The Time Machine

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

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 Traveler, who casually describes his invention, and gives the assembled friends a demonstration. The next week, the Time Traveler 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 Traveler 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 Traveler later mentions that this explanation may be wrong, but never gives an alternative.

After a succession of adventures, the Time Traveler 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, 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.

Tropes used in The Time Machine include:

The Book

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
  • Crying Wolf: One reason the Time Traveler'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 Traveler forms a bond with Weena, after rescuing her from drowning.
  • Dystopia
  • Elves vs. Dwarves: The Eloi and the Morlocks, of course.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The protagonist is referred as the Time Traveler, 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 Traveler by name.
  • 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 Traveler's party, who for all but the first two chapters and the final chapter is taking dictation from the Time Traveler.
  • Gentleman Adventurer: The main character
  • Giant Enemy Crab: There are lots of them in the farther future.
  • I'm Taking Her Home with Me: In chapter 7, the Time Traveler plans to take Weena back to his home time.
  • 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.
  • 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 The Doctor, Doc Brown, and Bill and Ted are usually better remembered than this guy.
  • The Reveal: The Eloi aren't the rulers of the world - they're the cattle.
  • Scavenger World
  • 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 Traveler 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.
  • 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.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Played with briefly, when the Time Traveler 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.
  • 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 and Trope Namer.
  • Time Travel
  • To the Future and Beyond
  • Unreliable Narrator: Various hypotheses about the nature of the Eloi as the story progresses, with the narrator admitting that even 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 Traveler 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.
  • Weird Sun: Traveling 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.
  • 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.
  • Writer on Board

Tropes from the 1960 film version which weren't in the book:

1960 Movie

  • Apocalyptic Log: The "talking rings", which dictate news broadcasts when spun upon a dais. The two heard in the film relay information about a war, and the separation of the Eloi and the Morlocks to the Time Traveler.
  • Cold War (the film is very much a product of its time)
  • Composite Character: In the book, the Time Traveler has a group of friends he tells about the Time Machine, including the unnamed narrator and a young man named Philby. In the film, there's just Filby.
  • Convection, Schmonvection: after London gets nuked in 1966, everything around catches on fire, except for the protagonist of course. Oh, and the grass he's standing on.
  • Eternal English (In the book the Eloi had their own language which The Time Traveler didn't understand, here they speak English over 800,000 years later. Presumably the talking rings have something to do with this.)
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up:

Talking ring: The war between East and West, which is now in its three hundred and twenty sixth year...

  • Hey, It's That Voice!: Paul Frees has had multiple voice acting roles and is recognizable as the voice of the "talking rings". You can also recognize Alan Young's legendary Scottish brogue in Filby (he's the voice of Scrooge McDuck in both Mickey's Christmas Carol, and DuckTales (1987).
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: Though the Time Traveler is referred to as "George", the machine's date indicator plate clearly reads "Manufactured by H. George Wells" meaning the Time Traveler's actual name is... H. G. Wells.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The Time Traveler is a addressed as "George", and his full name is visible on a plaque on the machine.
  • Next Sunday A.D. (The Time Traveler witnesses a nuclear holocaust... in 1966)
    • This could even border on Twenty Minutes Into the Future, with 1966 London full of skyscrapers and having shiny monorail, not to mention "tubeless TV" on window display.
  • No New Fashions in the Future: The Eloi women love their '50s hair. Weena, whose attitude and interests are akin to a child, even calls attention to it by asking George how the women of his time wear their hair.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Time Traveler goes forward in time at the speed of thousands of years every second, yet he can still see the wall behind him being built, block by block. Traveling this fast, he should barely be able to see any building last, considering the lifespan of most structures mankind built.
  • Stranded with Edison: Implied by the ending. When Wells leaves after telling his friend Filby about his adventures, he takes three books from his vast library. Filby asks the housekeeper (and the audience), "If you were going to start civilization over again, which three books would you choose?"
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers
  • Weenalized/Promoted to Love Interest (Former Trope Namer, by way of both the 2002 film and this one. In the novel, the time traveler forms a bond with an Eloi woman named Weena, who, like all Eloi, is a child-sized androgynous-looking creature mentally on the level of an eight-year old. However, the film turns Weena into a love interest, looking human.)
  • Nubile Savage (Weena)

Tropes from the 2002 film version which weren't in the book:

2002 Movie

  • Above the Ruins
  • Adaptation Expansion: Our hero now has a Backstory in which he invents the time machine in order to go back and prevent his fiancee's untimely death.
  • Artistic License Astronomy: An explosion on the Moon rains debris upon the Earth and leaves the Moon itself split into two large broken halves and a cloud of smaller rocks over a period of almost a million years, rather than either gravitationally attracting each other back into a single body or spreading themselves out into a ring system as they actually would have over that long an interval.
  • Awesome Anachronistic Apparel: When the doctor stops in the (relatively) near future, a girl passing by admires his "retro" outfit.
  • Bare Your Midriff: Mara's outfit.
  • Brain Critical Mass: The far future villain has a massive brain that extends down his back. He uses it to control the beasts that prey on the humans.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": The Uber-Morlock's real name is apparently Jeremy Morlock. Heh.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Hartdegen reaching out of the time bubble to catch his dropped pendant and his hand rapidly aging while outside the bubble's protection.
  • Disposable Woman: The time-traveler's fiancee; he spent years building the time machine to change history and save her from dying. Two failed attempts are depicted, and then later we're told he tried to save her twenty-seven times. She really does have no further character development than being destined to die.
  • Eternal English: This time, they have their own language, but they still speak "the Stone Language" found on pieces of ruins of U.S. buildings. And the AI librarian (see Who Wants to Live Forever? below) likely fills the same role in maintaining early 21st-century American English pronunciation as the talking rings did in the 1960 film.
  • Evil Albino
  • Evil Overlooker: The poster.
  • Fictionary: The Eloi have their own language that, oddly, sounds rather limited. The word tamquen seems to have several different connotations, as it's used several times in rapid succession at one point.
  • Fridge Horror: Vox spent thousands of years alone in the underground ruins completely alone, save for one Eloi who managed to escape the Morlocks. We then see that the Eloi died of old age and until Alex showed up, Vox was probably going to spend eternity in the same room as his only friend's corpse, all the while unable to bury him.
  • Fridge Logic: If the Morlocks can no longer go in the sunlight, how come the raiding party took place in the middle of the day? The only explanation is that the Uber-Morlocks as albinos aren't capable of returning to the surface and they're keeping the other castes underground on purpose.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: Orlando Jones plays the futuristic library's A.I. system.
    • And Alan Young, the original Filby, as the flower-shop salesman. Apparently he even found the Victorian-style collar he wore in the 1960 version!
  • I Choose to Stay
  • Large Ham: See below -- One-Scene Wonder
  • Lost in Imitation: This film seems to really be a rather loose remake of the 1960 film, which itself was a somewhat loose adaptation of Wells's novel, so you can imagine how little it resembles the book in any way.
  • My Brain Is Big: The Uber-Morlock—rather than have the usual huge head, his brain extended down the neck and lower back.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Alexander Hartdegen, the Time Traveler.
  • The Lost Lenore: The protagonist is now entirely motivated by the loss of his love, Emma.
  • One-Scene Wonder: As with Star Trek First Contact, the Morlocks were given a leader that had not existed previously, in order to explain what was going on those unfamiliar with the source material. Played with a side of cheese by Jeremy Irons.
  • Perfect Pacifist People: Arguably, the Eloi are these, though Deconstructed since it makes them easy preys for the Morlocks.
    • The 1960 version had an anti-war sentiment that was lost in this version, shown when an Eloi male says "It is all clear," a phrase he'd learned from the Talking Rings. In THIS version, however, the Eloi are pacifists because of the Uber-morlock's "psychic filter," which makes them forget about their dead and keeps them pacifistic. (Warning: this may have gotten lost in the cutting-room.)
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Literally. Though, as it turns out, it's a side effect of the aforementioned psychic filter.
  • Ragnarok Proofing: Averted with the planet in general. After the moon disaster, any traces of civilization were pretty much obliterated over millions of years. Inexplicably played straight with the photonic library computer. His main processing unit survives orbital bombardment, the resulting millions of years of neglect, and somehow end up underground on top of that. He even still has numerous functioning projection screens.
  • Recursive Canon: Alex is offered a copy of HG Wells's "The Time Machine" in the future library.
  • Ridiculously-Human Robots: The photonic library computer. The computer even gets visibly irritated at what he regards as stupid questions from the Time Traveler, when a real computer would simply and happily attempt to answer any of his inquiries regardless of what was asked. This means that for whatever reason creators gave him the same flaws as a human librarian would have, even though there was no reason for it and would actually hinder his performance as a library computer.
  • Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory
  • Science Is Bad: "We went too far."
    • The irony is that Alexander has drawings in his lab that perfectly mirror the 2030's New York. Despite the fact that Alexander is a visionary, it was ultimately men like him that doomed the world.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: Morlocks and Eloi.
  • Spinning Clock Hands: The first sign Professor Hartdegen is traveling into the past is when the hands on his collection of pocket watches slow down, then reverse, speeding up as he travels further back.
  • Temporal Paradox
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Given to the hero by the villain of all people.

Alexander: This is a perversion of every natural law!
Uber-Morlock: And what is time travel? But your pathetic attempt to control the entire world around you!

  • Time Is Dangerous: The titular device creates a spherical bubble to protect the occupant. Reach outside, that protection no long applies. The main character hurts his hand when he instinctively grabs at an item he dropped. A Morlock wrestling with him on the machine ends up hanging outside the bubble, aging into dust. Logically, any attempt to reach outside the bubble should have violently scattered their atoms across dozens of years of history, but the Rapid Aging looked cooler, presumably.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: He can't go back and save his girlfriend because then he'd have no reason to go back and save her. Then at the end of the film he goes to a bad future, then goes back in time and prevents it which he can do because... ?
    • He couldn't save his girlfriend because it would remove his reason for creating the time machine, but could stop that future from occurring because he was just observing it.
      • But remember that he wouldn't be able to observe it in the future if he prevented it from happening in the first place. The same effect, only the other way round.
        • Ah, but! Saving his fiancee in the past would be an action that affects his present. Observing one possible future where he is a temporal outsider, then going back a bit before that to change it is a different thing entirely. He can't change his past, but he can change the future. If his fiancee hadn't died, he wouldn't have built the time machine or used it like he did, so she would've died, so he would've saved her, so she would've died etc. Paradox. However, once he has access to the time machine he's free to travel to the future, see how it goes, then travel back and change it in whatever way he wishes so long as it doesn't affect anything that happened to him before he first turned on the time machine. Everything before he activated the time machine is immutable because if things were different, the time machine wouldn't have come to exist. Everything after the activation of the time machine becomes free game because nothing in the future is essential to the creation and operation of the machine.
    • Although Fridge Horror sets in when you realize that without the Uber-Morlock's influence, he states that the Morlocks would exhaust the food supply in a matter of months... which looks very much the Morlock-Future Alexander found himself in. And we know they have other colonies.
      • But then he fixed it all with a big time explosion. Time explosions are special; they can destroy all Morlock colonies simultaneously without affecting the geology enough to dislodge the precious Eloi towns precariously stuck to the sides of precipices. Time explosions are funny that way.
  • Twenty Minutes Into the Future: The Time Traveler stops off in the 2030s on his way to 802701.
  • Undeathly Pallor: The Morlocks, though not undead, have become pale from living underground and fear the light.
  • Weenalized (again)
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The photonic library computer AI from 2030, who inexplicably manages to survive what is basically the apocalypse in an above-ground building which presumably has absolutely no protection from that sort of thing, and whose power and memory unit last literally hundreds of thousands of years. The fact that he remembers everything doesn't help. Leads to a bit of Pet the Dog when he's given the opportunity to do the one thing he wants to do: teach.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Played straight and then possibly averted. The main character tries to save his girlfriend but every time, his girlfriend gets killed; the chief Morlock later explains that the time machine cannot change the past in a way that prevents it from being built in the first place. Later in the movie, he goes to a Bad Future where the Morlocks have wiped out the Eloi, and then he goes back in time and wipes out the Morlocks. Either this means he successfully averted that bad future, or in the intervening several million years, the Morlocks from other areas will invade and wipe out the Eloi.