The idea of traveling through time has fascinated people for centuries. The Time Machine by H. G. Wells continues to be a popular example of science fiction and fantasy dealing with this possibility.You can read it online.
In this book, a time traveler from 1985 goes into the very distant future and finds what initially seems to be a utopia, the land of the Eloi. The disappearance of his time machine leads The Time Traveler to discover the Morlocks, whose work makes the ease and pleasure of life possible for the Eloi. In another twist, The Time Traveler learns that the Eloi are not the masters of the Morlock slaves, but the livestock on which they feed.
Before reading, discuss with students other time travel fiction they might have experienced, such as books from Time Warp Trio or Magic Tree House series or the movie Back to the Future. List the methods for time travel used in any books or movies students know about. Time machines are fairly rare in recent speculative fiction; magic portals and wormholes are more common.
Space.com has an interesting collection of methods in an infographic format. Project this and go through it with students to get a sense of background. The Time Machine is included.
- A Penguin Factsheet for the book
- James Van Pelt’s quizzes and discussion questions
- Crayola suggests creating a timeline with sidewalk chalk and traveling through time with movement and discussion.
- Build a time machine from recyclables.
- Any serious discussion of time travel has to include the theory of relativity and Einstein’s space traveling twins (I think it’s a law). Introduce the concept with a Shockwave game.
- Check out retrofuture, the ideas people in the past had about our present, which was their future.
- Time Magazine has a more in-depth video on time travel narrated by comedian Brian Malow, with film clips. Review it before you show it to your class — it may not be appropriate for your classroom.
- An article on the subject from The Daily Mail will clarify some of the scientific points and paradoxes for older students.
- The future world visited by The Time Traveler has two kinds of humanoids, which have evolved from the upper and lower classes. The theory of evolution was fairly new when this book was written. If you study evolution in your science classes, discuss the processes which could lead to two distinct species of humans.
- A theme in the book which is related to the theory of evolution is the degeneration of humanity and of the world. The theory of evolution doesn’t actually hold that organisms keep getting better and better or that they get worse, though people sometimes talk about it in those terms. The Time Traveler thinks that a lack of danger and hardship has caused people to become weak. Discuss and have students write a response to this idea.
- This is the perfect time for the classic dinner party question: If you could have a dinner party with eight guests from any time in the past, whom would you invite? Have groups of students create such a dinner party, with each student researching one of the guests. Groups can write up scripts for a dinner table conversation among the guests and present it to the class.
- Another way to bring drama and research into the study is to have each student study a period in history which they find intriguing, and then report to the class as time travelers who have just returned from a visit.
- The Time Traveler visits a society in which advancing technology has made life so easy that there is no longer any advantage to being smart or hardworking. Since the book was written in 1895, technology has advanced significantly, and our lives are in many ways easier. We haven’t quit working, though. Have students discuss and then write about the consequences of increasingly advanced technology and easier lives.
- Some people today worry that robots and artificial intelligence will take away jobs from people. H.G.Wells didn’t have a reason to worry about that, but it might help your students understand his concerns.
- Wells sees serious consequences from the gap between the haves and the have nots which was very evident in his day. Have things improved? See an article from the New York Times on global wealth distribution and a chart-rich discussion of U.S. wealth inequality from a University of California sociologist. Set aside plenty of time to analyze and understand the charts — it’s a great visual literacy lesson as well as a good way to apply math skills. Once students have digested the data, discuss whether this is a problem, as Wells believed.
- The Time Traveler muses on adaptation and evolution, thinking of how in 1985 physical courage was becoming less important than it previously had been. Family feeling, he though, would become unimportant in the future, and he figured he was seeing the end of intelligence and creativity in the Eloi. Compare the culture of Victorian England, our modern time, and the Eloi to determine whether there is a continuum, as The Time Traveler expected.