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The Chronic Argonauts by H.G. Wells: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Every type of story started somewhere. In this lesson, we'll examine the origins of the manmade time machine in literature. We'll explore H.G. Wells' story 'The Chronic Argonauts' and its main character.

''The Chronic Argonauts''

You know those movies and books where someone invents a time machine and travels back in time? There are tons of them because it's a really popular theme in science fiction. But it wasn't always. In the early days of science fiction, H.G. Wells wrote one of the first stories that featured an inventor building a time machine.

Wells is perhaps most famous for his novel The Time Machine, which was published in 1895. But before that, all the way back in 1888, Wells wrote a short story that was a precursor to The Time Machine. That story, ''The Chronic Argonauts,'' tells the story of a mysterious man and his adventures through time.

Let's look closer at ''The Chronic Argonauts,'' including its plot summary and why its main character was revolutionary at the time.

Plot Summary

Wells divided his story into four sections, each making up a part of the plot.

Sections One and Two

The first section begins by describing an old decaying house where, years before, a man was murdered by his two sons. It's a spooky house in Wales, and the village people give it a wide berth. One day, a strange man, Dr. Nebogipfel, comes to town and moves into the strange house.

Dr. Nebogipfel isn't like the other townspeople. He isn't very social and doesn't act like they do. He mostly keeps to himself and stays in the creepy house all day and night. Strange, bright lights can be seen shining from the house. Because of all of this, the townspeople become suspicious of Dr. Nebogipfel. Whenever anything goes wrong, it's blamed on him. The local pastor tries to convince the town to give Dr. Nebogipfel a chance, but it doesn't work. One night, a group of locals get together with torches and head out to the house, determined to break down the door and confront Dr. Nebogipfel.

When the townspeople get to the house, though, they see something amazing. They open the front door and find the doctor and the pastor on top of a platform together. Then, a bright light blinds them. On that cliffhanger, the first section of the story ends.

The second section opens a few weeks later, in a different part of Wales. The unnamed narrator of the story is relaxing by a lake one afternoon when, out on an island in the lake, a strange machine appears with the doctor and pastor on it. Almost immediately, the doctor and the machine disappear again, leaving the pastor. The narrator goes to the island and rescues the pastor, who is quite ill. He says, however, that he wants to share his story with the narrator.

Sections Three and Four

The last two sections are the pastor's story. He explains that, when the townspeople banded together to go after the Dr. Nebogipfel, he ran to the house ahead of them to warn the doctor. He finds the house empty, but suddenly, the doctor appears on the platform with bloody hands.

Nebogipfel explains to the pastor that the contraption he's on is a time machine. He says he went back in time and ended up in the same room many years ago. His sudden appearance startled the owner of the house and his two sons, who attack Dr. Nebogipfel. In the struggle, the doctor accidentally kills the man before getting back in the time machine and traveling again. Thus, the man who everyone thought had been killed by his two sons years before was actually killed by Dr. Nebogipfel!

Just as Dr. Nebogipfel finishes his story, the townspeople arrive to bust down the door. The doctor tells the pastor that they must go or they will be killed. As the villagers enter the house, Dr. Nebogipfel and the pastor take off in the time machine. The story ends at the beginning of their time travel.

Anachronic Man

A lot happens in ''The Chronic Argonauts,'' but its claim to fame is not just its twisting and turning plot. It is most famous because of the main character, Dr. Nebogipfel. He describes himself as an anachronic man. That is, he feels like he is a man out of time. He wants to find the era where he will fit in better, so he builds the time machine.

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