Comments on Classics posts often contain spoilers,
so go read the book first and then come back. It’s ok, I’ll wait.
The Chronic Argonauts – 1888 – H.G. Wells – Short Story
In a nutshell:
A mad scientist builds a time machine in a rural Welsh village.
Before he wrote The Time Machine, H.G. Wells penned The Chronic Argonauts, another time-traveling tale. I only became aware of this story because it was briefly mentioned in Felix J. Palma’s The Map of Time. Naturally, I looked it up to see if it was real. It’s actually a pretty good story, but sadly there is very little time travel in it. The story mostly focuses on the build up of the strange Doctor Nebogipfel (great name by the way) and his occupation of a house with a violent history. Within this house, he performs strange experiments that involve odd lights and noises which frighten the locals and ultimately cause them to turn on him.
The reader doesn’t get to see much of his experimentation or the construction of the time machine and I wish there was a lot more there. I’d love to follow Nebogipfel’s struggle, being a man ahead of his time, unlocking the secrets of time travel.
The actual time travel in the story is brief and related by a secondary character after the fact, and there is very little detail there either. It seems the most interesting parts of the story were glossed over rather quickly. I want to know more about what happened in the years 4003, 17, 901 and 2. Mention of the abduction of a ward and assaults on public officials is hardly enough information in my opinion. Although, then it wouldn’t be a short story anymore. I feel like there is an opportunity here for an experienced author to fill in the blanks of this lesser-known story. If done well, it could be really awesome.
The final thing that struck me, as I was re-reading a bit before writing this post, was how much, by the end, Dr. Nebogipfel reminded me of Doctor Who. He seemed lonely and even suggested the reverend be his companion on his travels. Something about that had that lonely Doctor vibe to me.
If you have an interest in H.G. Wells, an interest in Victorian science fiction, or you are simply curious about this story, you can read it here for free. Until next time…