“Time Machines Go Both Ways”

Review: “Time Machines Go Both Ways: Past and Future in H. G. Wells and W. H. Hodgson”, Andy Sawyer, 2014.

Voices from the Borderland
Cover by Daniele Serra

Sawyer argues that, while H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine and William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land both feature trips into the far future where Earth is dying, they differ greatly.

Wells looks forward, Hodgson looks backwards.

Both The Night Land and The House on the Borderland present their stories as found manuscripts from long ago. Even The Night Land, a tale of the far future, is presented in an old manuscript. Wells presents his story in the present. His narrator speaks to his contemporaries.

Hodgson style is “sickly, verbose, over-sentimental, and grotesque” according to Lin Carter’s introduction to the reprinted The Night Land.

However, Hodgson may have been attempting alienation via language, through both future wonders and archaic prose. His tenses tangle in passages. Sawyer thinks Hodgson’s archaic language, his frequent protestations of uncertainty and addresses to the reader, work against evoking the future.

Finally, Sawyer notes that Wells speaks of a collective future, Hodgson of an individual’s future. (I would argue that The Night Land may be an individual’s quest, but the Last Redoubt, with its besieged humanity, is never far from the reader’s mind.)

Hodgson’s novel forcibly reminds us it is written by a man from the past. Wells’ narrator may be a contemporary man, but his contemplations are future-minded.

Both The House on the Borderland and The Time Machine have scenes set underground.

Wells’ novel is full of “mathematical and scientific speculation” and ends with the contemplation on the death of human civilization. The House on the Borderland ends with the imminent death of one man.

Both The House on the Borderland and The Time Machine have journeys into the future.

The language of Wells is much clearer and scientific, designed to slickly suspend disbelief. Hodgson infuses his language with dread and mystery. It is the language, sometimes, of Spiritualism.

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