Welcome to our latest installment of The Classic of the Month! Today, we’re going to look at one of the earliest examples of a science fiction novel, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. This adventure story is also notable for being one of the first novels to include time travel. You might have noticed that I did not say that this was the earliest example of time travel in literature. While it is one of the most well-known, there are actually a handful of other titles that came before. If you would like to hear about those titles, keep reading. I’ll have a little list for you at the end, in the “Final Thoughts” section.
Book of the Month
“The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us. His grey eyes shown and twinkled, and his usually pale face was flushed and animated. The fire burned brightly, and the soft radiance of the incandescent lights in the lilies of silver caught the bubbles that flashed and passed in our glasses.”The Time Machine, H.G. Wells
What’s it all About?
Our unnamed narrator is relaxing post-meal at a dinner party with some of his friends, when the host, hereafter known as “The Time Traveller” announces his theory that time travel is completely possible. Not only that, he has designed a machine that is capable of helping him to travel through time. The next time the group meets, the Time Traveller shares that he has indeed tested the time machine, and not only that, but it works! He then takes over the narrative, sharing his extraordinary adventures across time, as he jumps into the future year of A.D. 802,701. Humanity as we know it is no more, replaced instead by two competing races of creature, the peaceful, almost childlike Eloi, and the brutish, cave-dwelling Morlocks. When the time machine goes missing, the Time Traveller finds himself trapped in an uncertain future.
Read this if you Enjoy…
- Science Fiction
- Dystopian tales
- Stories of class conflict
- Speculative fiction
While I would not consider myself a big science fiction reader, I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Time Machine. This delicious tale of adventure, combined with some fancy futuristic technology and lots of tension kept my attention throughout. I mentioned in my introduction that not only was this not the first science fiction novel, but this was also not the first to include time travel, either! If you enjoyed this book and are curious about what those other books are, then allow me to direct your attention to A True History (also translated as A True Story) by Lucian of Samosata. This fantastical tale includes everything from extraterrestrial lifeforms to a trip to the moon. Written as a satire, this novella, written in the 2nd Century AD, has many of the hallmarks that we would now consider to be science fiction.
And as for the first time travel adventure, well, this took a bit more digging to find an answer. In 1889, we have Mark Twain’s novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, where a blow to the head sends our protagonist back in time. There is the Spanish-language novel, El Anacronopete (translated as The Time Ship), published in 1887, which you can access through OhioLink, and if we want to get really technical (which, of course we do!) there is also Charles Dickens’ classic holiday tale A Christmas Carol (1843) which features a protagonist who travels both into the past and into the future against his will. If we go back even further, there’s Memoirs of the Twentieth Century by Samuel Madden (1733). However, the time travel here involves papers rather than people, as our narrator claims to have gotten access to documents from the future.