original novel.  That was called Time After Time, starring Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen.  It was released in 1979.  I thought that movie was quite enjoyable.  In doing research, I learned this interesting tidbit.  The 2002 movie, Time After Time, was directed by HG Wells’ grandson – Simon Wells.

Briefly, the novel entails the development of a time machine by an inventor back England in 1891 (changed to the eve of the 19th  century in the movie).  He travels forward in time to the year 802,701.  In that time period, he comes upon a seemingly idyllic world, devoid it seems of disease and conflict, and populated by a diminutive, beautiful race of people who he learns are called the Eloi.  The novel relates his interaction with the Eloi, the discovery of a second, underground race called the Morlocks, and his ultimate return to the present and to his disbelieving associates.

When I first read The Time Machine, back in high school, I believe, I had already become a fan of, and had seen the 1960 movie many times.  It is still one of my all time favorite movies.  I remember that the book disappointed me because at the time I first read it, it seemed to me so very different from the movie.  That should not be altogether a surprise, because it has not been until fairly recently that movies adapted from books have now often become much more accurate representations of what was written in the original novel.  The Harry Potter books and movies come particularly to mind as evidence of that change.

After reading, and enjoying, the The Time Ships, I re-read The Time Machine.  What I found was that my early impression that the book differed so greatly from the original movie, was wrong.  Certainly, there are differences between the novel and the movie, many having to do with the artistic license that early movies often employed.  Having been made in 1960, the movie had the benefit of hindsight to be able to include stops for the Time Traveller both in World War I and again in an imagined World War III in about 1966.  In Well’s novel, the Time Traveller’s first stop is actually 802,000 years into the future in the world of the Eloi and Morlock.

My first reading of the book also bothered me more because the Eloi were portrayed as a very fragile, beautiful but very diminutive people – the size of small children (hobbits?).  Yvette Mimieux and the rest of the Eloi in the movie were quite regularly proportioned.  But in my second reading that did not bother me in the least, perhaps in part, because I expected it.

For some reason, I also had the memory that the world of the Eloi and Morlocks was very different in the novel.  But in re-reading, I found that the movie, while fleshing out more about the history of the Eloi and Morlock, really was quite true to the novel in many, many ways and even paid homage to Wells in some of the actual dialog.  One example of this is that in the movie when Rod Taylor comes upon the realization of the relationship between the Eloi and Morlocks, he says in the movie that the Eloi are like “fatted cattle”.  That exact same phrase is used in the novel.

I was also fascinated to learn just how short The Time Machine is.  The small hardcover book I got from the local library was only about 120 pages long – the size of a novella or even a short story, which is unexpected for a classic.  Whereas the sequel, The Time Ships, is over 600 pages long in paperback.

It seems that Wells was somewhat of a socialist in his general view of society, and that is certainly reflected in this novel.  He rails against the separation of the classes – the working class and the elite – and they are quite allegorically depicted in the persons of the Eloi and the Morlocks.  His representation of what the distant future may look like is also representative of some generally held beliefs of the time period about what the end of time may entail.

In summary, while it was a very quick read, I enjoyed my brief re-read of the original novel and am very pleased that I now have a very different impression of the relationship between it and one of my favorite movies of all time.

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