Study Guide

The Time Machine Awe and Amazement

By H.G. Wells

Awe and Amazement

Chapter 1
The Dinner Guests

 "Look here," said the Medical Man, "are you perfectly serious? Or is this a trick – like that ghost you showed us last Christmas?" (1.75)

The flip side of amazement is skepticism. Something that's "incredible" is too amazing to be believed. Since the Time Traveller's story is incredible, it should be no surprise that he encounters this sort of skepticism.

Chapter 2
The Dinner Guests

And the door opened wider, and the Time Traveller stood before us. I gave a cry of surprise. "Good heavens! man, what's the matter?" cried the Medical Man, who saw him next. (2.6)

While there's a lot of amazement in the book over things that are really incredible (the movement of the stars over 800,000 years, for instance), we should also note that there are times when the characters are amazed by things that are easier to explain. Here, for instance, Time Traveller's appearance might have an unusual but normal explanation. (He might've been robbed, for example.)

Chapter 3

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. (3.2)

This probably doesn't sound all that amazing to us, since we're used to fast-forwarding and time-lapse photography. To the Time Traveller (and Wells's original readers), though, this scene might have been the first hint of the amazement of time travel. The amazement in the book is gradual and cumulative, moving from the slightly unusual (woman moving fast) to the completely incredible (human evolution into different species). This helps prepare our expectations and keeps us in a state of continual amazement, as each thing that happens is more amazing than the last.

The whole surface of the earth seemed changed – melting and flowing under my eyes. (3.4)

The longer description of the earth's evolution is often where the movie versions of the story blow their special effects budget. Instead of seeing a day pass by or even the lifespan of an individual, we get the "lifespan" of hills and mountains and rivers. This is perhaps the first reminder that things look very different when you take the long view. (See "Themes: Time.")

Chapter 4

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. (4.5)

Amazement may be caused by some assumption being proven wrong. The Time Traveller is amazed here because he assumed human intelligence would continue to evolve in the future. Perhaps all amazement involves a contrast with what we expect or are familiar with.

Chapter 7

Looking at these stars suddenly dwarfed my own troubles and all the gravities of terrestrial life. I thought of their unfathomable distance, and the slow inevitable drift of their movements out of the unknown past into the unknown future. I thought of the great precessional cycle that the pole of the earth describes. Only forty times had that silent revolution occurred during all the years that I had traversed. And during these few revolutions all the activity, all the traditions, the complex organizations, the nations, languages, literatures, aspirations, even the mere memory of Man as I knew him, had been swept out of existence. (7.12)

This is perhaps the greatest form of amazement: awe over the place of humanity in the cosmos. The whole book has been leading up to this, and it will be emphasized when the Time Traveller goes to the desolate beach far into the future.

Then I thought of the Great Fear that was between the two species, and for the first time, with a sudden shiver, came the clear knowledge of what the meat I had seen might be. Yet it was too horrible! (7.12)

Amazement may come with other emotions, like disgust, fear, or horror. Perhaps these other feelings color the sort of reaction people have when they feel amazement. So the dinner guests, amazed by the story, sit around passively, while the Time Traveller, amazed and horrified by his realization, decides to take Weena with him.

Chapter 11

I cannot convey the sense of abominable desolation that hung over the world. (11.7)

The Time Traveller is dealing with completely new experiences – like how it feels to travel through time – and there are things that he simply cannot describe. It's a strange position for a narrator to be in – struck speechless.

Chapter 12

The story was so fantastic and incredible, the telling so credible and sober. (12.25)

Here the unnamed narrator sets out one of the major tensions in the work: how do you tell an amazing story in a believable fashion?

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