The Chronic Argonauts

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"The Chronic Argonauts" (1888) is a short story by the British science-fiction writer H. G. Wells. The story concerns an inventor who builds a time machine and then travels in time on it. The story pre-dates Wells's best-selling time travel novel The Time Machine by seven years.

Writing and publication[edit]

The story was written in serial parts while Wells was ill and staying with friends in Stoke-on-Trent, from early April to early July of 1888. Wells later recalled that: "at Etruria my real writing began. ... Moreover I began ... the original draft of what later became The Time Machine...". [1]

The story was first published in the Royal College of Science student magazine the Science Schools Journal, in instalments from April-May-June 1888. It became the first story to use an inventor-built machine to travel in time. Despite extensive biographical work on Wells over more than a century, there is no evidence to suggest that Wells saw or was influenced by the 1881 New York newspaper story "The Clock that Went Backward", in which an antique clock served as a time-travel device.

"The Chronic Argonauts" later developed into the famous final version of The Time Machine (1895), with the bulk of the re-writing and new writing being done in 1894. The finished novel has a number of points of similarity with the first short-story version of 1888.

Plot summary[edit]

A third-person narrator describes the arrival of a mysterious inventor to the inward-looking Welsh town of Llyddwdd. Dr. Moses Nebogipfel takes up residence in a house neglected after the deaths of its former inhabitants. The simple rural folk become apprehensive about Nebogipfel's activities in the house and suspect him of witchcraft. Ultimately they storm the inventor's "devilish" workshop. Nebogipfel escapes with the sympathetic Reverend Elijah Ulysses Cook, in what is later revealed to be a time machine. The unnamed narrator later discovers the dazed Reverend Cook, who has been missing for three weeks. Cook then becomes a second narrator, relating in flashback the night of his disappearance, and a series of subsequent adventures in time with Nebogipfel. He reveals that Nebogipfel understands himself to be an "Anachronic Man", a man whose genius drives him to seek out a time more suited to his abilities. A 'time loop' is implied, in which Nebogipfel went back to the past and killed the previous owners of the house, thus causing it to fall into ruin and enabling him to occupy it for his present-day experiments.

Inspiration for Nebogipfel[edit]

Since the 1970s there has been some discussion among scholars about a possible source of inspiration for Nebogipfel, since he is the root of the stock character of the time-travelling scientist. These suggestions were summarised by Martin T. Willis, who stated that the scholars had "reached no conclusions about the character of, or inspiration for, the Time Traveler", and added his own suggestion of the American inventor Thomas Edison.[2]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ H. G. Wells, Experiment in Autobiography, 1934.
  2. ^ Martin T. Willis, "Edison as Time Traveler: H.G. Wells’s Inspiration for his First Scientific Character", Science Fiction Studies, July 1999. http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/78/willis78art.htm