Monday, January 21, 2008

Thoughts on The Time Machine

There were several ideas that I continued pondering just after reading The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. The composed plausibility of time travel presented, the timeless nature of Wells' plot, and the social issues of the 19th century that surface amid incredible occurences. It seemed appropriate that in reading one of the founders of the genre, the first things I noticed were elements that evolved as being crucial to a good work of science fiction. More in line with our subject of Utopias and Dystopias, I believe Wells created both. For the beginning of his stay in the future, the Time Traveler at least thinks he has discovered the idealized human world, carefree and beautiful. It is only after a period of enjoying this utopia that he discovers a simple second half of this world that annihilates his theory and lays bare the opposite reality of a dystopia. Allowing both realities to exist for a time is the perfect mechanism to point out how acutely humankind's flaws have affected them while also allowing the audience to entertain the possibility of several eventual outcomes.
Wells' idea of time travel also has enough specifics to convey his idea and propel his plot, but remains vague enough to leave part of it to his audience. The detailed explanation of how time is merely a fourth dimension that one can move along is believable. The machine that is constructed to move through time is constructed of ordinary materials such as quartz and ivory and resembles nothing inhuman or unimaginable. Once this is established, Wells ignores any possible complications, such as how the direction of time traveled in is controlled, or how the dials showing the year and time function. By at least touching on and giving an explanation for part of Wells' idea of time travel, the rest can be assumed and doesn't interfere with the development of the plot.
The plot of The Time Machine is essentially timeless. This could be attributed to the fact that the adventure happens so far in the future that we can never know whether or not it really happens, but that explanation is too simple. The 19th Century social themes that are raised do place a time period on the story, but this fails to make the voyage unrelatable to a modern audience. Though he may have been the first to label and publish the concept, time travel and curiosity of what will become of humanity in any eventuality is a theme with infinite possibilities. I would like to think it is because Wells succeeded in sculpting so close to an inherent human curiosity that his story fails to lose meaning as distance is put between when the plot occurs and whatever time period the reader may be in.
Along the same line of thought, Wells does at least reference multiple social issues of his time, but they fail to interfere with his message. It reminded me of how he merely outlined the workings of the actual time traveling. Rather than a detailed social analysis of his time and the social classes of the late 1800s, Wells makes a few references to social class specifics of the time, fears of socialism, well known locations like Battersea, and even a brief reference to the empire of the "Carlovingian Kings". These elements of reality sprinkled through his tale of seemingly impossible time travel leave at least enough impression of reality for the novel to also make a commentary on society without becoming a lecture. His fear that the importance of knowledge and discovery will be lost, as embodied in the Eloi race, seems to be becoming a more possible concern as life becomes more mechanized and at least in some aspects, new learning is less necessary.
I am left with only two random thoughts. The first is my curiosity about what would have happened had the Time Traveler succeeded in bringing Weena back to his time. Did he honestly think transporting such an innocent mind through time to such an unforgiving and skeptical reception was a good idea?
And second, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Philosophical Transactions, to which Wells referred in his mourning for the pointlessness of knowledge acquisition if it all eventually is lost again, are actually still being published, though whether they'll be around for another 800,000 years or so is a mystery to me.

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