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The Time Machine

by H. G. Wells

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How did the narrator operate the time machine in The Time Machine?

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In the classic science fiction novella The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, the narrator does not operate the time machine; instead, the machine is operated by a character the narrator calls the Time Traveler. The novella uses a framing technique in which the narrator introduces the story in the first three chapters and then transcribes the Time Traveler's tale starting in chapter 4.

In the first chapter, the Time Traveler explains that for an object to exist, it must have four dimensions: length, breadth, thickness, and duration (i.e., time). He claims to have come up with a machine that can travel through this fourth dimension of time. In chapter 2, he brings out a working model of the time machine, which he says took him two years to construct. The machine is built of metal, ivory, and some sort of "transparent crystalline substance." There are two white levers, and the Time Traveler explains that one of them causes the machine to move forward in time and the other causes it to move backward. After one of his guests pushes the forward lever, the machine disappears, presumably into the future.

The Time Traveler describes how he works the full-sized machine at the beginning of chapter 4. Evidently, there is a third lever that causes the moving machine to stop, or perhaps the backward lever is used to stop. When the Time Traveler commences his journey, he sits in the machine's saddle, holds the starting lever in one hand and the stopping lever in the other. At first he experiments by sending the machine forward for only a moment. Then he grips the forward lever with both hands and pushes. He explains that the sensation of traveling through time is "excessively unpleasant."

There is a feeling exactly that like one has on a switchback—of a helpless headlong motion. I felt the same horrible anticipation, too, of an imminent smash.

When the Time Traveler stops the machine, he pulls the lever too abruptly, the machine topples over, and he is "flung headlong through the air."

We can see, then, that operating the machine is very easy, but riding in it is unpleasant, and it's tricky to stop it without having an accident.

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