A story of time travel and adaptation
The extract below is a description from H G Wells’ The Time Machine (1895). In the scene the Time Traveller is narrating to his associates the fantastic adventure from which he has just returned.
“In writing it down I feel with only too much keenness the inadequacy of pen and ink – and, above all, my own inadequacy – to express its quality. You read, I will suppose, attentively enough; but you cannot see the speaker’s white, sincere face in the bright circle of the little lamp, nor hear the intonation of his voice. You cannot know how his expression followed the turns of his story! Most of us hearers were in shadow, for the candles in the smoking room had not been lighted, and only the face of the Journalist and the legs of the Silent Man from the knees downward were illuminated. At first we glanced now and again at each other. After a time we ceased to do that, and looked only at the Time Traveller’s face.”
As part of my PhD literature review I have been reading academic theory about media adaptation in various forms. As one would expect there is much discussion about the capacities, or lack thereof, of one media form to adapt a text from another, and of the various choices made by media producers through the adaptation process.
The quote from The Time Machine resonated with thoughts I’ve been trying to articulate lately about where we draw the boundaries around texts, and where the line is between ‘original’ and ‘adaptation’. Is it going too far to suggest that The Time Machine (if we read it as non-fiction) could be treated as is an adaptation (in novel form) of an adaptation (in speech) of an adaptation (in mind) of the lived experience of the protagonist? I suppose this extract particularly highlighted to me one of the foundations of media studies: the recognition of the complexities of storytelling and the number of processes through which an idea has to pass before it can be completely understood in the way intended. Many would argue such a thing is – like time travel – outside the realms of possibility. Some may say that with enough research, anything is possible…