The Time Machine Historical Context

In 1894, visionary writer Herbert George Wells authored ‘The Time Machine,’ a pacesetting masterwork on the concept of time travel, which immediately became a game-changer in the science fiction genre, and a complete inspiration to hundreds of later books, comics, and films adaptation.

The seminal book which details a trip through time, powered by a technology-first of its kind, deservedly earned Wells about a hundred dollars following its publication in a serial around 1894 to 1895 in the New Review Magazine.

The Time Machine Historical Context



Publication and Legacy

Before the brilliancy of a certain superstructure book – ‘The Time Machine‘ – exhilarated the community of literary enthusiasts, there was a foundational, somewhat haphazard short story blueprint that happened. While Wells’ book ‘The Time Machine‘ takes the centre stage and all the credit for launching his illustrious career, his much earlier work titled The Chronic Argonauts written by him in college gets the credit to have originated the theme and ideas unleashed in the time machine.

Written around the late 1880s, Wells first tampered with the concept of time travel when he introduced the Chronic Argonauts, a tale about an Englishman, Dr. Moses Nebogipfel, who builds a time machine at his isolated home and disappears along with a local pastor, Rev. Moses Ulysses Cook, away from the villagers who decide to invade his home.

From the 1890s upward, there were a plethora of versions to the time machine that was published. However, Wells’ finished work didn’t go public until 1895, the year that he completed his 34th birthday. The book, being the first of its kind in that it brought the first tale on time travel into man’s thinking, is considered by the literary society as one of the major foundations of the science fiction genre. Wells’ accomplishment was no doubt maiden and seminal, however, the inspiration to masterly craft a book such as this came as influences from older books most notably Jonathan Swift’s tale of the Gulliver’s Travels which was written about a century or so earlier.

Herbert George Wells book ‘The Time Machine‘ offered news angles for authors seeking progressive change to run commentaries and call to action on any particularly pressing social issue using fantastic and transcendental tales and approaches – the practice which is and is today still – the standard upon which science fiction works operate. But if one decided to take a trip through the backyard of history, that is if one took a backtrack to the annals of literature – more precisely in the area of creative writing – one would find there are a few known authors whose works were exemplary of a crude, science fiction-type literature.

Jules Verne was for example a popular name that pops up when one is considering some of the earliest creative artists who held sway over the science fiction genre, even though at the time the genre was still crude and had not yet been fully defined.

H. G. Wells was himself, a huge fan of Jules’s works and would always admire the ways of his creative renditions and detailings of technological enigmas and other similar tales. Like his description of the Nautilus Submarine in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or his masterful handling shown in his work From the Earth to the Moon where we see a machine that shoots a capsule far into space.

All in all, Jules’ literary products were excellent and enjoyed in the times that they were produced, however, from the moment (of 1894) when Herbert George Wells entered the industry with his trailblazing book books, particularly ‘The Time Machine,’ the literary community started to see and differentiate between a detailed, elaborate work of art and a masterly crafted gimmicky.

Interestingly still before Jules was in center stage, and before September 12, 1866, when H. G. Wells was born, there had been traces of remarkable stories and tales crafted by great authors tailored towards the model ‘science fiction’ genre.

Tracking back as far as the 1800s BC, we find original works such as the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh‘, and other literary works which inquired into the origin of humanity’s quest for immortality. These are from the old Mesopotamian literati and are considered some of the earliest works of science fiction. One cannot also overlook the much recent ‘Frankenstein’ tale of the year 1818; a classical rendering of horror, fantasy, and futurism.

Wells’ entrance into the scene – followed by a series of his mind-blowing accomplishments in the areas of time travel, interplanetary wars, and exploits, not forgetting the sagas of mad scientists and doctors – is without a doubt fundamental to the formation of the science fiction genre. It cannot be an overstatement to say that endless amounts of other books, films, and television shows owe a huge debt to Wells’ works for setting the understructure that they built upon.

Critical Responses

From the community of literary enthusiasts to critics to ardent followers and reviewers, The Time Machine has undergone some thorough inspections and appraisals which question its storyline, themes, and general relevance to any progressive society. Many analysts critique the book from the angle that it is unbelievably extravagant and too farcical to have any real connection with the real world. However, some who opt to approach it in line with the allegoric flow of the storyline argue the author has a genuine case to prove.

The Time Machine Screenplay

There have been several screenings of The Time Machine and the very first was in 1949 hosted by the BBC in the form of a teleplay, starring Russell Napier and Mary Donn as the Time Traveller and Weena respectively, but the show was left unrecorded. However, in 1960, David Duncan wrote the book’s first real screenplay as it was made into an American sci-fi film with the title, ‘Wells The Time Machine.’ The film was successful and went on to win the Academy Award for time-lapse photographic effects.

About Israel Njoku
Israel has a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication. He loves entertainment, pop-culture and the arts and tries to extract themes with wider reaching implications from them through rigorous analysis.
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