by HG Wells
The original, squashed down to read in about 30 minutes
Wells and the cover of a 1956 version
Herbert George Wells was born in Bromley, in Kent on 21 September 1866, son of a modest shopkeeper and sometime professional cricketer. The young HG is said to have gained his love of storytelling while bedridden due to a leg injury when library books were his only entertainment.
This novel not only established Wells as the great science fiction writer of his day, but more-or-less invented the concept of a 'time machine'.
Abridged by the original author, HG Wells.
For more by HG Wells, see The Index
I. - THROUGH TIME AT HIGH VELOCITY
ANY real body must have extension in four directions; it must have length, breadth, thickness and duration. There are really four dimensions, three which we call the three planes of space, and a fourth, time. There is no difference between time and any of the three dimensions of space, except that our consciousness moves along.
It was at ten o'clock to-day (the Time Traveller said) that the first of all time machines began its career. I gave it a last tap, tried all the screws again, put one more drop of oil on the quartz rod, and sat myself in the saddle. I suppose a suicide who holds a pistol to his skull feels much the same wonder at what will come next as I felt then. I took the starting lever in one hand and the stopping one in the other, pressed the first, and almost immediately the second. I seemed to reel; I felt a nightmare sensation of falling; and looking round, I saw the laboratory exactly as before. Then I noted the clock. A moment before, as it seemed, it had stood at a minute or so past ten; now it was nearly half-past three!
I drew a long breath, set my teeth, gripped the starting lever with both hands, and went off with a thud. Mrs. Watchett came in, and walked, apparently without seeing me, towards the garden door. I suppose it took her a minute or so to traverse the place, but to me she seemed to shoot across the room like a rocket. I pressed the lever over to its extreme position. The night came like the turning out of a lamp, and in another moment came to-morrow. The laboratory grew faint and hazy, then fainter and ever fainter. To-morrow night came black, then day again, night again, day again-faster and faster still. A strange dumb confusedness descended on my mind.
I am afraid I cannot convey the peculiar sensations of time travelling. They are excessively unpleasant. There is a feeling exactly like that one has upon a switchback-of a helpless, headlong motion! I felt the same horrible anticipation, too, of an imminent smash. As I put on pace, night followed day like the flapping of a black wing. The dim suggestion of the laboratory seemed presently to fall away from me, and I saw the sun hopping swiftly across the sky, leaping it every minute, and every minute marking a day, I had a dim impression of scaffolding, but I was already going too fast to be conscious of any moving things. The slowest snail that ever crawled dashed by too fast for me. The twinkling succession of darkness and light was excessively painful to the eye. Then, in the intermittent darknesses, I saw the moon spinning swiftly through her quarters from new to full and had a faint glimpse of the circling stars.
PRESENTLY, as I went on, still gaining velocity, the palpitation of night and day merged into one continuous greyness; the sky took on a wonderful deepness of blue, a splendid luminous colour like that of early twilight; the jerking sun became a streak of fire, a brilliant arch in space, the moon a fainter, fluctuating band; and I could see nothing of the stars, save now and then a brighter circle flickering in the blue.
The landscape was misty and vague. I was still on the hillside upon which this house now stands, and the shoulder rose above me grey and dim. I saw trees growing and changing like puffs of vapour, now brown, now green; they grew, spread, shivered and passed away. I saw huge buildings rise up faint and fair, and pass like dreams. The whole surface of the earth seemed changing-melting and flowing under my eyes. The little hands upon the dials that registered my speed raced round faster and faster. Presently I noted that the sun-belt swayed up and down, from solstice to solstice, in a minute or less, and that, consequently, my pace was over a year a minute; and minute by minute the white snow flashed across the world, and vanished, and was followed by the brief green of spring.
The unpleasant sensations of the start were less poignant now. They merged at last into a kind of hysterical exhilaration. I remarked a swaying of the machine, for which I was unable to account. But my mind was too confused to attend to it. So with a kind of madness, I flung myself into futurity.
At first I scarce thought of stopping, scarce thought of anything but these new sensations. But presently a fresh series of impressions grew up in my mind-a certain curiosity, and therewith a certain dread-until at last they took complete possession of me.
What strange developments of humanity, what wonderful advances upon our rudimentary civilization, I thought, might not appear when I came to look nearly into the dim, elusive world that raced and fluctuated before my eyes! I saw great and splendid architecture rising about me, more massive than any buildings of our own time, and yet, as it seemed, built of glimmer and mist. I saw a richer green flow up the hillside, and remain there without any wintry intermission. Even through the veil of my confusion the earth seemed very fair. And so my mind came round to the business of stopping.
The peculiar risk lay in the possibility of my finding some substance in the space which I, or the machine, occupied. So long as I travelled at a high velocity through time, this scarcely mattered: I was, so to speak, attenuated-was slipping like a vapour through the interstices of intervening substances! But to come to a stop involved the jamming of myself, molecule by molecule, into whatever lay in my way; meant bringing my atoms into such intimate contact with those of the obstacle that a profound chemical reaction-possibly a far-reaching explosion-would result, and blow myself and my apparatus out of all possible dimensions-into the Unknown. This possibility had occurred to me again and again while I was making the machine; but then I had cheerfully accepted it as an unavoidable risk.
Now the risk was inevitable I no longer saw it in the same cheerful light. The fact is that, insensibly, the absolute strangeness of everything, the sickly jarring and swaying of the machine, above all, the feeling of prolonged falling, had absolutely upset my nerve. I told myself that I could never stop, and with a gust of petulance I resolved to stop forthwith. Like an impatient fool, I lugged over the lever, and incontinently the thing went reeling over, and I was flung headlong through the air.
II. - STRANGE LITTLE PEOPLE OF THE REMOTE FUTURE
I LOOKED curiously about me at this world of the remote future. At first things were very confusing. Everything was so entirely different from the world I had known-even the flowers. I resolved to mount to the summit o£ a crest, perhaps a mile and a half away, from which I could get a wider view of our planet in the year eight hundred and two thousand seven hundred and one A.D.-for that, I should explain, was the date the little dials of my machine recorded.
As a walked I was watchful for every impression that could possibly help to explain the condition of ruinous splendour in which I found the world-for ruinous it was. A little way up the hill, for instance, was a great heap of granite, bound together by masses of aluminium, a vast labyrinth of precipitous walls and crumbled heaps, amidst which were thick heaps of very beautiful pagoda-like plants-nettle possibly-but wonderfully tinted with brown about the leaves, and incapable of stinging. It was evidently the derelict remains of some vast structure. It was here that I was destined, at a later date, to have a very strange experience-the first intimation of a still stranger discovery-but of that I will speak in its proper place.
Looking round, with a sudden thought, from a terrace on which I rested for a while, I realized that there were no small houses to be seen. Apparently the single house, and possibly even the household, had vanished. Here and there among the greenery were palace-like buildings, but the house and the cottage, which form such characteristic features of our own English landscape, had disappeared. There were no hedges, no signs of proprietary rights, no evidences of agriculture. The whole earth had become a garden.
"Communism," said I to myself.
IT was then that I first heard voices, and a moment later a man appeared on the terrace in front of me. He was a slight creature-perhaps four feet high-clad in a purple tunic, girdled at the waist with a leather belt. Sandals or buskins-I could not clearly distinguish which-were on his feet; his legs were bare to the knees, and his head was bare. Noticing that, I noticed for the first time how warm the air was.
He struck me as being a very beautiful and graceful creature, but indescribably frail. His flushed face reminded me of a beautiful consumptive-that hectic beauty of which we used to hear so much.
In another moment we were standing face to face, I and this fragile thing out of futurity. He came straight up to me and laughed into my eyes. The absence from his bearing of any sign of fear struck me at once. Then he turned to two others following him, and spoke to them in a strange and very sweet and liquid tongue.
There were others coming, and presently a little group of perhaps eight or ten of these exquisite creatures were about me. It came into my head, oddly enough, that my voice was too harsh and deep for them. So I shook my head and, pointing to my ears, shook it again.
I pointed to the time machine and to myself. Then, hesitating for a moment to express time, I pointed to the sun. At once a quaintly pretty little figure in chequered purple and white followed my gesture, and then astounded me by imitating the sound of thunder.
For a moment I was staggered, though the import of his gesture was plain enough. The question had come into my mind abruptly, were these creatures fools? You may hardly understand how it took me. You see, I had always anticipated that the people of the year eight hundred and two thousand odd would be incredibly in front of us in knowledge, art-everything. Then one of them suddenly asked me a question that showed him to be on the intellectual level of one of our five-year-old children-asked me, i n fact, if I had come from the sun in a thunderstorm! It let loose the judgment I had suspended upon their clothes, their frail limbs and fragile features. A flood of disappointment rushed across my mind. For a moment I felt that I had built the time machine in vain.
A queer thing I soon discovered, and that was their lack of interest. They would come to me with eager cries of astonishment like children, but, like children, they would soon stop examining me, and wander away after some other toy. It is odd, too, how speedily I came to disregard these little people. I was continually meeting more of these men of the future, who would follow me, chatter and laugh about me, and, having smiled and gesticulated in a friendly way, leave me again to my own devices.
WHEN I looked more attentively at their little figures, I perceived that all had the same form of costume, the same soft, hairless visage, and the same girlish rotundity of limb. In dress, and in all the difference of texture and bearing that now mark o£E the sexes, these people of the future were alike.
It seemed to me that I had happened upon humanity upon the wane. The ruddy sunset set me thinking of the sunset of mankind. For the first time I began to realize an odd result of the social effort in which we are now engaged. And yet, come to think of it, it is a logical consequence enough. Strength is the outcome of need; security sets a premium on feebleness. The work of ameliorating the conditions of life-the true civilizing process that makes life more and more secure-^had gone steadily on to a climax. One triumph of a united humanity over nature had followed another. And the harvest was what I saw!
I thought of the physical slightness of the people, their lack of intelligence, and those big, abundant ruins, and it strengthened my belief in a perfect conquest of nature. For after the battle comes quiet. Humanity had been strong, energetic and intelligent, and had used all its abundant vitality to alter the conditions under which it lived. And now came the reaction of the altered conditions. For countless years I judged there had been no danger of war or solitary violence, no danger from wild beasts, no wasting disease to require strength of constitution, no need of toil. For such a life, what we should call the weak are as well equipped as the strong, are indeed no longer weak. Better equipped, indeed, they are, for the strong would be fretted by an energy for which there was no outlet.
No doubt, the exquisite beauty of the buildings I saw was the outcome of the last surgings of the now purposeless energy of mankind before it settled down into perfect harmony with the conditions under which it lived-the flourish of that triumph which began the last great peace. This has ever been the fate of energy in security; it takes to art and to eroticism and then come languor and decay.
Even this artistic impetus would at last die away-had almost died in the time I saw. To adorn themselves with flowers, to dance, to sing in the sunlight; so much was left of the artistic spirit, and no more. Even that would fade in the end into a contented inactivity. We are kept keen on the grindstone of pain and necessity, and it seemed to me that here was that hateful grindstone broken at last!
III. - IN A WORLD WHERE FEAR STILL REIGNED
SO far as I could see, all the world displayed the same exuberant richness as the Thames Valley. From every hill I climbed I saw the same abundance of splendid buildings, endlessly varied in material and style; the same clustering thickets of evergreens, the same blossom-laden trees and tree ferns. Here and there water shone like silver, and, beyond, the land rose into blue, undulating hills.
I must confess that my satisfaction with my first theories of an automatic civilization and a decadent humanity did not long endure. Yet I could think of no other. Let me put my difficulties. The several big palaces I had explored were mere living places, great dining-halls and sleeping apartments. I could find no machinery, no appliance of any kind. Yet these people were clothed in pleasant fabrics that must need renewal, and their sandals were of complex metalwork.
Somehow such things must be made. And the little people displayed no vestige of a creative tendency. There were no shops, no workshops, no sign of importation among them. They spent all their time in playing gently, in bathing in the river, in making love in a half-playful fashion, in eating fruit and sleeping. I could not see how things were kept going.
Then, again, about the time machine. Something-I knew not what-had taken it into the hollow pedestal of the White Sphinx. Why? For the life of me I could not imagine.
And I found, too, that fear had not yet left the world. The little people were fearless enough in the daylight. But they dreaded the dark, dreaded shadows, dreaded black things. Darkness to them was the one thing dreadful. It was a singularly passionate emotion, and it set me thinking and observing. I discovered, then, among other things, that these little people gathered into the great houses after dark, and slept in droves. To enter upon them without a light was to put them into a tumult of apprehension. I never found one out of doors, or one sleeping alone within doors, after dark.
ONE very hot morning-my fourth, I think--as I was seeking shelter from the heat and glare in a colossal ruin near the great house where I slept and fed, there happened this strange thing. Clambering among these heaps of masonry, I found a narrow gallery, whose end and side windows were blocked by fallen masses of stone. By contrast with the brilliancy outside, it seemed at first impenetrably dark to me. I entered it, groping, for the change from light to blackness made spots of colour swim before me. Suddenly I halted spellbound. Two eyes, luminous by reflection against the daylight, were watching me out of the darkness.
The old instinctive dread of wild beasts came upon me. I clenched my hands and steadfastly looked into the glaring eyeballs. I was afraid to turn. Then the thought of the absolute security in which humanity appeared to be living came to my mind. And then I remembered that strange terror of the dark. Overcoming my fear I advanced and spoke. I put out my hand and touched something soft.
At once the eyes darted sideways, and something white ran past me. I turned with my heart in my mouth, and saw a queer little ape-like figure, its head held down in a peculiar manner, running across the sunlit space behind me. It blundered against a block of granite, staggered aside, and in a moment was hidden in a black shadow beneath another pile of masonry.
My impression of it is, of course, imperfect; but I know it was a dull white, and had strange, large, greyish red eyes; also, that there was flaxen hair on its head and down its back. But, as I say, it went too fast for me to see distinctly. I cannot even say whether it ran on all fours, or only with its forearms held very low. After an instant's pause, I followed it into the ruins. I could not find it at first, but after a time, in the profound obscurity, I came upon a round, well-like opening, half-closed by a fallen pillar.
A sudden thought came to me. Could this thing have vanished down the shaft? I lit a match, and, looking down, I saw a small, white, moving creature, with large bright eyes, which regarded me steadfastly as it retreated. It made me shudder. It was so like a human spider! It was clambering down the wall, and now I saw for the first time a number of metal foot and hand rests, forming a kind of ladder down the shaft. Then the light burned my fingers and fell out of my hand, going out as it dropped, and when I had lit another the little monster had disappeared.
I DO not know how long I sat peering down that well. It was not for some time that I could succeed in persuading myself that the thing I had seen was human. But gradually the truth dawned on me-that man had not remained one species, but had differentiated into two distinct animals; that my graceful children of the Upper World were not the sole descendants of our generation, but that this bleached, nocturnal thing was also heir to all the ages.
It was two days before I could follow up the new-found clue in what was manifestly the proper way. I felt a peculiar shrinking from those pallid bodies. They were just the half-bleached colour of the worms in a zoological museum. And they were filthily cold to the touch.
But at last I did find courage to clamber down the shaft. Before I got to the bottom I was in an agony of discomfort; my arms ached, my back was cramped, and I was trembling with the prolonged terror of a fall. Besides this, the unbroken darkness had had a distressing effect upon my eyes. The air was full of the throb and hum of machinery pumping air down the shaft.
IV. - AMONG THE MORLOCKS OF THE UNDERWAYS
I DO not know how long I lay. I was roused by a soft hand touching my face. Starting up in the darkness, I snatched at my matches, and, hastily striking one, I saw three stooping white creatures, similar to the one I had seen above ground in the ruin, hastily retreating before the light.
I have no doubt they could see me in that rayless obscurity, and they did not seem to have any fear of me, apart from the light. But as soon as I struck a match in order to see them, they fled incontinently, vanishing into dark gutters where their eyes glared in the strangest fashion.
I tried to call to them, but the language they had was apparently different from that of the over-world people, so that I was needs left in my own unaided efforts, and the thought of flight before exploration was even then in my mind. But I said to myself, "You are in for it now," and feeling my way along the tunnel, I found the noise of machinery grew louder. Presently the walls fell away from me, and I came to a large open space, and, striking another match, saw that I had entered a vast arched cavern, which stretched into utter darkness beyond the range of my light. The view was all one could see in the burning of a match.
Necessarily, my memory is vague. Great shapes like big machines rose out of the dimness, and cast grotesque black shadows, in which dim, spectral Morlocks sheltered from the glare. The place, by the bye, was very stuffy and oppressive, and the faint halitus of freshly shed blood was in the air. Some way down the central vista was a little table of white metal, laid with what seemed a meal. The Morlocks, at any rate, were carnivorous.
Even at the time, I remember wondering what large animal could have survived to furnish the red joint I saw. It was all very indistinct-the heavy smell, the big, unmeaning shapes, the obscene figures lurking in the shadows, and only waiting for the darkness to come at me again! Then the match burnt down, and stung my fingers, and fell, a wriggling red spot in the blackness.
In a moment I was clutched by several hands, and there was no mistaking that they were trying to haul me back. I struck another light, and waved it in their dazzled faces. You can scarce imagine how nauseatingly inhuman they looked-those pale, chinless faces, and great, lidless, pinkish grey eyes!-as they stared in their blindness and bewilderment. I retreated again, and when my second match had ended I struck my third. It had almost burnt through when I reached the opening into the shaft.
That climb seemed interminable to me. The last few yards was a frightful struggle against faintness. At last, however, I got over the well-mouth and staggered out of the ruin into the blinding sunlight.
AND now I understood, to some slight degree at least, the reason of the fear of the upper-world people for the dark. I wondered vaguely what foul villainy it might be that the Morlocks did under the new moon. I felt pretty sure now that my second hypothesis was all wrong. The upper-world people might once have been the favoured aristocracy, and the Morlocks their mechanical servants, but that had long since passed away.
The two species that had resulted from the evolution of man were sliding down towards, or had already arrived at, an entirely new relationship. The Eloi, like the Carlovingian kings, had decayed to a mere beautiful futility. They still possessed the earth on sufferance, since the Morlocks, subterranean for innumerable generations, had come at last to find the daylit surface intolerable. And the Morlocks made their garments, I inferred, and maintained them in their habitual needs, perhaps through the survival of an old habit of service.
But clearly the old order was already in part reversed. The Nemesis of the delicate ones was creeping on apace. Ages ago, thousands of generations ago, man had thrust his brother-man out of the ease and the sunshine. And now that brother was coming back-changed! Already the Eloi had begun to learn one old lesson anew, were becoming reacquainted with fear.
And now came a most unexpected thing. As I approached the pedestal of the Sphinx I found the bronze valves were open. At that I stopped short before them, hesitating to enter.
Within was a small apartment, and on a raised place in the corner of this was the time machine. I had the small levers in my pocket.
I stepped through the bronze frame and up to the time machine, and as I stood and examined it, finding pleasure in the mere touch of the contrivance, the bronze panels suddenly slid up and struck the frame with a clang. I was in the dark-trapped! You may imagine how all my calm vanished. The little brutes were close upon me. One touched me. I made a sweeping blow in the dark at them with the levers, and began to scramble into the saddle of the machine.
There came one hand upon me and then another. Then I had simply to fight against their persistent fingers for my levers, and at the same time feel for the studs over which these fitted. One, indeed, they almost got away from me. As it slipped from my hand, I had to butt in the dark with my head-I could hear the Morlock's skull ring-to recover it.
But at last the lever was fixed and pulled over. The clinging hands slipped from me. The darkness fell from my eyes. I found myself in the same grey light and tumult I have already described.
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