Thursday, 22 October 2015

Through the Portal: The Time Machine

In PART 1, I looked at how the idea of time travel was used in literature before H G Wells wrote The Time Machine. Here I take a closer look at Well's novella. 

‘The concept of a time machine had been brilliantly conceived by Wells, a concept never before used and now an entire category within science fiction’ A Pictorial History of Science Fiction, Kyle (1976). Wells brings the modern age of the inventor with that of time-travel in pre 20th century literature; very much one of premonition or cognitive time-travel, often occurring as dreaming or as ghost stories where long dead loved ones or foes return to haunt. ‘The dream was the common time-travel method in literature before H G Wells introduced a mode of transport … after which devices gradually replaced dreaming’ BFI Film Classics: Back to the Future, Shail and Stoate (2010). In The Time Machine, Wells sends his time-traveller thousands of years forward to a dystopian age and then millions of years into Earth’s future to a period where man is extinct. The end of humanity is the great fear of mankind and Wells shows this through analogy. ‘Because the traveller could not survive the actual end of the world, Wells gives us a symbolic eclipse (of the sun)’ H. G. Wells: Another Kind of Life, Sherborne (2010). The darkness symbolizes the end of life. Wells tells the story in the first person, but not directly through the time traveller himself. It is a witness to a talk to fellow scientists by the time traveller who reproduces his words. When the traveller sets off for a second journey, he does not return and so Well’s Victorian narrator cannot document this final journey.

Wells’s machine moves in time only; the descriptions of cities rising and falling and shifting landscapes give the reader an uneasy ride through time. ‘Even though Wells had a solid science education, he was perfectly capable of “bending” science to fit the need of telling a good story’ Time Travel: A Writer’s Guide to the Real Science of Plausible Time Travel, Nahin (2011). This is the key to successful time-travel novels; there is something plausible for the reader to hold onto, even though the story as a whole is implausible. 

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