It takes a special kind of character to self-experiment with technology, particularly when it manipulates time. On one end of the spectrum, you have the Tesla-smart guy, who’s done the math backwards and forwards and knows that everything will work as expected. On the other, you have the delusionally stupid guy who just assumes that everything will work out.
And then, in the middle, there’s the desperate, fearful, hopeful one who needs it to work.
Luckily, in time-travel fiction, the traveling mechanism pretty much always does its job. Sometimes it’s accidental. Sometimes it’s supernatural. And sometimes, it’s a lab experiment with a convoluted machine that harbors suspiciously jargon-esque parts, like “flux capacitors” and such.
Success Takes Time and Effort
Reason would dictate that for every successful bout of fictional time travel, probably half a million other scientists ended their quest as rust-colored smears on their garage walls. But of course those stories never get written.
(Because they would be short and gruesome. But I digress.)
I’ll admit it. There’s part of me, upon encountering a trope like this, that wonders, “No, really, how many people failed before your character succeeded?” Part of the allure of time travel is that *this* character succeeds where so many have failed. *This* character breaks through that seemingly impenetrable barrier that so many others slammed their shoulders against. *This* character is wise, special, well-favored of the fiction gods.
That’s hardly unique to time-travel stories, though. Most genres want a special protagonist. Pay no attention to the scores of failures that exist to counter-balance such success.
The term “time machine” comes courtesy of H. G. Wells, author of—you guessed it—The Time Machine. In this classic tale, a time traveller creates a vehicle that carries him hundreds of thousands of years into the future, where he discovers that the human race has devolved into two factions: the Morlocks and the Eloi. The Morlocks are skulking and brutish—because anything called a “Morlock” is going to be antagonistic, of course—and the Eloi, true to their lyrical name, are innocent and harmless.
And there’s a girl called “Weena.” Yeah, Wells isn’t winning any awards for his names from this corner of the Internet. (But I will give him credit for recognizing his weakness and leaving his time traveller nameless, hahaha.)
The novel, published in 1895, in addition to sparking hundreds of time-machine tales in its wake, has received multiple adaptations for radio, film, and comic books. It is, in short, a literary icon.
And its protagonist, of the Tesla-smart camp, set the benchmark for time-traveling protagonists everywhere. But he also disappeared at the end of the book. So maybe—just maybe—somewhere in time, there’s a rust-colored smear with his genetic signature on it.
You don’t know. No one does.