H.G. WELLS AND THE SENSATION OF TIME

I am afraid I cannot convey the peculiar sensations of time travel. They are exceedingly unpleasant.  — The Time Machine (1895)

July 9th, 2009.

Today I finished the final chapters of H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, and felt the sadness I always feel when finishing a great book—it is the sadness of parting ways with people I have grown to love with the turn of every page. But mixed with my sadness was pride of accomplishment.  I had started the book numerous times, but always lost my way. This time I set off with the Time Traveler determined to see the journey to its end.

And today in those last melancholy chapters, I stood with him on an inhospitable shore in Earth’s distant future bathed in the ruddy light of our sullen and bloated Sun.  There was no trace of humanity in anything. And the passage of time had so altered the landscape that even the light from our Sun seemed utterly alien.

Unsettled by those final chapters, I swear I felt the arrow of time push our cosmos closer towards its cold and dark and lifeless end.

And today in those last melancholy chapters, I stood with him on an inhospitable shore in Earth’s distant future bathed in the ruddy light of our sullen and bloated Sun.

Mentioning H. G. Wells calls to mind fantastic inventions: Martian war machines, elixirs that confer invisibility or super speed on their inventors, anti-gravitating spacecraft that shuttle men between Earth and the Moon, and machines of ivory, brass, and crystal that swim through time as easily as fish through water.  All these wondrous inventions are a testament to logic, science, and human ingenuity, but against the apocalyptic vision of those final chapters, all of those wonderful inventions lose their luster and their magic.

What shines brightly in Wells’ dark vision of our future is the genuine affection between a young woman named Weena and Wells’ man out of time. When the Time Traveler bolts through time to escape wars and natural disasters, he arrives in a future populated by a self-absorbed race of humans called Eloi. And when the Time Traveler risks his life to save Weena from drowning, his act of kindness sparks her gratitude and begins their friendship—it is the only tenderness in Wells’ nightmarish future.

All these wondrous inventions are a testament to logic, science, and human ingenuity, but against the apocalyptic vision of those final chapters, all of those wonderful inventions lose their luster and their magic.

Later Weena will pick two flowers and slip them into the Time Traveler’s pocket.  And it is these two flowers the Time Traveler offers to friends as proof of his unbelievable trip through time.  When the traveler resumes his journey back into the future in search of the young woman, he leaves the two flowers on a table for his friend.  And as the story draws to a close, his friend muses on the Time Traveler’s long absence and the two flowers:

And all I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers – shriveled now, and brown and flat and brittle – to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man.

Wells plucked many fantastic machines from his imagination, but he prizes none of them as highly as the genuine affection and trust between people. For me, The Time Machine is a belated discovery, one as exceedingly wondrous as a trip through time.

©2009 Kent Gutschke.  All rights reserved