Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Time Machine by H.G.Wells

This review is part of the read the book watch the movie challenge.
I should begin by saying that I did not enjoy this book very much. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting but it certainly wasn’t what I got. It is with no small sense of relief that I did not spend £8 on this tiny book but rather borrowed it from my local library.

The story is set in Victorian London with the Time Traveller (we never discover his real name) explaining to a small gathering of close professional friends that he has built a machine that can travel through time. Understandably enough no-one believes a word of it and so the Time Traveller sets off into the distant future where he discovers Humanity has developed into two very distinct sub-species; the surface dwelling, naive and peaceful Eloi and the underground dwelling, ape-like, primitive Morlocks. The Time Traveller struggles to understand how these two distinct groups came into existence and their relationship to each other and faces a life and death struggle of his own when the Morlocks steal his machine leaving him stranded in the future.

Reading books like these serve as a very useful reminder as to why I love more contemporary fiction; no frilly language.

I have no idea why, perhaps value for money, perhaps elitism, perhaps it was just the way it was done but my God books written in 19th century England are needlessly complex and boring!

The motto amongst writers in those days must have been ‘why write something in 20 words when you can use 300?’ I do realise however that this is a personal thing, if you enjoy reading prose from the 19th century then feel free to ignore this part of the review and to not let it put you off the book!

I can’t appreciate or condone the writing style and as such reading the story becomes a chore rather than a pleasure. Even ignoring the way it is written I think the story was improved upon in the film version. The story in the book is dull and brutal, the characters are two dimensional and the violence readily used by the Time Traveller doesn’t seem in keeping with the grand adventure of time travel. The Time Traveller seems to derive extreme pleasure from murdering Morlocks by beating them to death with an iron bar despite the fact they never actually physically harm him, despite having plenty of opportunity to do so. The Eloi are an irritation more than anything else and when a female Eloi named Weena attaches herself to the Time Traveller and is eventually killed in a forest fire that he started he doesn’t appear to care. All in all a detestable man I did not sympathise with.

Despite not enjoying it there were one or two moments in the book which I enjoyed, in some parts it was even exciting and considering Wells wrote the book in 1895 the story is impressively imaginative but i’m afraid any exciting moments were drowned in pages upon pages of self-reflection and prose which sent me to sleep.

Some of you may be aware there has been more than one film version of H.G Wells ‘The Time Machine’ made. I have chosen the 1960 version starring Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux because I remember seeing it as a child and thinking it was brilliant.
I remember absolutely loving this film as a child. I thought the special effects were brilliant and the Morlocks frightened the life out of me (in a good way) of course now I’m older I’m slightly (ok, alot) more critical but I still enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

Although I appreciate the film was made in 1960 the special effects are really quite laughable (in one scene when the time traveller is grappling with a Morlock you can clearly see the blue paint rub off on his hands) there is some terrible acting in the film. One actress in particular named Yvette Mimieux portrayed an Eloi female, who grows close to the Time Traveller, in a singularly uninspirational and unconvincing manner. I’m sure Mimieux was trying to portray her character as being naive and child-like but due to poor acting she just came across as simple-minded. The lights were on but nobody was home.
The Time Traveller himself has a terribly patronising, misogynistic attitude towards the Eloi and particularly the vague, beautiful Weena however his character is infinitely more likeable in the film than the book.

The film added many plot elements to the story which was predictable considering the book was only 90 pages long but these improve on the story in my opinion although some of them are rather ludicrous. (in one scene the time traveller witnesses a nuclear explosion over London. The whole city is destroyed around him in fire from the bomb but he escapes remarkably unscathed)

The film is most definitely worth a viewing even if it is only to laugh at the special effects but personally I wouldn’t recommend the book.
Final verdict; 2/5 for the book 3/5 for the film


  1. My, my, how special effects have changed. Incredible. It's also interesting to go back in time and re-read books we liked to see if our opinion of them changes with our age.

  2. I do like literary classics but I agree it is hard to wrap a modern brain around the language. I've read some lately that were written in the early 20th century and the language is still difficult. Wonder if it took them forever and a day to make a point in a real life conversation.

    I've read The Time Machine-- don't remember the particulars but it wasn't my favorite either.


  3. +JMJ+

    I read The Time Machine for a paper I was doing in uni. My professor was a big H.G. Wells fan and loved discussing the book.

    I remember him saying the Time Traveler's violence is supposed to be disturbing to the readers--particularly the original readers, who believed (as did the naive Time Traveler) that humanity had evolved enough in their own age not to resort to such brutal tactics. Wells certainly disillusioned both of them. We haven't "evolved;" we've just become more comfortable than our Stone Age or even Medieval ancestors. On the other hand, our descendants seem to have devolved. Wells is saying that we're not automatically better just because the others are in the past.

    But I do think the Time Traveler cares very much when Weena dies and he isn't able to save her. She was his first real friend in the future, and he grew so fond of her after a short while that he wanted to bring her back to the past with him. (I remember being very moved when he pulls the flowers out of his pocket as he is telling the story to his friends.)

    Weena is usually cast as some hottie in the movies, but I always think of her as a child--someone who touches the heart but doesn't arouse romantic interest.

  4. I've never read The Time Machine. I probably will someday, but I'm certainly not in a hurry. I have read books from that time period, though, and I definitely agree that the language makes it hard to be truly absorbed in a book.

  5. I agree. One of those rare things where the film is better than the book.

  6. I never heard anyone praise H.G. Wells as a prose stylist. I've read lots of late 19th century stuff and have to say that the more popular the book was back in its day, the less readable the prose is now.

    Like you, I remember loving the 1960 movie as a kid. I think today's special effects, while great, have lost the sense of fun they had back in those days. We would watch a movie like The Time Machine and say, that's cool--we can do that. Grab my best friends Super 8 camera and make our own little movie.

    And can I just add that you all find the best book covers for your blog.

  7. Thanks everyone for your comments!

    @ Kim: Yes, I think it is interesting to re-read books to see how a person’s opinion of them changes over the years. In fact I plan to do this myself once I’ve whittled down my book list sufficiently!
    @ Lesa: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head really, the way we speak and write has changed so much over the years it isn’t easy for us to grasp the way 19th century writers expressed themselves. I suppose 100 years from now people will be reading Harry Potter books saying “I don’t know what this woman is on about!” :o)
    @ Zara: You made a good point; overly flowery language does make a story difficult to follow, often I end up skim reading and therefore don’t get the full flavour for the story. I also find it so tiring reading books like that – it makes me feel old!
    @ Petty: The film is definitely a vast improvement on the book, they took a good idea and made it better in my opinion
    @ C B: That was an interesting point you made about the most popular 19th century books being the hardest to grasp for modern readers, I wonder why that is...I agree with you about special effects, as laughable as they can be there was a more swashbuckling sense of fun from films made in those days. Thanks for the compliment about the book covers, we try our best!


  8. @Enbrethiliel

    Thanks for taking the time to post such a thorough response :o)

    I find it fascinating that the violent side of the story was designed to shock as I would have thought that modern readers would be less sensitive to violence than Victorian era people but clearly this isn’t the case (unless i’m just being a wimp!)

    I really didn’t get much of an emotional feel from the Time Traveller when Weena died, I am sure you are right and he did mourn her but I just didn’t feel it myself. I suspect this is because (as Zara has said in an earlier comment) it is hard to concentrate and get everything from a story when the text is so difficult to read.

    I do appreciate that some people love books written in this style which is why I was careful to add that in my review, my opinion is only my own and I would hate to put off anyone from reading this book just because my review of it was generally negative


  9. I read the book a long time ago, so I don't really remember what I thought of the writing. I do agree that the woman in the movie ended up seeming like she was a simpleton.

    I really like the most recent version of the film. My husband loves the holographic librarian (but then he is a librarian). :)

    Do you watch The Big Bang Theory? I love the episode where they have the Time Machine (supposedly) from the movie.

  10. Hi Alyce

    Thanks for your comment!

    Yes, i've seen that episode. Very funny stuff, the time share time machine! lol