The Professor and the Traveler

Something that struck me while I was reading “The Man from the Atom” was the depiction of Professor Martyn, as I was immediately reminded of the Time Traveler from Wells’ The Time Machine. Both are men of great curiosity, so much so that they are ostracized within their respective communities. Of the Professor, Kirby conveys, “Ordinary men avoided him because they were unable to understand the greatness of his vision” (“The Man from the Atom” 62). He continues, “Where he plainly saw pictures and worlds and universes, they vainly groped among pictures of his words on printed pages” (“The Man from the Atom” 62). Upon reading this, I immediately though of the Time Traveler and the information the narrator gives us as we first encounter both him and his outlandish scientific experiments. Wells writes, “The fact is, the Time Traveler was one of those men who are too clever to be believed: you never felt that you saw all around him” (The Time Machine 10). In “The Man from the Atom”, it is noted that “the Professor had few friends” (Amazing Stories 62), where we see a similar likeness in The Time Machine. “The serious people who took him seriously never felt quite sure of his deportment: they were somehow aware that trusting their reputations for judgement with him was like furnishing a nursery with eggshell china” (The Time Machine 11). Both intellectual figures in The Time Machine and “The Man from the Atom” are depicted of having both wild ambitions and audience that doesn’t quite understand them, adding a curious dimension as we explore the nature of their inventions.

 

Character Titles- from the Magazine to the Novel

Upon examining the first section of The Time Machine as it was published in The National Observer in March 1894, one of the most jarring changes is inarguably the lack of proper titles for the various characters- with the exception, of course, of the Time Traveler, who in this version of the story is instead referred to as the “Philosophical Inventor”.  The red-haired man remains as described in both iterations of Wells’s work, but others—the Very Young Man and the Provincial Mayor, for example—are reduced to lower-case titles.  Further, some of the characters are completely absent; where is Filby, the Medical Man, the Psychologist?  Who is the “common-sense person”, and why has the narrator contributed nothing to the conversation outside of the opening, unspoken description of the setting?  Above all- what motivated Wells to add in his seemingly unnecessary capitalizations of these characters’ titles in his novel, and why did he decide to bring more characters into the mix when the few present in edition of The National Observer seemed to carry out the conversation perfectly well on their own?  One could argue that “naming” the characters with a simple attribute—be it their profession or the color of their hair—adds a sort of science-fiction mystique to them; “the psychologist” is expected and mundane, whereas “the Psychologist” immediately seems to be capable of far more than his lower-case counterpart.  Further, the smaller group of men could simply be due to a word limit imposed by the publication, and the increase in numbers present in the novel contributes in a way to the legitimization of the Time Traveler’s thoughts and machine.  Rather, the fact that so many thoughtful, educated people are held captive by their own curiosity in the vicinity of the Time Traveler makes the possibility of time travel feel all the more real (although the version in The National Observer is nearly just as convincing).  As such, it could be said that Wells may have simplified his cast of characters in the version he delivered to The National Observer for the sheer sake of drawing readers’ attention to the content of the dialogue rather than who exactly was delivering said dialogue.

The Time Traveller : The Philosophical Inventor

In the National Observer version, The “Time Traveller” becomes the “Philosophical Inventor.” A once mystical characterization becomes ironically disorienting with a concrete professional identity. The “Philosophical Inventor” is a man of the mechanical sciences with interests in the metaphysical. Nothing about his literary presentation seems off until he claims to be able to time travel. Not to say he is any more suspect than the Time Traveller’s claim to science fiction fame, but the verbal difference adds another layer of disbelief. Yes, the difference in characterization gives the reader the ability to grasp onto his identity a bit more than the presentation of his occupation as time traveler. However, he can clearly be read as a philosophical storyteller, not necessarily the sci-fi hero the narrator leads one to believe. Therefore, thinking of him as a man who invents for a living adds the ability to look at him as a peddler of his philosophical imaginings. Specifically, his entire tale can be easily transplanted outside of a sci-fi narrative and consumed as a philosophical hypothetical scenario. One does not really know if he really time travels, but the heart of his arguments about the devolution and degeneration of a future society remain.

 

Wells Allows for Individual Thought

The magazine article A.D. 12, 203: A Glimpse of the Future features many interruptions of thought not only from the Time Traveler himself, or “I” in this case, but from the surrounding audience.  Wherein H. G. Wells’ novel the Time Travel appears to have final say in all ideas and theories, this article provides points of reflection for both the reader and the other characters. For instance, the Time Traveler takes a moment to ponder and states “What might appear when that hazy curtain was altogether withdrawn? What might not have happened to men” (500)? These series of questions give the reader a moment to input their theory, in contrast to the novel which has the Time Traveler creating his own theories after just being in the future for a short time. Also, later on in the article the medical man is allowed to chime in with “That…entirely discredits your story” (500). By allowing another character to contradict the Time Traveler, Wells provides conflict for the reader to be able to decide for themselves what they believe to be true instead of completely accepting all that is told by the Time Traveler. This sense of doubt appears to be more present in the article version of The National Observer than the actual book version.

Work Cited

“A.D. 12,203.” The national observer, 1890-1897, vol. 11, no. 280, 1894., pp. 499-500.

The Voice of Time: A Man of Science or Philosophy?

After reading “Time Travelling: Possibility or Paradox” in The National Observer, perhaps the most significant detail for me was that the Time Traveler is referred to as the “Philosophical Inventor” (446). As the “Time Traveler,” which appears in both The New Review as well as the novel version that we are observing in class, one perhaps establishes several presuppositions about the character without having read much into the story at all. The “Time Traveler” essentially signifies that even though the story has hardly began to develop, he is directly associated with the event of traveling time, and that he perhaps has a significant role in that development. As we have the other characters present in the narrative identified solely as how they behave or what occupation they practice, so too is the Time Traveler identified by a singular facet of his life. The “Philosophical Inventor,” on the other hand, generates  a different approach at the story’s direction and development. As the Time Traveler, one could ask a variety of questions. “Has he actually traveled in time?” “At what point in his life did he travel time, and for what duration?” As a well established man of science, known in many “scientific circles,” (The New Review, pg. 98) one is perhaps inclined to trust his judgement. But a philosopher, on the other hand, elicits interrogation not only on his activities, but also calls into question the validity of not only what he is claiming, but perhaps even his motivations behind his actions. One may have questions that differ greatly from that which they would demand of a man of science. “Is the time travel hypothetical or literal?” “What sort of experience is the philosopher hoping to gain in his expedition?” “How will his discovery benefit anyone other than himself?” It is in this difference that a reader immediately experiences the story in a different way, starting simply with the first sentence of the story.

varying degrees of human experience

Following my exploration of the National Observer‘s serial publication of H.G. Wells’ “In the Underworld”, from what later would become published as “The Time Machine”, I noticed that the presence of dialogue in the serial publication complicated the idea of the societal schism and the evolution of two different species of humanoid creatures(/devolution of the human race) by pushing his audience to question the reasons why individuals are drawn to one another and moreover why these two species were preserved through homogamy. In “The Time Machine”, after the passing of thousands of years, the human race devolved into the Morlocks and the Eloi— representing the skilled proletariat and the indolent bourgeois. While it is logical to think that due to the long-term separation of these two social groups contributed to the birth of two distinct species, I don’t believe that similar standing within social hierarchy is the only reason why these two groups formed, but is definitely helpful to the discussion. This schism that the time traveller addresses occurs not simply between those of different rank within society, i.e. the capitalist and the laborer, but between the “sombre, mechanically industrious, arithmetical, inartistic type, the type of the Puritan and the American millionaire…” (which he likens to the Morlocks) “…and the pleasure-loving, witty, and graceful type that gives us our clever artists, our actors and writers some of our gentry, and many an elegant rogue (Wells, H.G. “In the Underworld”. The National Observer, 1890-1897. 19 May 1894. pp. 14-15)” (the Eloi).” What caught my attention here was the distinction made between those that are “sombre” and those that are “pleasure-loving”, adjectives implored to represent positions within the social hierarchy. So aside from their being a class struggle present within the novel, I think the serial publication does a good job of pushing the reader to also explore the clashing between humans with varying degrees of experience. There is a marxist binary present between the bourgeois and proletariat in addition to there being a social darwinian binary present between those that are fit for survival and those that are unfit. While the Eloi represent the bourgeois, and are the dominant force within society, they are also unfit for survival, in contrast to the working-class Morlocks who not only ensure that their race can survive but also provide for their superiors. Lastly, In “In the Underworld”, the time traveller argues that the natural divide that occurred between the Morlocks and the Eloi (and that is also evident English society) occurs not only because of differences in social hierarchy, since “families drop and rise from toil to wealth continually”, but the question will continue to remain unanswered due to the fact that human experience exists on more of a mystical continuum rather than a clearly-defined binary. 

H.G. Wells: The Degeneration of Man

The National Observer rendition of the Time Traveler and especially the scene in which he returns from his adventures in the year 12,203 A.D. seems to focus less on the current social class standing of man and more on the role that humanity will play in the grand scheme of history.  The strangest part of this is that the story is sandwiched between a book review for what is essentially an American Girl’s handbook to snatching and catching British gentleman as husbands and an account of a golf match between gentleman and professionals that ended obviously with the professionals winning the game.  These seem like such mundane and time appropriate topics compared to the tale of a man traveling in time and realizing that humanity is less important that it would like to believe.  The danger and implications that the novel held, for example, the Time Traveler’s inability to return home along with his relationship to both the Eloi and the Morlocks, seems trivialized in this version of the events.  The Eloi “began to weary and then irritate [The Time Traveler] because of their unsustainability,” which is a contrast from the strange connection that he seems to have with both the Eloi and the Morlocks.  The lack of connection trivializes the story and make it as unbelievable as the characters who are listening to it seems to believe it to be.  The fact that this story is sandwiched between two trivial pieces of unimportant information makes it seem as though anyone reading it would trivialize the story unlike reading in a book where someone would expect t find some greater meaning in the context of the story.