Magazine Restriction?

In both of the magazine versions  of “The Time Machine” I read I noticed some slight differences in the writing from the book version we read for class. One thing I particularly found interesting was that the Utopia described in the magazine versions seemed less bizarre than the one described in the book version. On page 500 from “A.D. 12,203: A Glimpse of the Future” in the National Observer the time traveler says, “I looked more curiously and less fearfully at this world of the remote future” (500). Yes, the time traveler was intrigued by the new world of the future yet he wasn’t as scared in this version where in the book he did face a bit more of a panic upon arriving into the new atomosphere. I looked at some of the other articles that were in the National Observer that week with Wells and a lot of them focused on politics and social issues. I don’t think the magazines were trying to focus on radical ideas of what the world could be but on what was occurring in the present therefore they had Wells tone down his description of this “peculiar” future. I observed the same concept of the future being not so other worldly than the present time in Part 3 of the New Review. The time traveler states in this magazine excerpt that, “while such details are easy enough to obtain when the whole world is contained in one’s imagination, they are altogether inaccessible to a real traveller amid such realities I found here” (331). Here the time traveler is saying that the future was not so different from the present life he lived in whereas in the book it is evident that the world has changed dramatically. The book may have had more freedom in publishing a more scientific or heightened Utopia because a magazine wasn’t controlling what could be in the book or not. This was just one thing that I observed after reading the magazines compared to the book. 

Conveying Mood Between Editions

The National Observer’s edition of H.G Well’s “The Time Machine” has the same feeling of society’s insignificance that is evoked in the later, more fleshed-out versions in The New Review and Wells’s full novel. Yet, the Observer’s article format dampened the effect. The Observer was definitely a commercial framework given the advertisements and fractured presentation of the story across multiple issues. Using tons of little narrative details in the Observer was too impractical over so many months. Lots of continuity and depth can be lost from any story if it gets sandwiched between unrelated pieces about topics like “The Nitrate Industry”, or more sensational headlines about 19th-century events. The reader’s mind could’ve wandered away from the implications of a far-future without humanity between issues. Once Wells organized and presented the story in larger chunks, many more successful narrative and dramatic details were possible for the New Review edition, as Wells now had the opportunity to tell a story more coherent to a casual reader. The story was still divided at this stage in the print cycle, but it was clearly solidifying into a full-text in the New Review. By the novel, Wells fully fleshed out his thoughts. For example, as previously mentioned by PL, I think the date changes from 12,203 in “The Time-Traveller Returns” to 802,701 A.D. in editions after The National Observer were for dramatic effect, and the plot within both dates conveyed how much humanity’s importance shrank over time. ‘We have always been accustomed to consider the future as in some peculiar way ours,’ said the red-haired man. ‘Your story seems to rob us of our birthright.’ (National Observer, 145.) This theme of civilization’s ultimate insignificance in the face of time is common across all three versions, but it’s clear now that the concepts and events in the plot are best when they stand on their own, without disruption by other articles or features. The novel also has the line, “Had I been a literary man I might, perhaps, have moralized upon the futility of all ambition.” (The Time Machine, p. 56, Dover Thrift Edition) This was a small, fun line to me because this type of narrative aside works best in the literary novel of The Time Machine, and not the shorter articles of National Observer version. The subject matter is vast and potentially dread-inspiring, but inducing these feelings in the reader is much easier through a novel than a serialized print, and Wells took full advantage of that by the time he got to the book.

Rhododendrons: Symbolism or Skepticism?

In both the novel and the installment in The National Observer titled “A.D. 12,203: A Glimpse of the Future”, the Time Traveller specifically points out the existence of rhododendron bushes when he travels to the future. Wells decided not to change the scene in which the Time Traveller first arrives in the future, leaving the immediate observance of the rhododendron bushes in both prints. The Time Traveller’s immediate (and, within the novel, consistent) observance of the rhododendron bushes come off as a little odd, considering they seem to be the only plants that hadn’t evolved or gone extinct in the thousands of years that had not only entirely changed the landscape, but had rendered humans extinct or evolved beyond recognition; in observing the flowers that Weena had given the Time Traveller, merely likened to “white mallows” (The Time Machine 50), the Medical Man says, “The gynoecium’s odd…I certainly don’t know the natural order of these flowers” (73). As such, there comes a question of why the rhododendron bushes had not changed, given that the Time Traveller is unable to identify much else. On the one hand, Wells may be trying his hand at some inkling of familiarity in order to not ward off readers entirely—while not everyone will know what a rhododendron bush is off the top of their heads, the fact that the Time Traveller clearly identifies it may bring some comfort as this strange future is described. On the other hand, Wells’ use of making the Time Traveller’s observance known (that is, not editing out the observance of the flowers between publications) hints at the possibility of some significance outside of merely bringing some familiarity in the new world—that is, the symbolism and meaning behind the rhododendron itself. The rhododendron flower symbolizes caution and danger due to its all-around toxicity (there are multiple flower language guides, but this blog post specifically discusses rhododendrons); considering the popular use of communicating with flowers during the Victorian era, the Time Traveller’s specific observance of the flower may not be a coincidence, and may have only offered further textual insight to those who were familiar with the language of flowers. Interestingly enough, this observation isn’t cause for interruption by the Medical Man in “A.D. 12,203”, but he instead interrupts to discuss how the Time Traveller’s description of the Eloi’s appearance (as being a “beautiful kind of consumptive”) could not possibly be correct, and it is there that the Medical Man discredits the story (500). While the Medical Man’s interruption was not present in the final print of The Time Machine, it still causes the reader some question as to which aspects of science in the Time Traveller’s adventure should be cause for skepticism: the aspects that are questioned, or those which quietly go undiscussed. As is the nature of the novel, this question is furthered due to the lack of interruption by the Medical Man or any other characters–those who do question anything at all at the end of the Time Traveller’s story have been so overloaded with information that any specific questions have been long forgotten.

Medium and “The Gospel of Despair”

In reading H.G. Wells’s “The Time-Traveller Returns,” in The National Observer, one, having read the novel version (The Time Machine) previously, automatically notices the difference in endings between the two. In The Time Machine, the Time-Traveller travels to the year 802,701 A.D. and beyond, witnessing the absence of man and what is essentially the end of the world. He returns to his own time, shares his experience, and then vanishes. While the Time-Traveller in “The Time-Traveller Returns,” does travel to the year 12,203 A.D. (the equivalent of 802,701 A.D.), one of the characters calling his experience “a Gospel of Despair,” he only travels far enough to experience the absence of man, not the end of the world (145). After sharing his experience, he tends to his infant son, telling him “it’s all right” (146). Although both endings are somewhat despairing, the latter is certainly less so, the medium in which it resides determining this. The first half issue of The National Observer in which the story resides is riddled with despairing news content, such as “The Church in Danger” and “The Gulf Betwixt Jew and Gentile.” Like a comic strip, located in the back of a newspaper, “The Time-Traveller Returns,” uses fiction to ease the reader of the stress induced by the harsh realities reported throughout the publication. Like the Time-Traveller tending to his child left in the dark, Wells tends to the reader; though it may feel like the end of the world for the reader, it is not, which is why Wells leaves out such images. The articles surrounding it also function in such a way, though to a lesser extent, like “Gentlemen V. Players at Golf” (146). Free of such contextual restrictions, Wells creates a much more despairing narrative in The Time Machine; the world is going to end and the only key to perhaps altering such a fate, the Time Traveller and his time machine, have vanished.


The novel, in comparison to the magazine serial, has more dramatization. The magazine serial merely glides over certain scenes and feelings while the novel expands and adds more weight and thought into them. For instance, the Elois’ reaction to fire ends with different reactions. The Time Traveler uses his matches to entertain the Elois who think the “fire was a novelty” (In The Underworld. (1894). The National Observer, 12(287), 14) compared to the fire in the novel where The Time Traveler has to forcibly stop Weena from playing with it and hurting herself. Wells adds weight to the consequences of not understanding what fire can do in this era of comfort and makes the future even more dim if our descendants are not only captivated by a fire, but also throw themselves into it without any feeling of self-preservation. The Morlocks’ presence and impact is also dramatized in the novel version. The Time Traveler in the serial feels an “inhumanity” to the Morlocks and runs from them because of their appearance and thinks they’ll “take me to pieces” (The Time-Traveller Returns. (1894). The National Observer, 12(292), 145). This reaction is unwarranted because it has no proof unlike the novel where the Morlocks provoke fear in the Elois and try to trap the Time Traveler. The Morlocks in the serial act the same as the Elois as they both incessantly touch him. The Time Traveler says the Morlocks didn’t regard him “as their fellow creature”, but neither did the Elois who he says saw him as a higher being (The Time-Traveller Returns. (1894). The National Observer, 12(292), 145). The Morlocks are dramatized so in the novel version they have an obvious insidious intent towards the Elois and the Time Traveler. The Morlocks go from a curious, but disgusting creature to an intelligent, cannibalistic animal and make the readers fear the future and the consequences it presents. Dramatization doesn’t make the novel bad or even unrealistic, but gives more weight to the consequences.

Wells: Change and Futility

Upon reading H.G. Wells’ “In the Underworld” and “The Time-Traveller Returns” in The National Observer, it seems conspicuous how the Time Traveller as a character is little changed by the end of his narrative. This lack of change seems to stem, in part, from the lack of a personal relationship between the Time Traveller, the Eloi, and the Morlocks, and also from a lack of scientific reasoning and exploration. Wells’ emphasizes the separation between the Time Traveller and the Eloi and Morlocks, writing in The National Observer: “I could not imagine that they regarded me as their fellow creature, or that any of the deep reasonless instincts that keep man the servant of his fellow man would intervene in my favor. I was to them a strange beast” (“The Time-Traveller Returns,” 12:292,145). This estrangement from the Eloi and Morlocks, coupled with the emphasis on dialogue between the Time Traveller and his contemporary audience, creates a very different type of tale for the reader than in the novel where the Time Traveller formed intricate relationships with the Eloi, and particularly with Weena. Unlike the novel, The National Observer presents the character of the Time Traveller in a very factual way, making it seem as if Wells cannot place his trust in the reader’s interpretation. This comes across in the way that the Time Traveller is more explicit in his reasoning – as with the explanation of Gulick’s “segregation” theory (The National Observer, “In the Underworld,” 12:287, 15), and in the way that he refutes the skepticism of the other characters through specific facts and theories, particularly about our cosmos (The National Observer,“The Time-Traveller Returns,” 12:292, 145-6). Interestingly, though, the Time Traveller himself becomes less dynamic in the way that, where the book emphasized the methods and mistakes of the Time Traveller’s hypotheses and assertions, the serial version of the character defends many preconceived theories with explicit facts and assertions. It seems that this factual way of presenting the material and the characters leads to the reader being as emotionally separate from the Time Traveller as the Eloi and Morlocks are. At first, this seemed to detract from the social suggestions that Wells was making, but upon further examination I find that this separation is a way for Wells to present his ideas in a way that absolves him, as the writer, from any blame. Considering the medium and the audience of this publication, it seems that Wells is attempting to gracefully interject social critique through science, but he is can do so surreptitiously by having the Time Traveller himself take the side of universal futility, as it is illustrated in the concluding paragraphs of “The Time-Traveller Returns:” “But an end comes. Life is a mere eddy, an episode, in the great stream of universal being, just as man with all his cosmic mind is a mere episode in the story of life –” (146). As an “episode” in a magazine, we can understand that all things, even this story, come to an end; but instead of presenting the Time Traveller as a revolutionary character that will inspire the reader to question the ways of the world, we see how little changed he is, particularly when it comes to the integration of his son. Since the Time Traveller chooses to comfort his son by saying that everything will be “all right,” instead of shedding light on the darkness that frightens him, it seems that the Time Traveller’s domestic agenda has not been changed by his travels. This ironic ending is inspiring in and of itself, but I wonder how this ending would have functioned in the novel where the Time Traveller formed such an intricate bond with the Eloi, and even with the Morlocks, and whether the reader would be so willing to accept it, if it is even accepted in the serial version.

Serial Media and Wells’ Place in Contemporary Discourse

The presence of dialogue in the National Observer’s publication of The Time Machine: “The Refinement of Humanity” distinguishes it from the novel, which strictly follows the framing structure, and has several implications about this particular serial publication. While describing the increasing ease with which humans interacted with nature, and the consequential weakening and softening of human physical features and decreasing intellect, the Time Traveller is interrupted twice by an obstinate medical man. Moreover, both times that the Time Traveller retorts, he is referred to as the “Philosophical Investigator” (H.G. Wells, “The Refinement of Humanity.” The National Observer. 21 Apr. 1984, pp. 581, 582). This label is interesting in itself, suggesting that the act of time traveling, or traveling through the fourth dimension, is possible through a change in mental location by performing thought-experiments, in which people imagine the consequences and possibilities of an alternative reality. In turn, the idea of philosophy as traveling through time suggests that philosophy itself is driven by the ability to imagine ourselves in alternative realities and temporarily accept their plausibility—hence why Wells is interested in the future rather than the documented past. However, the label of Philosophical Investigator is also interesting because of the places in which it is used, that is, only during argumentation and in response to the medical man. This feature suggests that the identity of the time traveller changes as his relationship to the reader changes: when he participates in argumentation and discourse, he is a philosophical investigator; when he tells fantastical stores, he is a time traveller. The story’s publication in the National Observer, a magazine that publishes essays on politics, economics, and art criticism, as well as its freedom from the constraints of a framing structure, emphasizes the story’s position in a serious contemporary discourse on political economy and Darwinian theory—an impression that is lost when the novel is contained in the limited physical space of a bound novel.

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.

Prompt: Wells in the Magazines

We read The Time Machine in book form, but this was not the only medium Wells’s novel appeared in. Like many long fictions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, The Time Machine began in serialized form in a periodical: that is, published in parts in a magazine. If we are thinking about this early scientific romance and the medium of print, we have to think about both the book form and these forms in parts.

There are two early periodical publications. The first full version of The Time Machine is not called that! It is a series of articles for the Edinburgh-based National Observer published in 1894.

Then Wells published a new more extended version, under the title The Time Machine, in 1895 in a different magazine, the London-based New Review. Shortly thereafter the first book edition appeared from Heinemann in London and from Holt in New York.

National Observer version

This can be found in the British Periodicals database. This thing is not that easy to use, but you can learn a lot from it.

  1. Time Traveling: Possibility or Paradox?” (March 17, 1894)
  2. The Time Machine” (March 24)
  3. A.D. 12,203: A Glimpse of the Future” (March 31)
  4. The Refinement of Humanity: A.D. 12,203” (April 21)
  5. The Sunset of Mankind” (April 28)
  6. In the Underworld” (May 19)
  7. The Time Traveler Returns” (June 23)

Choose any of these parts and read it. Then, follow the link in the database that reads “Back to issue” (near the top of the screen, above the article title), and spend just a few minutes looking over what else was in the National Observer with Wells that week. Think about what kind of magazine this is, and what that implies about the tale Wells is writing.

New Review version

This is bizarrely inaccessible in the British Periodicals database, but the HathiTrust database of book scans gives us images of the revised version.

There is no need to read any of the parts again (unless you want to)! There are some differences in the text. This time, choose any of these parts and then scroll a bit to see what kind of context The New Review was for this serialized novel.


Now, write a paragraph about any particular feature, large or small, of one or both of the magazine versions that you noticed and that seems significant to you. You might especially consider how our expectations about what kind of thing we’re reading are shaped by the magazine context; you can also think about how the novel itself might be shaped by this context, too. (It can help to think in contrast to the book version: here’s a link to the 1895 Holt edition.) Be specific about a particular journal item—cite your evidence!

This post is due for everyone in the class on Monday at 5 p.m. Mini-essays are forbidden. It is fine to note details and raise questions, or to speculate, and stop there. You don’t have to mention everything you noticed or respond to everything above. We’ll continue the discussion of these versions in class on Tuesday.

Read your classmates’ posts before class.


Review of The Time Machine [the book version!], National Observer 14, no. 349, July 27, 1895: 327.

Sample post: Wells looks back in time

In his preface to a 1931 reissue of The Time Machine, Wells writes that the idea of the book seemed to him, when he wrote it, “his ‘one idea.'” He goes on: “It is the idea that Time is a fourth dimension and that the normal present is a three-dimensional section of a four-dimensional universe. The only difference between the time dimension and the others, from this point of view, lay in the movement of consciousness along it, whereby the progress of the present was constituted” (H.G. Wells, preface to The Time Machine: An Invention [New York: Modern Library, 2002], xix–xx). This seems to emphasize the “technical” dimension of a time-travel story even though the four-dimensional premise doesn’t seem that important to the narrative. (In fact Wells admits this later in the preface, claiming he “was not sufficiently educated in that field” [xx].) But perhaps it isn’t only misdirection or an attempt to garner some of the prestige of advanced physics. It seems to me that the novel does use the idea that time is not different from space, because this is important to its way of thinking of history as something that can be laid out and contemplated from a bird’s-eye view. This implies that its course is fixed…and also a little contemptible from the vantage of enlightened mind. (Incidentally, it’s not really true that time is no different from space in relativity.)

About this site

This is the main course website for Science Fiction in Print from Pulp to the Present (English 358:437:03), taught by Prof. Andrew Goldstone. This site will always have the most up-to-date syllabus, but it is meant above all for your writing. Some blogging will be required; the assignment will be explained in the first week of class.