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Utopia into Dystopia: The Future of The Time Machine

  • Jul 4, 2010

H. G. Wells was a crusader of his time, with a leaning toward socialism and social equality. With this tidbit of information, it's interesting to see how The Time Machine was both a hope of utopia and a picture of a seemingly inevitable dystopia.

Our time traveler is an amateur scientist who tells an amazing tale to his friends, weekly gatherers at his home for dinner and discussion. He makes a claim to have visited a distant future (in the film, at least, the year 803702 is listed; I've not a copy nearby to check that date). In this time, our time traveler discovers a world split into halves -- the Eloi (elite?) who live in the daylight, carefree, indolent, tame and unthinking as sheep... and the Morlocks, who live underground, and who work all their lives in darkness, keeping the machinery (literal and metaphorical) of the world running, so that the Eloi may have their pleasure. The catch is that the Morlocks have become a base, cannibalistic race, feeding upon the "sheep" above ground.

Our time traveler is repulsed by this, ultimately trying to teach the Eloi to fight back, perhaps to no avail. Traveling further into the future, the traveler discovers, ultimately, what scientists of modern day refer to as "the heat death of the universe" in one of its penultimate phases, and his despair is complete. He returns to his time (as the 19th century becomes the 20th) and tells his impossible tale, with nothing to prove himself beyond a single flower brought back from the time of the Eloi... and the memory of the single hope that mankind, whatever its ultimate fate, might still retain some semblance of its sense of kindness toward others.

Wells' time was one of newly emerging social equality, yet with it was a sense of ever-tightening reins of economic, political, and class inequality. The closest thing to socialism that Wells would see in his day was the perversion of the Bolshevik revolution under the crushing tyranny of Stalin. Wells, who died only a year after the end of the second World War and shortly before his 80th birthday, explored many ideas of how to bring out the best in mankind, often finding that most men fell short of the mark. Just as Mark Twain noted, "If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man but deteriorate the cat," Wells The Island of Doctor Moreau explores the idea of improving man by crossing them with animals... and sadly, all species lost the bet.

In a contradictory way, Wells envisioned dystopia from a Utopian aspect: Mankind as a species may be doomed, but some few of the species may yet find a way to keep the species from dying out altogether. With all the contradictory, clashing, cataclysmic flaws that Man both has and exploits in others of his kind, there is still in the deepest place within a desire to become more, to outgrow the baser self, and to create a Better World. In the 2002 film version of The Time Machine, written and directed by Wells' own grandson Simon Wells, a slightly different ending shows our time traveler staying in a future where the Morlocks are destroyed, and the Eloi, not so sheep-like, go on to build their better world after all. This, perhaps, is an ending that H. G. Wells might have applauded -- a future of hope for a 19th century time traveler.

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January 29, 2011
Excellent review! This is a book that I've been meaning to revisit someday.
More The Time Machine (book) reviews
review by . December 01, 2010
H. G. Wells was both an incredibly gifted science visionary as well as an intelligent social commentator. Those two skills are combined in this book, which soundly set the stage for the use of time travel as a primary plot device for science fiction stories. It also served to create the concept of class warfare leading to a significant separation between the workers and the capitalists. This went against the common belief that progress would continue largely unabated.    The …
Quick Tip by . January 12, 2011
One of the first HG Wells books I read, then I went out and bought more. Not modern, but definitely intriguing.
Quick Tip by . November 06, 2010
I really want to read more Wells. A friend once told me thinking of a future that is so vastly different from ours is terrifying.
review by . July 01, 2010
As a big fan of H.G Wells I had to pick this up after reading The War of the Worlds. It's not as long but it's just as good. Once again I really enjoy the Victorian mentality applied to futuristic technology although whereas space travel is now a real possibility so we can see where Wells went 'wrong', this time the subject of time travel is just as much of an impossibility now as it was when Wells wrote it.      The actual specifics of time travel are not really …
Quick Tip by . August 08, 2010
A haunting tale of past, present and future. Who will forget the Eloi/Morlocks and the far-future cancer-beast on the shores of humanity's sunset?
Quick Tip by . July 15, 2010
I've never been much for Sci-Fi, but this is one of the few books I have read more than once. So entertaining with a draw for everyone.
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
Beware the Morlocks,they live among us today !!
Quick Tip by . July 03, 2010
A classic book but may seem a bit uninteresting at times.
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Classic that was written when this was so much more fanciful than today. Truly enjoyable.
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Definitely goes against the blind enthusiasm for our future, a trendsetting in sci-fi.
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Tristan MacAvery ()
Ranked #592
   Master of all trades and jack of none. Published author (novels, collections, screenplays, articles, etc.), actor/improvist, director, trainer/coach, certified mediator, and reader of Tarot. … more
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