05 September 2016

H. G. Wells at 150: The Time Machine

Speaking of the 1890s, I wrote a review of the Big Finish Classics version of Dracula this weekend. You should read it; it's interesting.

Trade paperback, 104 pages
Published 2005 (originally 1895)
Acquired and previously read March 2016
Reread July 2016
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

My celebration of H. G. Wells's 150th birthday continues with a rereading of The Time Machine-- just four months after I last reread it! So why am I reading it again so soon? Because my reread of a couple months ago inspired me to teach it this summer in a class I taught on apocalyptic and postapocalyptic fiction. What really rose to the forefront in teaching it was the book's scale: my students were really fascinated by a future narrative that went 800,000 years into the future, rather than a couple centuries like your Star Treks or whatever. And then of course the Time Traveller goes some 30 million years into the future and beyond, eventually ending up in a time where there's nothing but silence and darkness.

It's a bit staggering, and Wells does a good job of portraying just how staggering it all is. (Imagine how much more staggering it would be if you hadn't spent your whole life being educated that the Earth is millions of years old!) There's a lot of playing with scale: the crumbling museum the Time Traveller finds shows that the Victorian age is just a blip in the history of humankind. The differentiation of the Eloi and the Morlocks shows that civilization is just a blip in the history of humans. The strange beach inhabited by crabs shows that humanity is just a blip in the history of life. The empty beach shows that life is just a blip in the history of the Earth. And the coming darkness and silence show that the Earth is just a blip in the history of the universe. Wow.

It's enough to turn you into a nihilist. But when I asked my students if The Time Machine was a nihilistic book, they said they didn't think so, or at least they thought the Time Traveller wasn't. Otherwise, why would he care about Weena's flowers? His very ideals about societal and biological progress may have been shattered, but he still believes in something.

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