H.G. Wells' first science fiction novel (and the first real science fiction novel of all time), The Time Machine is part adventure story, part speculation, part warning to society at large. The distant future the Time Traveller visits is a dichotomized world inhabited by the peaceful Eloi above ground and the malevolent Morlocks beneath it. While he enjoys his initial time with the Eloi, eating fruit and lounging in grassy paradise, the Traveller soon has to confront the evil Morlocks on their own ground, and discovers a hidden existence more terrible than any mere nightmare vision.
It's interesting that Wells, while condemning the Morlocks for their twisted subterranean life, never fully extols the languid pastoralism of the Eloi. It was not technology (represented by the Morlocks), after all, that was evil—it was the inhuman uses to which man had put it. And while the peaceful Eloi with their gentle communalism (they're suprisingly like hippies) lead more appealing lives than their oppressors, their entire rejection of technology leaves them defenseless prey for the monsters beneath them.
This hierarchy is no accident, no mere literary device. That the Morlocks are inferior in culture and intelligence to the Eloi is obvious; enslavers though they be, they are in fact enslaved to the machinery of their domain, and their underground existence evidences the shamefulness of their inorganic subservience. The Eloi are more cultured, more attuned to the natural world, but their position is precarious—having retreated to mere culture and abandoned work of any kind, they are malleable in the hands of a physically more powerful race.
Like all of Wells' science fiction novels, The Time Machine contains equal elements of horror and philosophical investigation. The Morlocks and the Eloi clearly represent two sides of human nature, separated at great risk to the societal fabric; that both races represent evolved Man is both a clear statement of modern threats to humanity, and a horrific prospect worthy of H.P. Lovecraft or Stephen King. More than just an exciting read (which it is), this is one of the first novels to take seriously the threat of technology—both its mindless adoption and Luddite rejection—to those it was meant to serve.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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