Study Guide

The Time Machine Fear

By H.G. Wells


Chapter 3

I was seized with a panic fear. [...] My fear grew to frenzy. (3.11)

The Time Traveller may be a pretty good scientist, but he's no Mr. Spock – he can be a very emotional person. Sometimes he can be excited or amazed, but he spends a lot of the time in the future being afraid. Often that fear ends up making him run around and do things that aren't very productive. (He does, however, seem to get a lot of exercise in the future.)

Chapter 5

I had the hardest task in the world to keep my hands off their pretty laughing faces. It was a foolish impulse, but the devil begotten of fear and blind anger was ill curbed and still eager to take advantage of my perplexity. (5.11)

Fear may be a good motivator – it gets us off our butts – but it doesn't always motivate us to do the right thing. We can compare this scene of self-restraint with the Time Traveller's earlier panic over the lost Time Machine, where he rushes in on the sleeping Eloi and frightens them.

I sat upon the edge of the well telling myself that, at any rate, there was nothing to fear, and that there I must descend for the solution of my difficulties. And withal I was absolutely afraid to go! (5.34)

It's hard to argue yourself out of a feeling, and maybe those feelings are there for a reason. The Time Traveller, who we would expect to listen to his logical, scientific side, is afraid and he doesn't know why. Perhaps he should be.

At once, like a lash across the face, came the possibility of losing my own age, of being left helpless in this strange new world. The bare thought of it was an actual physical sensation. I could feel it grip me at the throat and stop my breathing. (5.4)

In <em>The Time Machine</em>, fear isn't abstract. It really feels here like the Time Traveller is being attacked by a fearful thought. This is interesting in that one of the sources of his fear – the Morlocks – do physically attack him. However, that doesn't mean the Time Traveller would rather live in a world without fear.

That is what dismayed me: the sense of some hitherto unsuspected power, through whose intervention my invention had vanished. (5.6)

One of the primal fears in <em>The Time Machine</em> is fear of the unknown. So while the Time Traveller is traveling into the future, he starts to worry about what he'll find. And now that he knows that there is something (or someone) else in the world, he'll worry about that. He always finds something to fear.

Chapter 7

Already the Eloi had begun to learn one old lesson anew. They were becoming reacquainted with Fear. (7.2)

While the Eloi are mostly unafraid, there is one thing they're afraid of. How do they respond to this fear? (This seems like the sort of danger that might lead to some evolutionary development.)

Still, however helpless the little people in the presence of their mysterious Fear, I was differently constituted. I came out of this age of ours, this ripe prime of the human race, when Fear does not paralyse and mystery has lost its terrors. I at least would defend myself. (7.3)

Fear can be a productive emotion if it leads to useful actions. Now that the Time Traveller knows what he's afraid of, he seems more confident that he'll take some purposeful action. (Compare this to his other reactions to being afraid.)

The enemy I dreaded may surprise you. It was the darkness of the new moon. (7.2)

The Time Traveller didn't know what to be afraid of when his Time Machine disappeared, but now he knows what to fear. Sometimes knowing our demon doesn't help us be any less afraid of it. Also, what does it say about the Time Traveller that he's now afraid of the dark, just like the childlike Eloi?

Chapter 10

I threw my iron bar away, almost sorry not to use it. (10.9)

If we doubted that fear was useful, here's a helpful counterexample: the Time Traveller is no longer afraid of the Morlocks, so he doesn't take the precaution of bringing his weapon with him – and he very nearly loses his fight with them. If he had been afraid, he would have acted more sensibly.

Chapter 11

Then I felt I was fainting. But a terrible dread of lying helpless in that remote and awful twilight sustained me while I clambered upon the saddle. (11.12)

Here we get another example of fear motivating the Time Traveller and helping him get out of a bad experience. This is perhaps the final example in the book of fear, and it's a positive one. We may not like feeling afraid, but it can be a useful emotion.