The Time Machine | Study Guide

H. G. Wells

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The Time Machine | 10 Things You Didn't Know


H.G. Wells was a pioneer of the science-fiction genre and was the first author to explore the concept of time travel in his 1895 classic The Time Machine. His treatment of contemporary theories of evolution, a relatively new concept, and his critical take on social issues in Victorian England made the tale more than just an adventure story. The novel introduced readers to new political and scientific ideas.

Though time travel is now a staple of the science fiction and fantasy genres, Wells's The Time Machine remains a vivid read for contemporary readers with its take on social class divisions and industrialization—ideas still relevant in contemporary society.

1. Wells coined the term time machine.

The term time machine was first used by Wells in his 1895 novel, but the idea of a machine that could move through time first appeared in a story Wells published in 1888. "The Chronic Argonauts" tells the tale of a mysterious doctor who builds an equally mysterious machine behind the boarded-up windows of his home. The townspeople become terrified and attack him, and the doctor disappears with a local pastor in a machine made of "brass and ivory" that the pastor later claims took him through time.

2. The Time Machine is a criticism of capitalism.

H.G. Wells was a socialist, and his political views are clear in his novel. When the Time Traveller meets the Eloi and the Morlocks, two groups evolved from humans, he realizes that social differences between rich and poor have affected evolution to create two different races. To Wells the class warfare evident in Victorian society could eventually result in a society where the poor evolve to prey upon and control the rich.

3. The Time Traveller's name has changed in various adaptations.

In a sequel to The Time Machine, Stephen Baxter's The Time Ships, the Traveller is named Moses, a name the character despises. In one film version the Traveller is named George, H.G. Wells's middle name, and in another film he is named Alexander Hartdegen.

4. Wells's great-grandson directed a film version of The Time Machine.

Released in 2002 and directed by Simon Wells, the movie was roundly panned by the press as "joylessly extravagant" and "loud and annoying." According to director Wells:

My family's opinion was, 'Look, we sold the movie rights 40 years ago. We have no control over this. Hollywood's going to make a movie out of this property, anyway. It's just great that you get to be involved in it.' I liken it to at least getting to handle the family silver, even though we don't own it anymore.

5. The novel has been adapted into a comic book several times.

In 1956 Classics Illustrated released a comic book version of The Time Machine, and French, Australian, Finnish, Swedish, Greek, and German editions followed. Marvel Comics did their own version in 1979, and in 1990 Eternity Comics published an edition that was later made into a graphic novel.

6. The Time Machine reflects Wells's fascination with evolution and the influence of Darwin's theories.

Charles Darwin's Origin of Species was published in 1859, and one of the first evolutionary biologists, T.H. Huxley, was H.G. Wells's teacher in college. Wells became a Social Darwinist and believed Darwin's laws of evolution were applicable to human society.

Inspired by the idea of taking human evolution to its endpoint, Wells shows in his novel what might happen when natural selection fails, creating the Eloi, a race of feeble humans.

7. Two men built time machines inspired by Wells's machine.

Featured in the 2016 documentary How to Build a Time Machine, craftsman Rob Niosi of New York and theoretical physicist Ron Mallett of the University of Connecticut both discovered Wells's work as children. Niosi purchased a Victorian barber chair from an auction and used it to craft a time machine based on Wells's description. Mallett's father died when he was 10, and his hope was to create a machine that would take him back in time so he could warn his father of his impending death.

8. Wells wrote a chapter for the novel that was later deleted.

Wells's editor at the New Review wanted him to write a chapter in which the Time Traveller sees how humankind has degenerated. Under protest Wells wrote Chapter 11, in which his protagonist travels far into the future and kills an evolved version of the beings he met earlier. Wells was unhappy with the chapter, which was published in serial form but later deleted from the published book. The chapter was published instead as a short story, "The Grey Man," and was later restored to the book.

9. Scientist Stephen Hawking thinks a real time machine is possible—sort of.

Stephen Hawking believes a machine that manipulates time by approaching the speed of light could be a time machine. Time inside would have to slow down, given the laws of physics. For humans in the machine time would pass more slowly than outside. When it stopped it would be in the theoretical future. If it happens, he said, it will likely occur as an aspect of space travel: "The concept may be far-fetched, and the reality may be very different from this, but the idea itself is not so crazy."

10. Wells accurately predicted the future in a later novel.

In his other "nonfiction" novel, Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought, Wells surveyed the future and got some things right. He detailed the invention of the "aeroplane" and its role in warfare, as well as the use of parachutes "to snatch one last chance of life out of a mass of crumpling, fallen wreckage."

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