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Literature / The Time Machine

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The Time Machine: An Invention is a classic tale of Time Travel, published in 1895, and one of the first to use a scientific mechanism to achieve it.note  Where most predecessors had used visions to achieve the time travel, and only sent their protagonists 20 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. There also has been an authorized sequel by Stephen Baxter released, called The Time Ships. It has been filmed four times (1949 [now missing], 1960, 1978 and 2002) as well as a loose animated adaptation also from 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). You can also download the full text at Project Gutenberg.

For the Gamebooks series, see Time Machine Series.

The Time Machine provides examples of:

  • Ambiguous Gender: The Eloi are prepubescent both mentally and physically, with men looking almost identical to women. While the protagonist believes Weena to be a girl and treats her as such, he admits that he is not certain what her gender actually is.
  • Ambiguous Situation: At the end, the Traveller leaves for another trip but never returns. The nameless writer suggests multiple possible theories - maybe he chose to stay in the future, maybe he was hunted down by some caveman or dinosaur in the past; in any case, they'll never know unless he returns.
  • An Aesop: Don't exploit the working class, or their descendants will eat your descendants (which reflects Wells' socialist views). Notably, both theatrical film versions (1960 and 2002) change the Aesop by way of changing the Back Story of the Eloi and the Morlocks. Specifically, the Aesop becomes anti-war in the 1960 film and environmentalist in the 2002 film.
  • 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.
  • Author Avatar: Many assume Wells meant either the protagonist or the narrator to be one, but Wells himself never confirmed or denied this.
  • Badass Bookworm: While the protagonist admits he is getting on in years, he is still more than capable of fighting off the Morlocks when pressed.
  • Beneath the Earth: The Morlocks live in an extensive system of tunnels.
  • Biblical Motifs: In the future, the two races are known as the Eloi (from Elohim) and the Morlocks (from Moloch). Moloch was, fittingly, associated with child sacrifice.
  • 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, he didn't come into the future to "carry on a miniature flirtation" and that's it. He sleeps with her, completely innocently. He is not even sure if she is male or female.
  • Cockroaches Will Rule the Earth: Probably the Ur-Example: at the end of the book the Time Traveller discovers that in the distant future Earth's dominant life form is going to be some sort of giant crab-like creatures. (Or at least on the stretch of beach he briefly visits.)
  • Crapsaccharine World: The Earth in 802,701 is a lovely garden populated by happy (if rather... naive), beautiful people without a care in the world. Then the narrator starts realizing that nobody is old and sickly... and that the Eloi are terrified when the night comes... and some ghost-like monsters come out from beneath the ground at night... and then Oh, Crap! ensues.
  • 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.
  • Damsel in Distress: The Time Traveller forms a bond with Weena, after rescuing her from drowning.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The Eloi are descended from the upper classes. They live in fear of the Morlocks (descended from the working class) but do not like to discuss them. This can be interpreted as a criticism of the contemporary upper classes that simultaneously fear and ignore the working class.
  • Downer Ending: When he travels even further into the future, the Time Traveller finds that even the Morlock civilization eventually collapsed, civilization never recovered, and the only human-descended animal he can find is a round hopping thing.
  • Eat the Rich: The Eloi are the descendants of the wealthy masters of modern society reduced to a state of intellectual and physical infancy, while the Morlocks are the descendants of the poor and working class reduced to brutal apes. Guess which race eats which.
  • 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 when one character asks "Where's ——?", referring to the Time Traveller by name.
  • Extreme Speculative Stratification: One of the Trope Codifiers: in the distant future humanity has split into two groups, the Eloi (childlike humanoids who live an idyllic life on the lush surface and are the descendants of the rich) and the Morlocks (bestial people who dwell Beneath the Earth, provide food and clothes for the Eloi, and who are the descendants of laborers who were forced to remain there). The twist is that the Morlocks (at least by now) aren't a Slave Race, they're raising the Eloi as their cattle.
  • 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 Traveller's going to come out okay (for now) because he's telling the narrator about it. Nobody asks Did You Die?
  • Formerly Sapient Species: Eventually, humans evolve to fit the niches of other animals like rabbits, after the Eloi and Morlocks are gone. By the time a new sapient race of crabs has emerged, humans have devolved into bouncing stomach creatures.
  • 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 Traveler.
  • Future Society, Present Values: 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, eventually separating mankind into two different species. Against his predictions, the twentieth century brought radical changes in society and today even the middle class has three sub-classes. However, the final society that the Time Traveler visits has undergone a major change of values: the former working class are now the cruel rulers, and the literal "upper" class is degenerating into livestock.
  • 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. The Time Traveller arrives in the distant year 802,701, 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's death at the hands of the Morlocks is pretty sad...
  • More than Three Dimensions: Probably the Trope Codifier, as it is one of the first works to suggest this idea. The unnamed protagonist constructs the eponymous Time Machine, which allows him to travel through the fourth dimension, then return to his original time to tell the story of his adventure. Interestingly, while traveling through time, the machine doesn't travel through space, but eons of continental drift drops him somewhere else entirely from his starting point.
  • The Morlocks: The Trope Namers. They're actually the more advanced race, providing all the food and luxuries the mentally deficient Eloi depended on, essentially farming the child-like Eloi like cattle. They were supposed to be descended from the working classes of modern-day societies, who, as class divides grew sharper, spent more and more time underground tending to industry and machinery. Over time, they evolved into a race of pallid troglodytes who kept the machines running out of instinct as much as anything, still tending to the descendants of the indolent upper classes (who they over time adapted to feed on).
  • Nice Day, Deadly Night: The Time Traveller journeys several thousand years into the future, where he meets the Eloi, small dwarfish people that amble about the remains of civilization by day. At night, however, the Morlocks ascend from the depths of the Earth to harvest some of the Eloi. Though the Traveller is significantly larger than any Morlock, he's aware that he'd fare poorly against a Zerg Rush.
  • 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 theatrical films decided to change this. Also every Eloi other than Weena. Many other stories have given the Time Traveller different names: the author himself (unless he was the narrator), Bruce Clark Wildman (Wold Newton universe), Adam Dane (The Rook comic), Theophilus Tolliver (Doctor Who comic strip), and Robert James Pensley (The Hertford Manuscript by Richard Cowper). The characters in the framing story are only referred to as "the Medical Man", "the Psychologist" etc, just as "the Traveller" is (and the narrator is never named either). The one exception is a poet referred to as Filby, but even that's stated to be the narrator disguising his real name. The Time Ships follows this by having the Traveller refer to the framing-story narrator as "the Writer", although it's clearly meant to be Wells himself.
  • Noodle Incident: During a previous meeting with his colleagues, The Time Traveller somehow faked the appearance of a "ghost".
  • Playful Pursuit: Briefly mentioned as a form of flirting among the Eloi: the protagonist witnesses a man chasing a woman and throwing flowers at her.
  • 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.
  • The Reveal: The Eloi aren't the rulers of the world — they're the cattle.
  • 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.
  • Starfish Aliens: The hopping ball thing the Time Traveller briefly sees when he travels to the far future. Subverted not only in that it's native to Earth, but additionally in that it's also, by some modern definitions of taxonomy, Human.
  • Stupid Future People: Evolution again, combined with over-reliance on technology. The lower class have evolved into brutal savages, while the upper class have evolved into flimsy dimwits with the physical and mental capabilities of small children.
  • Tele-Frag: While building the machine, the Time Traveller considered that when he arrived he might be inside an object, causing a "far-reaching explosion." He decided it was a necessary risk.
  • 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. In the end, though, only the Editor thinks the story is false-the other friends are implied to have believed him (the Doctor, for example, very reluctantly tells the Time Traveller is suffering from overwork, and accepts the flower the Traveller brings back as decent proof), but the Writer is very certain that the Traveller is telling the truth.
  • 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/rotational/orbital/systemic/galactic drift carries it.
  • Time Machine: As noted, the first example in literature of a mechanical device used to travel in time.
  • 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: After visiting the Eloi and Morlocks, the Traveller ventures millions of years into the future to a dying Earth.
  • Trope Codifier: Though not the first story to involve time travel or a machine to do it with, it is by far the most well-remembered of them.
  • 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, or at least that's the offered theory.
  • Veganopia: Eloi eat the fruit 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 Traveller 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, as well as no sign of older Eloi. It's because the underground humans prey on the weak at night.
  • Weird Sun: Traveling millions of years into the future, Time Traveller 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.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not Political?: Discussed in-universe, as the Time Traveller explains that his theory of the Eloi and the Morlocks might as well be just a result of his seeing everything from a political point of view. However, he calls it the most plausible one.
  • Working-Class Hero: If the Traveller's theory is correct, inverted. The hypothetical evolutionary split between the Eloi and the Morlocks was started by the human social class system, wherein the lower classes became the beastly Morlocks.
  • Writer on Board: H.G. Wells' strong socialist beliefs are in evidence throughout.

Alternative Title(s): Time Machine