Rediscover the World's Greatest Stories

Frank Lavallo hosts two readers and the three of them summarize the world’s greatest works of classic literature, giving their reactions along the way. If SparkNotes had an audio best friend, it would be us!

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“The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells

| S:7 E:2

S7 Ep 2

Host: Frank Lavallo

Readers: Elizabeth Flood and Phil Setnik

Author: H.G. Wells

Year of Publication: 1895

Plot: The story that launched H.G. Wells’s successful career and earned him his reputation as the “Father of Science Fiction.” The Time Machine sends a brave explorer to face a future burdened with our greatest hopes… and our darkest fears. The discovery of two bizarre races, the Eloi and the Morlocks, offer a dystopian warning and / or a portrait of hope for the future of humanity.


Frank Lavallo:

Hello and welcome. I'm Frank Lavallo, and this is Novel Conversations, a podcast about the world's greatest stories. For each episode of Novel Conversations, I talk to two readers about one book. And together, we summarize the story for you. We introduce you to the characters, we tell you what happens to them and we read from the book along the way. So, if you love hearing a good story, you're in the right place. This conversation is about the novel, The Time Machine by H.G Wells. And I'm joined by our Novel Conversations readers, Elizabeth Flood and Phil Setnik. Elizabeth, Phil, welcome.

Elizabeth Flood:

Thank you.

Phil Setnik:

Thank you, Frank.

Frank Lavallo:

And now on to our story. Before we get started, let me read a brief introduction of our novel. Published in 1895, The Time Machine was written by Herbert George Wells, better known as H.G Wells and considered one of the fathers of science fiction. The Time Machine is his novella about a man and his machine and how he uses it. And it's really a story about man and science, man and technology, technology and society. How the Time Traveler, the only name given to our main character by H.G Wells, uses his machine twice going to the future once for scientific curiosity and the second time for love and his realization of man's possible future, make up our novel, The Time Machine. And in a day of increased use of technology, Wells novel serves as both a dystopian warning and a hopeful thought. The danger is not the science, the danger is in how we use it. Before we dive into this dystopian story, let me ask you both if you've read this book or if this is your first time. Elizabeth, have you read this book before?

Elizabeth Flood:

No, this was my first time reading it.

Frank Lavallo:

What do you think?

Elizabeth Flood:

I liked it a lot. It was a pretty quick, easy read. I actually wish that it was longer.

Frank Lavallo:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I haven't heard that very often.

Elizabeth Flood:

I like long books, I guess.

Frank Lavallo:

Phil, was this your first time reading The Time Machine?

Phil Setnik:

No, I read it once before when I was a great deal younger. I think H.G Wells gave me a copy himself.

Frank Lavallo:

How was the second reading different now that you're such a... Shall we say seasoned reader?

Phil Setnik:

Exactly. And one of the things I love to read a science fiction. So, one of the things that was cool about reading it this time having read a lot of other science fiction in the meantime, is to see that this is the source material for so many ideas you see in science fiction today, both in books and in movies.

Frank Lavallo:

Well, as I said, he is considered one of the fathers of science fiction, one of the early writers.

Phil Setnik:

Exactly.

Frank Lavallo:

And Phil, even though this book was published in 1895, he got a lot of the science right. We won't say he got it all right, but he got a lot of it right.

Phil Setnik:

Well, he was living at a time around the same time as Charles Darwin. And he was a very ardent supporter of Charles Darwin. So, he understood evolution, he understood biology and he understood a lot about physics. What he also understood was society and social science. He was a very prolific writer in a lot of different genres. So he got a lot of things that he blends together in this book.

Frank Lavallo:

That's right, Phil. Excellent point. And with those introductory remarks, let's begin our discussion about our book, The Time Machine. Let's talk about our main character, the Time Traveler, who was never given a name. He's just known as the Time Traveler. Phil, do you want to introduce the main character?

Phil Setnik:

I'll be happy to, Frank. the Time Traveler is the prototypical tinkerer, almost med scientist kind of character. He tries a whole bunch of different inventions that he mentions in the book, that the people at the dinner party he's hosting are sitting in chairs that he designed and they were crafted for them each individually. So, these are the kinds of things he liked to do.

Frank Lavallo:

But Phil, why no name?

Phil Setnik:

That's a good question. And I think it may have to do with the style of writing at the time, it wasn't uncommon to have books with the characters having no names except perhaps one or two of them, the main characters and maybe because the characters weren't that important. And the only thing he really needs to be known by is what he does. the Time Traveler, that's how he's described.

Elizabeth Flood:

Yeah, he introduces quite a few people in a short amount of time and they're only here really in the first few chapters. So, I think their main purpose is to give us a caricature or a stereotype of whatever their profession is. So we have the editor, the doctor, the psychologist and so on.

Frank Lavallo:

But we do have one name I think in that list, don't we?

Elizabeth Flood:

Yeah, we have one guy named Filby, I don't know what the significance of that is.

Frank Lavallo:

And Phil, these men as you said, are sitting around having a dinner and having a discussion. They're having a discussion about time and math.

Phil Setnik:

Exactly. It turns out that the Time Traveler, wants to tell us that mathematicians have gotten this wrong for centuries.

Frank Lavallo:

Gotten what wrong?

Phil Setnik:

The ability to travel through time.

Frank Lavallo:

Gotcha.

Phil Setnik:

So he explains that there are not just three dimensions. Everybody knows about the three dimensions of height, width and depth up down X, Y and Z. But there're actually four dimensions. Height, width, depth and duration. So he calls time the fourth dimension.

Elizabeth Flood:

Yes, he says, "There is no difference between time and any of the three dimensions of space, except that our consciousness moves along it."

Frank Lavallo:

Well, now, Elizabeth, you just read us a quote from the Time Traveler himself.

Elizabeth Flood:

Yes.

Frank Lavallo:

Who's actually the narrator of our story?

Elizabeth Flood:

So the narrator is also unnamed. Assumingly, it's H.G Wells or a character based on himself. So the first few chapters are this unnamed narrator telling the story and then eventually, when the Time Traveler tells his story, the rest of the book, almost the entire rest of the book is in quotation marks, which I've never seen it a book before that you have somebody in quotation marks telling an entire story.

Phil Setnik:

And essentially, that's the Time Traveler telling these unnamed men-

Elizabeth Flood:

His story.

Phil Setnik:

His story, right.

Elizabeth Flood:

Yeah.

Phil Setnik:

And one of the things I want to point out if I may about the different men at the beginning of the story at the first dinner, where they're talking about the ability to have time travel, is as you pointed out Elizabeth, the characters have their different professions or the different titles. The psychologist for example, looks at the Time Traveler in his story from a psychological standpoint. The provincial mayor, as he's described in the book, is a provincial. He's a country boy, he doesn't know anything about science, he just happens to be a mayor, so they invited him to this dinner. Each of them looks at this from their particular angle. The medical man is a scientist, he has a little bit better grasp of it.

Frank Lavallo:

Well, Phil, you used the word caricature, could we use the word perhaps stereotypes or maybe even these men represent schools of thought?

Phil Setnik:

I like that. That's a good way to describe it, Frank.

Frank Lavallo:

Okay. Then who do you think is the narrator? Elizabeth believes it's a H.G Wells like character, perhaps.

Phil Setnik:

I'd have to agree with Elizabeth. It's definitely told from the standpoint of the author, remembering that the author is this prolific writer and he's had all these different trainings in social sciences, in biological sciences and so on, he's filtering all this in that light.

Elizabeth Flood:

And something I also wanted to point out is in the third chapter, the narrator says that he and his friends don't trust the Time Traveler. He says he's "one of those men who are too clever to be believed." So, it's interesting, can we trust the story that the Time Traveler tells us? Is he changing different parts of his story to make himself look better? We don't know.

Frank Lavallo:

Elizabeth, I'm fascinated that you mentioned that because I'm thinking, I'm not sure I can trust the narrator.

Elizabeth Flood:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Frank Lavallo:

Phil, Elizabeth, we've had this discussion of whether we can trust the narrator, whether we can trust the Time Traveler's story. Eventually though, these men all decide to stop talking and the Time Traveler decides to show them what he's talking about instead of just explaining the time machine, he's actually made a model Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Flood:

Yes, he has. It's a mini time machine that he can just put on a little table and he sets it into motion and it disappears after placing it on a table and activating the lever and the group stands there in confusion. There's an empty table there, there's no time machine model.

Frank Lavallo:

Phil, they think this is just some magic trick. "Oh look, I made the elephant disappear."

Phil Setnik:

Exactly. One of them even remarked that he'd seen just such a trick very recently.

Frank Lavallo:

But then, the Time Traveler has a surprise for them. He hasn't just made a miniature model, he's actually made a real model, a real time machine.

Elizabeth Flood:

Yes, it's exactly the same as the mini one, except it's big enough for a person to sit on, it's got a saddle and some pedals.

Phil Setnik:

One of the things they remark about in the book in the description of it, is the craftsmanship. Both of the model and of the large machine itself, how it's made from quartz crystal and ivory and nickel plating and all of these different detailed descriptions. One of the things that I noticed, there's no power source mentioned, it doesn't say how it actually goes.

Frank Lavallo:

Huh! Good point. Perhaps H.G Wells couldn't explain his machine at that time. Well, let's move on to the next chapter. The next chapter is immediately about a week later, the men have gathered again to have dinner with the Time Traveler, there's actually some new men in attendance. But Phil, there's no time travel.

Phil Setnik:

Exactly. So we meet the editor that Elizabeth mentioned before, who thinks and talks in headlines, the silent man and three men named Blank, Dash and Chose. And those aren't their real names, they're just representations of they'd be a blank or a dash. The greeter tells them the Time Traveler will be late and to begin eating dinner he'll be there soon. And he does show up a little later. He's tired, he's beaten and bruised and he's lame and walking with a limp and he's wearing no shoes and only bloody socks. The first thing he says when he sits down, is he really wants a piece of meat.

Frank Lavallo:

And he eats like he's starved.

Phil Setnik:

Exactly. And after they eat, they all sit around the fire and they listened as the Time Traveler talked about his adventures through time.

Frank Lavallo:

Elizabeth, how does the Time Traveler start his story?

Elizabeth Flood:

Well, I certainly can't describe time travel as well as H.G Wells does. So, why don't we read from the man himself. "I am afraid I cannot convey the peculiar sensations of time traveling, They're excessively unpleasant, there is a feeling exactly that one has upon a switchback of a helpless headlong motion. I felt the same horrible anticipation too of have 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 at every minute and every minute marking a day. I suppose the laboratory had been destroyed and I had come into the open air. 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."

Frank Lavallo:

Elizabeth, let me stop you there. And Phil, do you want to continue with this really great description?

Phil Setnik:

"In the intermittent darknesses, I saw the moon spinning swiftly through recorders 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 greenness, the sky to a wonderful deepness of blue, a splendid luminous color 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."

Frank Lavallo:

Phil, I'm going to stop you there and let me pick up a little bit. He describes, "The landscape was misty and vague. I was still on the hill-side upon which this house now stands, and the shoulder rose above me gray and dim. I saw trees growing and changing like puffs of vapor, now brow, 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 changed, 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 sunbelt 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 bright, brief green of spring." But Phil, at some point he's got to stop.

Phil Setnik:

He does. "I find myself into futurity." He says. "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 there with 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. God, I love his language. "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 hill-side 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."

Frank Lavallo:

And Elizabeth, he finally does stop, but it's not a nice gentle stop, is it?

Elizabeth Flood:

No, he lands pretty violently and hits his chin and is thrown off of the machine.

Frank Lavallo:

But Phil, once he gets his bearings, what does he see? What is he noticing right away?

Phil Setnik:

He looks around the location where he is and he sees beautiful lush foliage and flowers. Unfortunately, he's caught in a hailstorm, he's being pummeled by hail and soaked to the skin almost instantly. But looking through the midst of the hailstorm, he sees what looks like a large white sculpture, a statue, describes it as a White Sphinx. And then he sees small robe demesne, small robed creatures approach him in his time machine.

Frank Lavallo:

Elizabeth, do you want to describe these people?

Elizabeth Flood:

Yeah, they are about four feet high, they all look more or less the same, they all have blond curly hair and they have these sharp chins and sharp features with mild to large eyes. They look a lot like children. They're about the size and shape of children and they have the personality of children as well. They're very beautiful, gentle, but also very frail.

Phil Setnik:

The word cherubic came into my head when they were describing this. Little angels.

Elizabeth Flood:

Yeah. And they're also all dressed in purple robes with gold belts.

Phil Setnik:

And they don't speak English, but he describes it as some kind of liquid tongue that they shared among each other.

Frank Lavallo:

And once he gets to know them, he realizes they eat strange fruits and vegetables, but he doesn't see any animals, doesn't seem to be any meat.

Phil Setnik:

It appears that animals have become extinct, other than these creatures.

Frank Lavallo:

Elizabeth, do we have a year for this time?

Elizabeth Flood:

Yes, it's 802,701 AD. And he has some sort of dial or something on his machine that tells him what year it is.

Frank Lavallo:

Phil, can you describe the scene, this place a little bit more?

Phil Setnik:

And being the scientist that he is, he's a keen observer. And he realizes a lot of things about these creatures that he sees about him. He realizes that they don't seem to have family units, that they don't seem to have much distinguishing them from a gender standpoint. There is no pain, there's no necessity. They spend their days gallivanting with each other, chasing each other, throwing flowers, dancing.

Frank Lavallo:

I think one of the lines H.G Wells uses is there's only contented inactivity.

Phil Setnik:

Exactly.

Frank Lavallo:

There's nothing for these people to do.

Phil Setnik:

And yet, all around her, abandoned ruins and huge palaces. It looks like a utopia. But is it?

Frank Lavallo:

That's a great question, Phil. And I was going to ask Elizabeth that. Elizabeth, is this a utopia?

Elizabeth Flood:

Well, as most books about utopias end up, it's not a utopia.

Frank Lavallo:

So, it's not all sunshine and peppermint?

Elizabeth Flood:

Well, at first it appears to be a utopia to him, but he's disappointed when he realizes that these creatures are very simple minded, they're very childlike. Their minds are maybe on the level of a five year old, he says. And he's really disappointed by this because he was hoping that people in the future would be leagues ahead of us in development and intellect. And even though he sees these grands and beautiful buildings, they're in disarray, they're not being kept up. These were buildings that were made a long time ago and these creatures are just living in them and not cleaning them, not keeping them up, not creating anything new.

Frank Lavallo:

Phil, what's your take on this supposed utopia?

Phil Setnik:

He has a hypothesis about why these creatures seem to be so indolent and fragile and of low intellect. It's because they've accomplished everything. There's nothing left to fight for. They have eliminated disease, they've eliminated wild animals, they have made every possible advancements they needed to and now they're coasting. There's nothing left for them to do.

Frank Lavallo:

And Phil, there's a moment about to happen where it becomes pretty clear to the Time Traveler, he's not in a utopia. But before we get to that event, let's take a quick break and when we come back, we'll continue our discussion of H.G Wells, The Time Machine. You're listening to Novel Conversations, I'm your host, Frankel Lavallo, we'll be right back. Welcome back. I'm your host, Frank Lavallo and today I'm having a conversation about the novel, The Time Machine by H.G Wells. And I'm joined in conversation by our novel conversations readers, Elizabeth Flood and Phil Setnik. Phil, before we took our break, I mentioned that there's going to come a moment when the Time Traveler knows he's not in utopia. Do you want to give us that moment?

Phil Setnik:

I'll be happy to. He has started to take his meals with the road figures that he encountered originally. And while he's up in one of the buildings overlooking where his time machine should have been, it wasn't there, it had been taken. It wasn't in the place where you left it. In a panic, he went down to look for it and he finally came to the conclusion that it must be hidden in the base of the White Sphinx that he saw earlier. He tried to ask the robots people what they thought about this and he didn't really get any answers, he just got smiles and more flowers.

Frank Lavallo:

And Phil, once you realize that the time machine is gone, he tries to find out from the road people, "Well, what happened to my machine?" He tries to communicate with them. How does that work?

Phil Setnik:

They don't really understand him. He's already come up with some rudiments of communication with him, but when he asks them about the machine, they have no idea what he's really talking about.

Frank Lavallo:

Yeah, I'm not sure you can do the time machine in sign language.

Phil Setnik:

Exactly. And they just smiled at him and thought he was being foolish.

Frank Lavallo:

Now, Elizabeth, we've called these folks, the little people, Phil has referred to them as the robed people. We do get a name for this race. So, do you want to give us that name now?

Elizabeth Flood:

Yeah, they're called the Eloi.

Frank Lavallo:

Well, Phil once the Time Traveler realizes his time machine has gone, what is he thinking he may never get back?

Phil Setnik:

Exactly. So he's in terrible desperation initially and he tries to find a way to get into the base of the Sphinx to get his time machine back. And he's busy looking for some kind of a weapon to use on it. But then he takes a step back and he realizes that he has to learn to live in this place at least for the moment and maybe get cooperation from the Eloi.

Frank Lavallo:

But Phil, he does have one reassuring thought about his time machine.

Phil Setnik:

Right. Even though the time machine has been stolen apparently, it can't be used because he very cleverly disconnected the operating levers and put them in his pocket when he parked the time machine in the grassy knoll that he had it on.

Frank Lavallo:

He essentially put the keys in his pocket?

Phil Setnik:

Exactly.

Elizabeth Flood:

He also discovers an irony in the circumstances. He says, "Then suddenly, the humor of the situation came into my mind. The thought of the years I had spent in study and toil to get into the future age. And now my passion of anxiety to get out of it. I have made myself the most complicated and the most hopeless trap that ever a man devised."

Frank Lavallo:

Great quote, Elizabeth. Thank you. Now, Phil. Once the Time Traveler realizes his machine is gone, he uses this time to do a little exploring to look around the area, he finds some strange buildings, some odd structures, do you want to tell me about some of these things he sees?

Phil Setnik:

Well, one of the things he comes across, there's really two things. And he realizes eventually that they're connected or seem to be. Well, look like wells, no water in them however. When he sticks his head into one of these wells, the breeze seems to flow past him down the well.

Frank Lavallo:

As if they're sucking in the air.

Phil Setnik:

Exactly. Air is being pulled into them.

Elizabeth Flood:

Like a vacuum. He puts a piece of paper in and it gets sucked down.

Phil Setnik:

Exactly.

Frank Lavallo:

Gotcha.

Phil Setnik:

And then he notices these tall tower like structures a little further off and when he glances at them he sees as though one would see above a fire, vapor in the air above these as though air is coming out of the towers.

Frank Lavallo:

Almost the way we see over the smokestacks around the steel mills.

Phil Setnik:

Very similar to that. And what he seems to conclude is that there is a ventilation system. And he believes that there might be something going on underground.

Frank Lavallo:

And Elizabeth, while he's doing this exploring and checking out the area, he makes a friend.

Elizabeth Flood:

Yes, he does. Her name is Weena.

Frank Lavallo:

Tell me a little bit about Weena.

Elizabeth Flood:

He meets this young woman named Weena.

Frank Lavallo:

He does more than meet her though.

Elizabeth Flood:

Yeah, he rescues her. She almost drowns.

Frank Lavallo:

Tell me about that.

Elizabeth Flood:

So, Weena and some of the other creatures are in a little stream and she gets caught up into the current and is about to drown, but he goes and rescues her and ever since then, he has earned her eternal gratitude and they're best friends and she just follows him everywhere he goes.

Frank Lavallo:

But Phil, not only does he make a friend in this rescue, he comes to realize something about the other Eloi.

Phil Setnik:

Yes. He noticed that, while Weena was struggling in the stream, none of the other Eloi bothered to do anything to help.

Frank Lavallo:

They just stood by and watched her start to drown.

Phil Setnik:

Exactly. As though that were just a normal consequence of living.

Frank Lavallo:

All right, Phil. Elizabeth introduced us to his friend Weena, but now he also realizes he may have enemies.

Phil Setnik:

One of the things that he thought before was that there was no more fear in this world. The only thing he noticed that they were afraid of was darkness.

Frank Lavallo:

The night.

Phil Setnik:

The night. And there are certain ape like creatures that he sees going down one of these wells, and he gets this idea that maybe they have something to do with the night. And we'll have more evidence of that momentarily. And he finds out that these creatures are called Morlocks.

Frank Lavallo:

That's the name that the Eloi gave them.

Phil Setnik:

Exactly.

Frank Lavallo:

Phil, what else do we know about these Morlocks?

Phil Setnik:

We see them described as they have fur and they have great big eyes that seem to be adapted to the dark and very sensitive to light. He spots one of them in one of the ruined buildings that he goes into and looking for it, he strikes one of his matches and the creature dashes away because he can't stand the light. But he does see that they have these huge light sensitive eyes and then it dashes back into another dark area of this ruin.

Frank Lavallo:

In fact, he relates these creatures to fish that have grown up in caves without sun.

Phil Setnik:

Exactly. And eventually all of this ties together in his idea that the wells are part of a ventilation system and he sees this one creature go down one of the wells and that they live underground. So, he starts to refer to the place where the Eloi live as the over world and then he refers to the place with a Morlocks live as the underworld.

Frank Lavallo:

Elizabeth, I think you have a quote that describes the Morlocks.

Elizabeth Flood:

Yeah. He says, "It was so like a human spider." In his eyes they're exactly the opposite of the Eloi. They're very unpleasant creatures. And when he asks the Eloi about the Morlocks, the Elois are just disgusted that he would even bring them up. So they share the same repulsion that he has for these creatures.

Phil Setnik:

His impression of the Morlocks as being... He continually describes them the same way. You mentioned the human spider in his revulsion about spiders and how they're ugly and grotesque and so on, and how he was disappointed in how the Eloi didn't seem to be very intelligent or motivated and they're lazy. And his conception of how something that is beautiful, should be the superior race and they should be the more intelligent and superior in every way and the ugly ones are going to be inferior and less intelligent. That's turned upside down, because obviously the Morlocks who he finds physically repulsive, they're the ones who are smart enough to take his time machine.

Frank Lavallo:

And that's H.G Wells commenting on society.

Phil Setnik:

Exactly.

Frank Lavallo:

All right. So Phil, now that the Time Traveler's come across this sinister ape like race of underworld dwellers, he realizes that it is indeed the Morlocks that most likely have his time machine. So, his next move is actually to go down that well and into the darkness to face the Morlocks. Let's not leave the listeners in suspense. What was that like for him? Plunging into the dark well, knowing what it is waiting for him down there?

Phil Setnik:

Well, he starts down and realizes that there are little hand holes, spikes sticking out of the walls. They're close together, which fits with the size of the Morlocks. And the way they're described that Elizabeth mentioned in the book about them seeming to be like human spiders, he could imagine them clamoring down these rods sticking out of the walls-

Elizabeth Flood:

With great ease.

Phil Setnik:

... with great ease. He's having a very tough time descending, it's hurting his bank, it's hurting his arms and he's about to fall. One of them comes loose and he's about to fall and he manages to swing into a side tunnel and was able to breathe for just a moment. And then...

Frank Lavallo:

Elizabeth, and then?

Elizabeth Flood:

And then he feels little fingers on him exploring him.

Frank Lavallo:

But Elizabeth, he does light a match and he escapes these Morlocks, only to really get into deeper and darker trouble. Phil?

Phil Setnik:

He finds himself in a huge chamber and he can't see very much because the light of the match only goes so far, but he smells blood in the air. He hears the roaring of machinery, probably part of the air circulation system.

Frank Lavallo:

But he does see well enough.

Phil Setnik:

He sees well enough, he looks down and he sees on a table in the middle of this room, a bloody joint of meat. And he pushes from his mind the idea of where this would come from, because he didn't see any animals up on the top. So he manages to escape the Morlocks and clambers back up the well.

Elizabeth Flood:

And this was also the point where he realized how poorly he prepared for this journey. All he had with him were these matches and he had been wasting them by trying to entertain the Eloi with these matches. So now he only had a few left and he didn't have a flashlight or a gun or a camera. He didn't have anything, any weapons with him to use against the Morlocks.

Phil Setnik:

One of the things he decides he needs is a defensible position and some weapons. So he decides then to go off to explore the palace of green porcelain.

Elizabeth Flood:

And Weena comes along with him and all the while she's putting flowers in his pockets because she doesn't know what pockets are for. So she thinks that they're vases.

Frank Lavallo:

Phil, tell me about the palace of green porcelain.

Phil Setnik:

It turns out to be a lot further away than he thought, but he finally makes it there. It's an enormous, enormous building. And when he gets into it, it turns out to be an abandoned museum.

Frank Lavallo:

Interesting and convenient.

Phil Setnik:

Yeah. Both. The first part of it is a paleontology exhibit, and then he finds the hall of great machines and he looks for things that he can use to defend against the Morlocks. He takes a lever from one of the machines and breaks it off and carries it with him as a clobber.

Frank Lavallo:

Let's be clear, before he does that, he does find weapons, but of course they've rusted away, he finds the remnants of bullets that have wasted away. He even finds some dynamite, but of course that's useless after all this time.

Phil Setnik:

Right.

Frank Lavallo:

Finally, he finds something he can use.

Phil Setnik:

Strangely enough, in an airtight sealed case where everything else has been destroyed, there's a box of matches.

Frank Lavallo:

How convenient.

Phil Setnik:

Indeed.

Frank Lavallo:

And Interesting.

Phil Setnik:

Yes. So he takes those with him.

Frank Lavallo:

At least he feels he's going to be better prepared for the next battle he has with the Morlocks. He's got a boxing matches and at least he's got an iron rod that he can use as a weapon. And in fact, he's going to need both of those things, isn't he?

Elizabeth Flood:

Yes, he will.

Phil Setnik:

Exactly. As he leaves the palace, it turns out to be almost nighttime and he reaches a rise where he might think it's defensible, but he says he'd be better off going into the woods with Weena. So, he heads towards the woods and because it becomes nighttime, the Morlocks who traveled the land at night start to attack. He punches into the forest, but before he goes in, he takes his matches and some of the camphor, which he also found in the museum conveniently enough and he sets a blaze to try and keep the Morlocks at bay.

Frank Lavallo:

Elizabeth, how does that work?

Elizabeth Flood:

Well, he starts a forest fire.

Frank Lavallo:

oH!

Elizabeth Flood:

And so the Morlocks do follow them into the woods and they end up attacking them and even though he's able to fight them off, they injure Weena and she seems to be unconscious and he's not sure if she's going to survive or not.

Frank Lavallo:

And eventually he falls asleep or becomes unconscious himself and when he wakes up, Weena is gone.

Elizabeth Flood:

She's gone. We don't know what happened to her.

Frank Lavallo:

But Phil, in the middle of all this despair of losing Weena, there's a glimmer of hope.

Phil Setnik:

There is a glimmer of hope. When he makes it back to the village of the Eloi, he notices that the Sphinx doors are open.

Frank Lavallo:

And?

Elizabeth Flood:

And he can see his machine there and he goes inside but-

Frank Lavallo:

But?

Phil Setnik:

It's a trap.

Frank Lavallo:

It's a

Elizabeth Flood:

Set by the Morlock.

Phil Setnik:

He realizes that it's a trap, but he's ready. He's going to go in chuckling to himself. And he hopes that he springs the trap. And sure enough, as soon as he gets in the doors to the Sphinx spring up and close behind him, and he takes out the matches and sure enough, they're the kind that require the box which the Morlocks had taken from him.

Elizabeth Flood:

So the Morlocks do attack him in the dark, but he's able to fight them off and he quickly puts back the missing piece to the time machine and he barely fights off the Morlocks and he plunges ahead into time and leave them behind.

Frank Lavallo:

And Phil, finally he heads home to his own time?

Phil Setnik:

Not really yet. And he didn't realize what he was doing. He was in a panic, but the Time Traveler through the lever forward, said it was going forward in time instead of back. And he lands on a beach with a red sun.

Frank Lavallo:

A beach in London?

Phil Setnik:

Well, it turns out that he's 30 plus million years into the future.

Frank Lavallo:

I guess there would be a beach in London by then.

Phil Setnik:

We can only imagine what plate tectonics would have done by that time. So, the continental drift or whatever you want to call it had made London, England into an ocean from property. So, he lands on the speech and there's a huge red sun in front of him and the beach looks like it's got these red hillocks all over it. And it turns out those hillocks start to move, and they're giant monster crabs that start coming towards him.

Frank Lavallo:

Well, Elizabeth, it seems like he's gone from the frying pan into the fire. He escaped the Morlocks, now he's got to deal with giant red crabs.

Elizabeth Flood:

Yeah, they see him as some meal. So...

Frank Lavallo:

But he does finally head home.

Elizabeth Flood:

He does finally get home and he arrives late to his own dinner party and he has not dressed for the occasion.

Frank Lavallo:

And Phil, we had this at the beginning of our story where the Time Traveler comes in and starts to narrate the story of this adventure. Do they believe him?

Phil Setnik:

No. No one believes them, except for the narrator who actually goes back the following day to talk to the Time Traveler more about his story. When he gets to the Time Traveler, he's getting ready to go for another trip through time. And this time, he's bringing a camera and photographic equipment, he's bringing some equipment to collect specimens-

Frank Lavallo:

I hope he's bringing in a gun.

Phil Setnik:

I don't think he mentioned a gun, although that would have been a good idea. Probably some more matches. And he's going to get evidence this time. He's going to bring back evidence of his trip.

Elizabeth Flood:

Well, he did have one piece of evidence. He had the flowers that Weena put in his pocket.

Phil Setnik:

Good point.

Elizabeth Flood:

And those are not from this time period. Those were something that nobody had recognized.

Frank Lavallo:

And no one at the dinner could identify them. That's right. That's right.

Phil Setnik:

And as the novel ends, it tells us that the narrator still waits for the Time Traveler's return. But that day never comes.

Frank Lavallo:

And phil, that's how H.G Wells ends his novel. As a reader, we will never know what happened to the Time Traveler. I'd like to think that he goes back, finds a future that he can live in, finds a love that he can stay with. But of course, we do have to at least acknowledge the possibility that he gets lost in time or ends up in a place with something worse than Morlocks. We just will never know, will we?

Phil Setnik:

I think there's a clue.

Frank Lavallo:

All right, let's hear it.

Phil Setnik:

At one point just before the Time Traveler leaves for this last trip, the narrator steps outside the room, but he hears as the book describes it, an exclamation oddly truncated at the end in a click and a thud. So he opens the door back up and he sees the time machine and the figure in it start to disappear. But it only says that there's a figure in it. He can't tell what it is by the description here and maybe my speculation, somehow the Time Traveler got attacked by one of the Morlocks who he brought back in time with him, by someone else who was waiting for him and cast him out of the time machine, that something nefarious has happened to the Time Traveler that will not allow him to come back.

Frank Lavallo:

That's an interesting take. I did not think of it that way. I guess I was a little more hopeful, Phil.

Phil Setnik:

Sorry.

Frank Lavallo:

Elizabeth, do you have a thought on what might have happened to our time traveler?

Elizabeth Flood:

Well, I took it a little more at face value. I just thought that he was trying to go back to get evidence. And also, he had mentioned earlier in the book that he had wanted to bring Weena back to his own time. So he could be trying to go find her and then maybe something goes wrong, or maybe he just decides he wants to live in the future times.

Frank Lavallo:

And for me, I think that's part of what makes this a great novel and a great read. We don't know, H.G Wells does not fill in that last blank for us. What he does is he lets us fill in the blanks for ourselves. He lets us use our imagination. He used his imagination to write this novel, he lets us use our imagination to finish the novel. Did the Time Traveler find Weena? Did he get lost? Is he happy? Is he dead?" We will never know. And for me, that's what makes this a book worth reading. Okay, let's move into our last segment. And what I'd like from you both now, is some of your favorite moments or passages or quotes from the book. Phil, do you have something?

Phil Setnik:

I do. As I mentioned earlier, I've read a lot of science fiction and how this is the source material for so much of modern science fiction. And there's a passage here where he describes one of the risks of time travel. And this theme gets picked up by a number of different authors later on. Notably, in a story I read by Larry Nivin about teleportation, "The peculiar risk lay in the possibility of my finding sub-substance in the space which I or the machine occupied. So long as I traveled at a high velocity through time, this scarcely mattered. I was so to speak, attenuated, was slipping like a vapor through the interstices of intervening substances. But to come to a stop involved the jamming of myself molecule by molecule, into whatever layer in my way meant to 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."

Frank Lavallo:

Now, how does that strike you as a science fiction reader?

Phil Setnik:

It strikes me as a common paradox again and teleportation and time travel. And it's just really cool as I read this book again in my much later years to be able to see that and how it was brought forward by other authors.

Frank Lavallo:

Very good. Elizabeth, do you have something?

Elizabeth Flood:

Yeah, my favorite part was actually towards the end when he had just escaped the Morlocks and now finds himself encountering a new danger, which is these huge giant crabs. He says, "As I stared at this sinister apparition crawling towards me, I felt a tickling on my cheek as though a fly had lighted there. I tried to brush it away with my hand, but in a moment it returned and almost immediately came another by my ear. I struck at this and caught something thread like. It was drawn swiftly out of my hand. With a frightful qualm, I turned and I saw that I had grasped the antenna of another monster crab that stood just behind me. Its evil eyes were wriggling on their stocks, its mouth was all alive with appetite and its vast, ungainly claws smeared with an algal slime were descending upon me. In a moment, my hand was on the lever and I placed a month between myself and these monsters."

Frank Lavallo:

Another great quote. Those are some scary monsters.

Elizabeth Flood:

Yeah, that's the original jump scare.

Frank Lavallo:

My favorite line in this novel is actually the very last line of the novel. In my introduction, I mentioned that I found this both a dystopian warning about what man could do to man and to his society in his environment, but I also found it to be a hopeful thought that perhaps men can learn that science is not the danger, it's how we use science that can be dangerous. And the last line I think, affirms that for H.G Wells. Let me just read that. "And I have by me from my comfort two strange white flowers shriveled now and brown and flat and brittle to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of men." He's hopeful that there are still good people out there. The Eloi, although weak and abused, were good people and he's hopeful that he'll find that again, somewhere out there. So Phil, did you find this a dystopian warning or perhaps a hope that men can get this right? Ae can learn to use science and not be conquered by it?

Phil Setnik:

Well, I hate to be the cynic, but I'm going to be the cynic. For the most part. And again, this is the narrator who's saying this last line. And he believes that the future is black and blank. He says right before that. And he really doesn't have a lot of hope that things are going to turn out well, but no matter how bad things get, there'll be this little spark of gratitude and mutual tenderness.

Frank Lavallo:

Humanity.

Phil Setnik:

A little humanity in the heart of man. And I think that while he has that little tiny bit of hope, I think for the most part, he thinks things are pretty bleak. I don't think he's a very optimistic character, the narrator. And that's my take on it/

Frank Lavallo:

Elizabeth, dystopian warning or hopeful thoughts.?

Elizabeth Flood:

To me, it seems like a warning because we see how far the social classes drift apart and they get to these extremes. And we also see that what humanity has been moving towards as we all want luxury, we all want rest, we all want everything to be as easy as possible for us. But what that ends up going towards is that necessity is the mother of invention. And since the Eloi don't have any necessity, they're not moving forward, they're not making things, they're not writing stories or making art. They're just playing, relaxing, picking flowers and eating.

Phil Setnik:

And by contrast, the Morlocks who live in the underworld, they have necessity, they have to have meat, they have to have a way to get it. They maintain the machines that circulate the air up and down through the wells and up the shafts. And they are the ones who are really the more sophisticated society in that way. And again, because they have needs and necessities.

Frank Lavallo:

Without initiative, there's no Sistine Chapel, there's no Tesla electric vehicles, there's no Washington Monument, there's no footprints on the moon. We need to strive for things. If everything is given to us, we become like the Eloi, little children.

Phil Setnik:

And the flip side of that of course, is without necessity, there's no wars, there's no bombs, there's no airplanes dropping bombs.

Frank Lavallo:

No, just spider like creatures eating you every day.

Phil Setnik:

It's not so simple. It's not so simple. There's a light side and a dark side to everything like duct tape. The contrast between the two societies that the Time Traveler finds in the future is exactly as you've pointed out and as Elizabeth has pointed out. Without any impetus to grow or change, there's stagnation.

Frank Lavallo:

I think I'm going to take the last word. I think it's both a dystopian warning and an ending of hopeful thought. He's warning us, "If you let technology control you, if you let the science get ahead of you, you will be in trouble. If you maintain control of the science, you maintain control of the technology, you can make it work for you and not eliminate your necessities, but help you enhance your creativity and what you do with the time that you have." And with that, let's end our conversation today about the time machine. I want to thank my guest today Elizabeth Flood and Phil Setnik. Phil, Elizabeth, thanks very much.

Phil Setnik:

And thank you, Frank-

Elizabeth Flood:

Thank you.

Phil Setnik:

... it was a very enjoyable discussion.

Frank Lavallo:

You're welcome. It was a pleasure. Thanks again, Elizabeth and Phil, you've been listening to Novel Conversations. Novel Conversations is the production of Evergreen Podcasts. For more information about upcoming Novel Conversations, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. Or go to our website @evergreenpodcast.com. And if you liked the podcast, don't forget to leave us a review. It really helps. Novel Conversations is produced by Julie Fink and our audio engineers Shawn Row Hoffman. A special thanks to our executive producer Joni Andrews, and I'm your host, Frank Lavallo. Until next time, I hope you find yourself in the Novel Conversation.

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