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Literature: The Time Machine
aka: Time Machine

The Time Machine is a classic tale of Time Travel, and one of the first to use a scientific mechanism to achieve it (Wells' own The Chronic Argonauts was years earlier). Where his predecessors had used visions to achieve the time travel, and only sent their protagonists Twenty Minutes into the Future, H. G. Wells had his protagonist invent an actual time machine and travel into the far future.

The story begins in Victorian London with the nameless narrator talking to his equally nameless friends, among them the Time Traveller, who casually describes his invention, and gives the assembled friends a demonstration. The next week, the Time Traveller appears, much the worse for wear, saying he has been to the year AD 802,701.

The first thing he found there was the Eloi, peaceful child-like humanoids living an idyllic life. Once he's had enough time to muse on how they are the inevitable product of human evolution (for now humanity has technology it no longer needs intelligence) he discovers that the Eloi's apparent Sugar Bowl Utopia is closer to a crapsaccharine Dystopia. Beneath the Earth dwell Morlocks, bestial humanoids who prey on the Eloi.

The time traveller decides this is the inevitable result of class struggle. The parasitic rich have degenerated into the effete Eloi while the working classes, treated like beasts, have become just that. The time traveller later mentions that this explanation may be wrong, but never gives an alternative.

After a succession of adventures, the time traveller returns to his machine, takes a short trip To the Future, And Beyond when the sun itself is dying, then returns to the present day, where he tells his story. A few days later, he sets off again, and never returns.

The story's vision of the future reflects Wells's strong socialist beliefs. It has been filmed twice (1960 and 2002), and there are many references to it in subsequent Time Travel stories.

The link in the first sentence will provide you with an online version of this classic (now in the Public Domain just about everywhere but Europe). You can also download the full text at Project Gutenberg.

For the Choose Your Own Adventure series, see Time Machine Series.

This book provides examples of:

  • An Aesop: Don't exploit working class, or their descendants will eat your descendants (which reflects Wells' socialist views)
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: The Eloi appear to meet DSM criteria for clinical inattention. From chapter 4:
    A queer thing I soon discovered about my little hosts, and that was their lack of interest. They would come to me with eager cries of astonishment, like children, but like children they would soon stop examining me and wander away after some other toy.
  • Beneath the Earth: The Morlocks.
  • Chaste Hero: The hero saves and bonds with Weena a member of the obviously quite promiscuous Eloi race and she follows him around. He finds her attractive and charming, but, as he says when narrating his story, "I didn't come her to find a wife" and that's it. He sleeps with her, completely innocently. He is not even sure if she is male or female.
  • Crying Wolf: One reason the Time Traveller's friends are so skeptical of his claims at first is that he's tricked them into believing outlandish, and false, stories several times before.
  • Distressed Damsel: The Time Traveller forms a bond with Weena, after rescuing her from drowning.
  • Dystopia
  • Eat the Rich: The Eloi are the descendents of the wealthy masters of modern society reduced to a state of intellectual and physical infancy, while the Morlocks are the descendents of the poor and working class reduced to brutal apes. Guess which race eats which.
  • Elves VS Dwarves: The Eloi and the Morlocks, of course.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep - The protagonist is referred as the Time Traveller, and in the framing story, he tells his tale to a group of men identified by their description: The Editor, The Provincial Mayor, The Medical Man, etc. In fact, only two personal names appear in the entire book: Filby in the framing story and Weena in the future narrative.
    • This is even lampshaded early one character asks "Where's ——-?", referring to the Time Traveller by name.
  • Executive Meddling - The author was forced to write and include an extra chapter, entitled "The Grey Man" to lengthen the story. This chapter is generally not included in modern publications of the story.
    • In an even more extreme example, a whole chapter titled "The Golden Age of Science", depicting a cold war in a technologically advanced future (and possibly the beginning of the Eloi-Morlock genesis) was written in the Great Illustrated Classics version; in a vain attempt to try to bring something, anything back from the future, the Time Traveler makes one last stop 200 years ahead of his home time, in a setting that he considered the Golden Age of Science.
  • Fashions Never Change: Discussed in chapter 1. The Medical Man points out that observing the Battle of Hastings in person would attract attention: "Our ancestors had no great tolerance for anachronisms."
  • Foregone Conclusion: You know that the Time Traveler's going to come out okay (for now) because he's telling the narrator about it. Nobody asks Did You Die?.
  • Framing Device: The narrator is a guest at the Time Traveller's party, who for all but the first two chapters and the final chapter is taking dictation from the Time Traveller.
  • Gentleman Adventurer: The main character.
  • Giant Enemy Crab: There are lots of them in the farther future.
  • Gone to the Future: The protagonist whisks away into the future never to be heard from again.
  • I Want My Jetpack: Probably the Ur Example of the trope. Time Traveler arrives in the distant year 802701, expecting to see all those marvelous achievements of mankind, and what does he find? A scavenger world inhabited by tiny childish people who think he fell from the sun.
  • I'm Taking Her Home with Me!: In chapter 7, the Time Traveller plans to take Weena back to his home time.
  • Industrialized Evil: By the year 802,701, the machinery and industry operators have become Morlocks, beast-like creatures who live in darkness underground and surface only at night to feed on the helpless Eloi. This is evoked as social commentary on the brutalization of the Victorian working-class.
  • Kill the Cutie: Damn, poor Weena...
  • The Night That Never Ends: After the Earth stops rotating around its axis in the distant future, part of it becomes plunged in perpetual twilight.
  • No Name Given: The main character, both the films decided to change this. Also every Eloi other than Weena.
  • Popcultural Osmosis: Subsequent fictional time travelers such as Doc Brown, The Doctor and Bill and Ted are usually better remembered than this guy. Having names probably helps.
  • Scavenger World
  • Science Marches On: The Time Traveller witnesses the Sun enter the Red Giant phase in only a few million years.
    • Addressed in Stephen Baxter's officially licensed sequel novel, "The Time Ships", which posits the theory that the Sun going Red Giant billions of years ahead of schedule, was due to accidental tampering done before the Human race devolved into the Eloi and Morlocks.
  • Society Marches On: Back when the book was written, English society could be mostly divided into two classes, the aristocracy and working class. H. G. Wells assumed this model would remain for over 800 thousand years, finally separating mankind into two different species. However, the twentieth century brought radical changes in society and today even the middle class has three subclasses.
  • Spell My Name with a Blank (the one time the Time Traveller is addressed by name, this trope is used.)
  • Spooky Silent Library: The book and all adaptations have included a scene involving an enormous abandoned library where all books have decayed to dust.
  • The Reveal: The Eloi aren't the rulers of the world - they're the cattle.
  • They Called Me Mad! (several of the main character's colleagues scoff at his theories about time travel, which, of course, turn out to be true)
  • Time and Relative Dimensions in Space Unlike some other time machines, this one doesn't "teleport". It rests on the ground while it travels through time, and the continental drift carries it.
  • Time Machine (the original)
  • Time Travel
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Played with briefly, when the Time Traveller nears the end of his story. His thoughts grow more rambling and he starts to wonder aloud if he's somehow imagined the whole experience, or if he's only imagining being home right now. He insists upon seeing the time machine again for himself and, once he does, he comes back to his senses.
  • To the Future, And Beyond
  • Unbuilt Trope: Defined many time travel tropes, but also explains concepts like Time Paradox.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Various hypotheses about the nature of the Eloi as the story progresses, with the narrator admitting that even the The Reveal might be just another wrong theory. Also, due to the Framing Device, the narrator's spellings of the few samples of Eloi language that readers get are likely poor reflections of the actual phonology, as neither the Time Traveller nor the outer story's narrator is a linguist by profession.
  • Urban Segregation (the genesis of the Morlocks and the Eloi)
  • Veganopia (Eloi eat the produce of an enormous garden, whose pests are at least locally extinct)
  • Victorian London: The Present Day for the main character in the book and maintained as such in most adaptations; the 2002 film moved the setting to New York, but kept the same time period.
  • We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future: Discussed extensively; the time traveler suspects that the people of the future, having conquered all disease, found no reason to develop any further technologically. Because of this, they degenerated into mindless beasts. This seems a valid theory at first, until he realizes with creeping horror that he also doesn't see any broken legs or other inevitable injuries. It's because the underground humans prey on the weak at night.
  • Weird Sun: Travelling millions of years into the future, Time Traveler notices the sun growing larger and more red, as well as slowing down on its way across the horizon, until finally setting still forever. He concludes that the Earth must have ceased to spin around its axis.
  • Writer on Board

Through the Looking-Glass 19 th Century LiteratureTill Eulenspiegel
The FlyHugo AwardVillage of the Damned
A Little PrincessVictorian LondonThe War of the Worlds
Time LagScience Fiction LiteratureTime Riders

alternative title(s): Time Machine; The Time Machine
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