Morlocks are a fictional species created by H. G. Wells for his 1895 novel, The Time Machine, and are the main antagonist. Since their creation by H. G. Wells, the Morlocks have appeared in many other works such as sequels, movies, television shows, and works by other authors, many of which have deviated from the original description.
In choosing the name “Morlocks”, Wells may have been inspired by the Morlachs – an ethnic group in the Balkans which attracted the attention of West and Central European travelers and writers, including famous ones such as Johann Gottfried Herder and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and who were described and depicted in various writings as an archetype of “primitive people”, “backwardness”, “barbarism” and the like.
Morlocks in The Time Machine
The Morlocks are at first a mysterious presence in the book, in so far as the protagonist initially believes the Eloi are the sole descendants of humanity. Later, the Morlocks are made the story’s antagonists. They dwell underground in the English countryside of AD 802,701, maintaining ancient machines that they may or may not remember how to build. Their only access to the surface world is through a series of well-like structures that dot the countryside of future England.
After thousands of generations of living without sunlight, the Morlocks have dull grey-to-white skin, chinless faces, large greyish-red eyes with a capacity for reflecting light, and flaxen hair on the head and back. They are smaller than humans (presumably of the same height as the Eloi). Like the Eloi, they are significantly weaker than the average human (the Time Traveller hurt or killed some barehandedly with relative ease), but a large swarm of them can be a serious threat for a lone man, especially unarmed and/or with no portable light source. Their sensitivity to light usually prevents them from attacking during the day. The Morlocks and the Eloi have something of a symbiotic relationship: the Eloi are clothed and fed by the Morlocks, and in return, the Morlocks eat the Eloi. The Time Traveler perceives this, and suggests that the Eloi–Morlock relationship developed from a class distinction present in his own time: the Morlocks are the working class who had to work underground so that the rich upper class could live in luxury. With time, the balance of power changed – the surface people no longer dominating the underground dwellers but instead becoming their livestock.
Morlocks in sequels and prequels to the Time Machine
The Time Ships
The Time Ships (1995), by Stephen Baxter is considered by the H. G. Wells estates to be the sequel to The Time Machine (1895) and was published to mark the centennial of the original publication. In its wide-ranging narrative, the Time Traveler attempts to return to the world of tomorrow, but instead finds that his actions have changed the future: one in which the Eloi have never manifested. Instead, the Earth is a nearly barren waste that has been abandoned in favor of a 220 million kilometers wide self-sustaining sphere around the Sun drawing its energy directly from sunlight (since it entirely encompasses the star and receives its whole energy output), where the Morlocks (and several other offshoots of humanity) now live.
Utterly peaceful, moralistic, and highly intelligent (Nebogipfel learns English in a matter of days and is soon able to speak it fluently – with some limitations due to the Morlocks’ peculiar vocal apparatus, quite different from those of humans), the only resemblance these new Morlocks have to the monstrous cannibals of the first future is that of appearance and dwelling “underground”. The sphere they inhabit is divided into two concentric shells, with the Morlocks living exclusively inside the nearly featureless exterior. Above them, the inner shell where the sun shines openly, is an Earth-like utopia. In its many forms and at many technological levels (from somehow familiar nowadaylike industrial worlds to worlds having antigravitional devices), they continue on here in much the same way as that of the Time Travelers era (with war being the most obvious holdover).
The Morlock civilization includes a variety of nation-groups based on thought and ideology, which individuals move between without conflict. All needs are met by the sphere itself, including reproduction where the newly born are “extruded” directly from the floor. These peaceful intelligent Morlocks seem also to have extraordinary resistance to disease and perhaps to radiations too, even when not in their homeworld, as stated by Nebogipfel when in the Paleocene (the Time Traveler quickly got ill there because of unknown germs, whereas Nebogipfel, though injured and disabled, suffered no apparent ill effects).
The only Morlock given a name is Nebogipfel, who remains with the Time Traveler throughout the book. Nebogipfel’s name comes from the main character of H. G. Wells‘ first attempt at a time travel story, then called “Chronic Argonauts.” The character’s name was Dr Moses Nebogipfel. (The name Moses was also used in The Time Ships, though it is given to the younger version of himself that the Time Traveler meets on his journey.)
In K. W. Jeter‘s novel Morlock Night, the Morlocks have stolen the Time Machine and used it to invade Victorian London. These Morlocks are much more formidable than those in The Time Machine – a clever, technological race with enough power to take over the entire world. They also get support from certain treacherous 19th century humans, especially a dark wizard named Merdenne. It is also revealed that the Morlocks living in their native time (the 8,028th century) have stopped allowing the Eloi to roam free and now keep them in pens.
The Morlocks are separated into two types, or castes, in the novel. One is the short, weak, stupid Grunt Morlocks, who are supposedly the kind that the Time Traveller encountered, and the other is the Officer Morlocks, who are taller, more intelligent, speak English, and have high rank within the Morlock invasion force. An example of the latter type is Colonel Nalga, an antagonist later in the book.
These Morlocks are always described as wearing blueish spectacles, which are presumably to protect the Morlocks’ sensitive, dark-adapted eyes.
- Die Reise mit der Zeitmaschine (1946), by Egon Friedell – translated by Eddy C Bertin into English and republished as The Return of the Time Machine. At the time of its publication, this was then the only sequel to The Time Machine. It describes the Time Traveller’s further visits to the future, and the Time Machine’s entanglement with the past.
- The Man Who Loved Morlocks (1981), by David Lake. This novel recounts the Time Traveller’s second journey. This time, he meets the Morlocks again, but is equipped with a camera and a Colt revolver. This book is notable for portraying the Morlocks in a sympathetic, and completely different light. The Time Traveler discovers, on his second trip, that the Eloi and Morlocks of the future world are all dying due to a disease introduced by him on his first trip, to which they have no immunity. Traveling further into the future, he discovers a great and noble civilization, the beautiful inhabitants of which it is eventually learned are the descendants of the few surviving Morlocks. Also, an ancient journal is discovered, which tells the story of the Time Traveler’s first trip from the Morlocks’ point of view, revealing that the Morlocks, rather than being hostile predators/farmers of the Eloi, were in fact the custodians of a kind of natural reserve dedicated to protecting and preserving them. The apparently hostile acts of the Morlocks are explained by showing the story from a different viewpoint.
- Time-Machine Troopers (2011), by Hal Colebatch published by Acashic. In this story the time-traveler returns to the future about 18 years beyond the time in which he first visited it, hoping to regenerate the Eloi, and taking with him Sir Robert Baden-Powell, who will later found the Boy Scout movement in England. They set out to teach the Eloi self-reliance and self-defense, but are captured by Morlocks. It turns out the Eloi and Morlocks are both more complex than the time-traveler had thought, also that Weena is still alive and leading an Eloi resistance movement. The story sets out to be an answer to Wells’s pessimism, as the Time Traveler and Baden-Powell seek to teach the future world scouting and cricket. Winston Churchill and Wells himself also feature as characters.