H. G. Wells did not give any name to the hero of this story. He is simply called the Time Traveler. He was accustomed to entertain guests each Thursday. At the beginning of the novel, he was discussing the possibility of time travel with his guests.
The Time Traveler approached the subject in the following manner. Time was the fourth dimension, and it resembled the other three dimensions in many ways. In particular, just as you could freely move through space, even upward if you had a balloon, so you could travel backward and forward in time, provided you had the right equipment.
The Time Traveler then produced a miniature time machine that he had invented. When a lever was pushed downward, the machine disappeared into thin air. It had left the present time and was traveling either into the past or into the future.
The little machine was only a model. The Time Traveler was nearly finished with a big machine in which he planned to explore the future personally.
On the following Thursday, another group assembled at the house of the Time Traveler. The Time Traveler was late. When he arrived, he was dusty and disheveled. After changing clothes and eating, he and his guests retired to the smoking-room. The Time Traveler then told his guests what had happened.
The time machine had been finished earlier that day at ten o’clock in the morning. The Time Traveler sat in the saddle, took the starting lever in one hand and the stopping lever in the other. He started the machine and immediately stopped it. He was still in the laboratory, and everything looked the same as before, except that the clock showed that it was nearly half past three.
He then plunged into the future. The machine seemed to accelerate gradually. Night followed day with ever increasing rapidity. When he reached a point in time when the laboratory apparently ceased to exist, he noticed that the time machine was out in the open air. Then he could see the heavenly bodies move with amazing swiftness. The moon went through its monthly cycle in a remarkably short time. Eventually he traveled forward in time so rapidly that he could not distinguish between night and day. Buildings rose and vanished repeatedly, and the sun moved from solstice to solstice in a minute or less.
When he finally decided to stop, he lugged on the lever too abruptly and the machine went hurtling through the air.
Hail was falling, and the Time Traveler got wet. He saw a structure that looked like a marble sphinx resting on a bronze pedestal. As he contemplated the crouching figure, it dawned on him that the future world might be peopled with sinister inhabitants. He became panicky and decided to leave. After expending considerable energy, he managed to erect his overturned time machine.
When he saw that he could leave at a moments notice, he recovered his courage and decided to see what this future era was like.
A few people approached him. They were about four feet high and appeared to be very fragile. They were very graceful and spoke in a sweet and liquid language. Their hair was uniformly curly, and they did not have any hair on their face. Their ears were very small.
He soon noticed that they were not too intelligent. They were not afraid of their strange visitor. They seemed to treat him like a new toy in which they soon lost interest.
When one of them touched the time machine, it occurred to him that they might accidentally pull a lever and make the machine disappear into the past or the future. To avoid being stranded, he took off the levers and put them into his pocket.
The little people were called the Eloi. They were a delightful race. They loaded the time traveler with flowers and led him into a building where a number of people were eating fruit. They did not eat meat. In fact, domestic animals had become extinct.
After the Time Traveler satisfied his hunger, he attempted to learn their language. He managed to learn some nouns and pronouns. However, the little people soon became tired. He continued to learn new words now and then, but his lessons were short. The little people were too lazy to offer him extended instruction.
To get a better view of the countryside, the Time Traveler walked up a nearby hill. The year was 802,701 A. D., and everything was changed. The flowers were different; the fruit was different. The Thames River was still nearby, but its course had shifted. There were a lot of large palaces, some in ruins, others still occupied. However, there were no small houses or cottages. He noticed that all the people looked alike and dressed alike. Even the children were miniature adults. He concluded that the children must be physically precocious.
Most significantly, there was no trace of any agricultural activity. The world was one big garden that offered fruit without any cultivation. In other respects also, it seemed that the world had entered a Golden Age. There were no weeds or pesky insects. Diseases had apparently been stamped out.
As the Time Traveler sat watching the setting sun, he figured that he was witnessing the sunset of the human race. Science had evidently succeeded in establishing ideal conditions on earth. Since mankind no longer had to tussle with a hostile environment, the human race became lazy and degenerate. He later learned that his analysis was only partly correct.
The sun set and the bright gibbous full moon rose. Since it was chilly, he descended the hill to look for a place to sleep. To his dismay, his time machine had disappeared. He was filled with panicky frenzy and did many foolish things. Finally, he went to sleep. [There is a problem here. The Time Traveler said that he spent eight days in the future, and the moon was dark on the last day that he spent with the Eloi. Therefore, the moon could not have been full at this time, and it would not have appeared in the sky immediately after sunset.]
The next day, he acted more circumspectly. Investigating the area where the time machine had been, he noticed some narrow sloth-like footprints. He noticed that the pedestal of the sphinx was hollow and concluded that his machine must be inside.
One day, the Time Traveler rescued a girl who was drowning. He did not think that this indolent race was capable of gratitude, but he proved to be wrong. The girl showered him with affection and became permanently attached to him. Her name was Weena.
Various factors puzzled the Time Traveler. He saw waterless wells and flickering pillars. He also wondered why the little people never ran out of clothes, since they never made new ones.
Eventually he learned that there was another race of men present in this future world. They were called Morlocks. They almost looked like small animals. They lived underground and could not endure light. They were more intelligent than the Eloi, and possessed noisy machines in their underground habitation. They were carnivorous and ate the Eloi. The Time Traveler figured that the Morlocks probably cared for the hapless Eloi in the same way that a farmer cares for his cows and sheep.
The Time Traveler tried to figure out why the human race had split into these two very different factions. Many of his speculations were erroneous, and he was forced to revise them continually. For example, he imagined that the Eloi had been the upper classes. Since they never had to do any work, they degenerated, while the lower classes, who were forced to attend to the needs of the upper classes, became Morlocks.
He figured that it was the Morlocks who had stolen his time machine. After he saw a Morlock climb down one of the structures that looked like waterless wells, he went down to investigate. He managed to see their machines, but he did not find his time machine.
Though small, the Morlocks proved troublesome. The only way that he could keep them at bay was by lighting matches. After many harrowing experiences, he managed to return to the world above.
From Weena, the Time Traveler learned that the Eloi feared the Dark Nights. This referred to the time of the month when the moon was not visible. At this time, the Morlocks could roam freely in the world above and hunt Eloi.
As the Dark Nights approached, the Time Traveler looked for a safe place to sleep. He decided to go to the Palace of Green Porcelain, which was 18 miles away. He took Weena with him.
He did not reach the Palace of Green Porcelain by nightfall, so they spent the night in the forest. The Time Traveler noticed that the face of the sky had changed. All the familiar constellations had disappeared.
The next day, they reached the Palace of Green Porcelain. It seemed to be a museum. Fossils and minerals were well preserved, but some displays had fallen into decay. One room contained the decaying vestiges of books. The Time Traveler was especially interested in a section containing machines.
The Dark Nights were at hand. In the late afternoon, the Time Traveler broke off a lever from one of the machines. He intended to use it as a mace against the Morlocks. He also found some perfectly good matches in a room apparently devoted to chemistry. He also found some well preserved camphor, which was inflammable.
The Time Traveler had not found a safe place to sleep. He decided to build a fire out in the open and sleep under its protection.
However, he acted very foolishly. With the lever he had found, he thought that he could force open the bronze doors of the pedestal of the sphinx and reach his time machine. With typical impatience, he wanted to reach it by morning. Instead of giving first concern to safety, he traveled as far as he could in the direction of the sphinx. Once when the Morlocks were threatening them, he lit a fire in the woods to scare them away. Then he continued his journey.
He eventually got lost in the woods and had to stop. He built a fire and went to sleep. By the time that he awakened, the fire had gone out and it was dark. Morlocks were trying to drag him away. He managed to free himself by effective blows with his lever, but Weena was lost.
The first fire that he had built to scare the Morlocks became a raging forest fire. The bright light blinded the Morlocks, and they began to move about erratically. He looked around for Weena, but they apparently had dropped her when they started running away from the forest fire. He figured that she was burned to death.
The next day, as he approached the sphinx, the Time Traveler noticed that the bronze doors of the pedestal were open and the time machine was in plain sight. He figured that the Morlocks were trying to trap him, but he was not concerned.
As he entered the pedestal, the bronze doors slammed shut. He had to struggle with the Morlocks as he fitted the levers in their proper places, but eventually he managed to start traveling through time once more.
As the time machine raced toward the future, it became evident that tidal drag was causing the earth to rotate more and more slowly. When he finally decided to stop, the sun was red and motionless in the sky.
He noticed very little plant life. A type of moss or lichen grew on the hillside. The nearby sea had no breakers or waves, and there was no wind. The air was so rarified that he had to breathe rapidly.
Suddenly huge crab-like creatures approached him. To escape, he moved forward in time.
The Time Traveler wanted to learn the ultimate fate of the earth. He repeatedly moved forward in time and then stopped his machine to observe any changes that the earth had suffered. The sun appeared larger each time that he stopped. When he made his final stop, the red-hot dome of the sun occupied a tenth of the sky. It was bitter cold, and it became even colder when a large celestial body eclipsed the sun.
There were no crab-like creatures, but liverworts and lichens were still growing on the earth.
When the Time Traveler saw a round black thing with tentacles coming toward him, he decided to return to his own era.
None of the guests believed that the Time Traveler was telling the truth. However, one of them returned the next day. He happened to see the Time Traveler and his time machine disappear before his very eyes. Days, months, and years passed, but the Time Traveler did not return.
To write this summary, I consulted the online version of the Project Gutenberg. I originally read the story in a book borrowed from a library. I cannot remember which one.
Project Gutenberg: The Time Machine by H. G. Wells