Characters & Colours: When A Traveller Outpaces Time & Lands In The Future


The term ‘time machine’ coined by H G Wells, whose birth anniversary is on September 21, has been commonly used after the publication of his novel “The Time Machine” (1895). Like most of the characters in the book, The Time Traveller is unnamed and addressed by his profession. He is a scientist based in Surrey. But that does not diminish his importance in the book. He has revolutionary ideas. He invents a time machine, which at first seems dysfunctional. But then, the Time Traveller reaches 802,701 A.D, where he meets a group of petite and sophisticated people called ‘Eloi’ who live on fruits. The entire world seems to have turned into a garden – lush and green. The Eloi fear darkness. He also meets another imaginary evolutionary species called the ‘Morlocks’ who fear light. They resemble robust apes and live underground.

The concept of travel has always intrigued people since generations. Perhaps, this concept was first introduced in “The Memoirs of the Twentieth Century”(1733) by Samuel Maddon. The novel is epistolary in nature. It showcases a future where Catholics and Jesuits dominate. The second time travel book was written in French titled “Memoirs of the Year Two Thousand Five Hundred” by Louis- Sebastian Mercier. It was quite popular unlike Madden’s novel. Almost 25 editions of Merceir’s book came out. A man discusses the problems of Paris. When he falls asleep and wakes up, he finds himself in an imaginary Paris of the future. The 19th century saw popularity of this genre especially Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” (1843) and Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” (1819). Between the publication of Dickens’s book and H G Wells’ “The Time Machine” (1895), at least 8 books were published on the time travel theme. Most of these books involved a protagonist waking up after many years or people going to the past or future. Stories of certain egalitarian worlds or utopian societies are also included in this category of fiction.

The Time Traveller has grey eyes and hair that has begun to show signs of grey. He is clean-shaven and has a slim built. He is a natural genius. He belongs to British elite. He has a hyperactive mind, a keen sense of observation and judgement. He has a flexible mind and he is pragmatic. He is a visionary. He regards intelligence above all human traits and is therefore quite disappointed to meet the future human beings who lack it. The people who meet the Time Traveller on a regular basis are suspicious of him because he is far more intelligent than them. They are unable to gauge him – his understanding and perceptions. Below is his description given in the novel ‘The Time-Machine’:

“…the Time Traveller was one of those men who are too clever to be believed: you never felt that you saw all around him; you always suspected some subtle reserve, some ingenuity in ambush, behind his lucid frankness…(he) had more than a touch of whim among his elements, and we distrusted him.”

The Time Traveller has an unquenchable adventurous and daring spirit combined with a vivid curiosity because of which he is able to create the time machine. He is witty, has a sense of humour and stomachs the sarcasm of his friends with a forbearance becoming of a scientist. The Time Traveller is also a mentally and physically agile person. It is because of his physical stamina and fitness that he is able to survive multiple attacks by the Morlocks. Though his favourite areas of studies were Mathematics and Engineering, he also took a keen interest in Social Sciences. This interest in the Social Sciences helps him in understanding the future species and the reason for their evolution. The Time Traveller also has a keen interest in dance.

Though the central protagonist in the book is unnamed, in the 1960 film adaptation by George Pal, he is named George H Wells. Even in the 2000 film loosely based on “The Time Machine”, the main character is named as Dr Alexander Hartdegen. So, the question is: does the unnamed character focus more on the time machine rather than the characters with names? I got reminded of Franz Kafka’s short story “In the Penal Colony” (1914). There one might assume the characters are unnamed to focus more on the execution device that is described more elaborately than any character. However, the importance of “the Traveller” in Kafka’s cannot be undermined. In fact, the Time Traveller echoes him in many ways. Both have sharp analytical skills and empathy. However, the Traveller hardly speaks whereas the Time Traveller seems more human and relatable in that sense. The Time Traveller deserves more space and time in the annals of literature than he has received. He is the creator of the time machine and the pivot of the entire story. Without him, the story loses significance: like the human race turning into Elois and Morlocks.


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