Friday, March 13, 2009

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

I expected The Time Machine to be a light, fun read. Frankly, I was surprised by the philosophical ramblings of the narrator and the above-average writing, which both gave the book more heft.

The story is about a time traveler who arrives in London in the 83rd Century. His first impression is positive. “I saw mankind housed in splendid shelters, gloriously clothed, and engaged in no toil. There were no signs of struggle, neither social nor economical struggle. The shop, the advertisement, traffic, all that commerce which constitutes the body of our world, was gone. It was natural on that golden evening that I should jump at the idea of a social paradise. The difficulty of increasing population had been met, I guessed, and population had ceased to increase.”

Well’s socialist leanings were obvious throughout the book, but later in the book, some honest ambivalence presents itself when he discovers this future society is not as perfect as he had imagined. “'I grieved to think how brief the dream of the human intellect had been. It had committed suicide. It had set itself steadfastly towards comfort and ease, a balanced society with security and permanency as its watchword; it had attained its hopes--to come to this at last. Once, life and property must have reached almost absolute safety. The rich had been assured of his wealth and comfort, the toiler assured of his life and work. No doubt in that perfect world there had been no unemployed problem, no social question left unsolved. And a great quiet had followed.” He concludes that a “perfect” society without challenges or problems inevitably leads to decay. I found his comments on the obliteration of gender especially fascinating in light of “progress” being made in that area in western culture. (I say that to our shame.)

Christian author, C. S. Lewis, strongly disagreed with Well’s socialist answers to world problems, especially the idea that government should abolish all religion. (Apparently, Jules in That Hideous Strength is Lewis’ caricature of Wells.) If you can sift through the socialist propaganda of the book - and take advantage of it to clarify your own thoughts, this book will bring an enjoyable evening of reading. I had a hard time putting it down.


Meg89 said...

I've read the Time Machine, but it's been a while. I had forgotten how beautiful the language of the book was--thanks for the reminder!

I think it's interesting to note that this book has been adapted as a movie many times, but I've never seen a version that captures the spirit and message of the book. I think the best version I've seen took the theme to be you can't change the past, because it's made you who you are. That at least can feel purposeful, in a way, and hopeful for the future.

Wells, as you point out, basically says we can strive for perfection, but once we get there and stagnate, we'll be headed right back down hill again. In other words, progress is useless. The faster we achieve perfection, the faster we ensure our own doom.

Not exactly light, fun reading, but good nonetheless, and very thought-provoking review!

Sarah at SmallWorld said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. I've never read this Well's novel...and not sure that I will. But great review! Love the CS Lewis tie-in.

b said...

Thanks for the honest review. I'll have to consider reading. I have That Hideous Strength on my TBR list this year, so maybe Time Machine would go well with it. B.

Kacie said...

Thanks for the comment - looks like you and I both come to literature from a Christian perspective. And we both love classic lit, which is hard to find these days. I'm subscribing to your site in bloglines.

You're from Brazil or you live there now? I grew up in Papua, Indonesia

Becky said...

I loved The Time Machine. And generally like most of the Wells I've read. Have you read War of the Worlds?

pussreboots said...

I'll take Wells's socialist vision of the future to Lewis's religious dogma any day. :)