So, I'm obsessed with The Time Machine, the story by H. G. Wells. I've always been fascinated by time travel, and as a point of fact I very sincerely believe that Back to the Future, and not Star Wars, is the best movie trilogy ever created. Wouldn't it be amazing to go back in time? Or even better, to go forward? But time isn't the main reason I'm obsessed with the story, why I find reasons to bring it up all the time (and spend a ton of time getting completely blank stares in return). It's because of the way the story ends...and not even the way it ends on the page.
That's the Power of Words
In the original short story, the main character doesn't have a name and he comes to a very vague end. The reader sees him leave in his time machine, and he's pretty much never heard from again. It's not the greatest of endings (sorry, Mr. Wells), and that's why it got changed for the 1960s film adaptation.
In the film version of the story, the Traveller's name is George (after Wells himself), and he takes something with him before he leaves London for the second time. After he leaves in the machine, presumably for ever, his colleagues notice something strange in the library.
Three books are missing, only three. The time machine isn't quite like a tricked-out DeLorean -- it's got shite storage space. So George takes just three books, and goes back into the future that he found. And one of the men asks "which three books did he take?"
The other man, quite seriously, gives him a level look, and he responds "which three would you take?"
I've been thinking about that damned scene for ten years. I mean, I just can't get it out of my head. It could be that my mind is just blown from the idea of living in a world with only three books, but I've never been able to stop thinking about it.
Which three books would you take? I just can't answer the question. Three books to rebuild the world...it's a tall order. In my extensive research on the subject, I've seen every idea under the sun. A first aid book. A book about engineering (for like, literal rebuilding). A history book. The Bible.
And maybe he grabbed The Joy of Cooking, you know? The people he found in the future were eating weird stuff, and nobody wants that. Every time I think about three books I would just have to have, one fiction novel leaps immediately to mind. I understand the uses of a first aid book, sure, but who the hell wants to live in a world without fiction? Wouldn't you want to take just one amazing novel with you, and plant that seed somewhere it could sprout?
Thinking about those three books makes me crazy every single time, and I repeatedly go back to it. I've never been able to put together a reasonable list, not once. The dictionary? The complete works of Edgar Allen Poe? The history of the world? Carol Burnett's memoir? I just can't do it.
I would not be able to rebuild the world, because I would have been standing in front of those library shelves long enough to actually really need a time machine. I could never choose just three books.
I would have taken them all, or maybe waited for Doc Brown to come along in the DeLorean. Could you rebuild society with just three books? Give me your list, and maybe I'll finally be able to put an end to this sick obsession.