The adventure began in the summer of 1956 shortly after I celebrated my twelfth birthday. While on family vacation in Florida, I happened into a drug store. The comic book rack (graphic novels to the younger set) featured the latest issue of Classics Illustrated, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. From across the store, the cover caught my eye. A man sat on a curious contraption. Two white rings perpendicular to each other enclosed a plausibly designed mechanism consisting of a saddle, control panel, and power plant. The pedestaled device hung in a half-lit universe. The top half burned an angry orange, courtesy of the sun transiting from dawn toward dusk. The bottom featured night shaded themes of space and time with stars, a galactic vortex, and images of the moon in the sequences of her phases.
Back then, comic books didn’t come in plastic bags, but rules on loitering for a free read were strict. I got off one glance inside, enough to confirm I held in my hands another project of Lou Cameron’s exquisite artwork. Although I wouldn’t learn his identity until 2017, his work throughout the series captivated my imagination. The year before, he introduced me to Wells via Issue 124, The War of the Worlds. To this day, his depiction of the Martian machines is the best I’ve ever found. They had substance and projected the kind of power you associate with land bound Men of War, not top heavy spindly legged contraptions a good wind might blow down. But drawing the best fighting machine ever was nothing compared to what waited in the pages of the forty-eight-page gem I bought for fifteen cents.
My first ravenous sweep through the story introduced new ways of looking at time travel. Science fiction on television and other comic books introduced the idea and some of the necessary machinery, but nothing presented the subject in such organized detail. The world of Eloi and Morlocks poured over me like a tidal wave. A half memory of reading or hearing this story before gnawed at the back of my mind. The tale had already been around more than sixty years. In 1949, a BBC television play had been made, but I didn’t learn about that until 2017 while in the process of doing research for Come Find Me. I never got to the bottom of the half memory. It became the basis of character Kris Parsons’ boyhood experience with young Weena.
Before the vacation ended, I must’ve read the story a hundred times. I parsed each illustration and dialogue bubble for some meaning I might have missed, but what most stuck was the beautifully drawn Weena. The portrait panel of her face where she tells the Time Traveler “Morlocks very bad,” had me from the get-go. The beauty, and innocence, teamed with her character presentation in good old 133 to convince me we weren’t far apart in age. Like the actor Dana Andrews in the film Laura, I fell for Mr. Cameron’s portrayal of Weena. Fair to say, she was my first experience with love. I couldn’t understand why the Time Traveler left her behind. I kept reading and re-reading, I think, partly in hopes of finding a more satisfying ending.
Little did I suspect what lay ahead in that regard.
The following Christmas, I received a copy of The Time Machine as part of an omnibus volume. This became one of my earliest expeditions into actual literature. Classics Illustrated performed an invaluable service to my generation by introducing us to quality books in an easy to read, enjoyable format. Besides the Wells and Verne works, as I marched toward adulthood these colorful little books led me to literary worlds I never would’ve taken on otherwise, up to and including the first thirty pages of Moby Dick.
That Christmas day, I rushed off to be alone with a real deal version of my favorite book, eager to learn how the author’s description of Weena and her world compared with Mr. Cameron’s artwork. I charged through the book like Wells’ Martians crossing the English countryside. In the beginning, Weena met every expectation. She was kinder, more animated, and a ton more compassionate than the other Eloi. Starting in Chapter Five, I became wary, when the Time Traveler, speaking of his time with her said, ‘That was the beginning of a queer friendship which lasted a week, and ended–as I will tell you!’ After a botched campaign to evade the Morlocks and return her home from the Palace of Green Porcelain museum, by Chapter Nine, she was declared dead. I say ‘declared’ because the distinction figures in the finding of Weena.
Even at twelve and a half, I could come up with a dozen safer alternatives to the Time Traveler’s plan: Who, surrounded by death and in the open, starts a campfire and falls asleep, letting it go out? Didn’t the museum have rooms to hide in, and doors to block access? A closet would’ve been enough. No, let’s plunge into a night forest where a million Morlocks could attack from all sides.
Pretty stupid, Time Traveler.
As with the comic book, I read and re-read the real thing, but the ending never changed. However, after ten or so readings, I noted a ray of hope. The Time Traveler never found remains. True, she never returned before he reclaimed his machine and left, but she might’ve turned up at another palace. After all, the book made Eloi society a perfect socialism–freely sharing among those with, and those with need.
For the rest of seventh grade and through all the eighth, including the following summer, I wrote at least six sequels to The Time Machine. Each was longer, more detailed and an improvement over the other. The longest touched on forty thousand words. Weena is alive of course. The hero, a grown-up version of me, was a military man. He leads anywhere from a platoon to a division to the world of 802701 A.D. Early versions stayed with time machines, but as the good guys grew in numbers I shifted to faster than light space ships and a teen version of Einstein relativity to get where we needed to be. Besides, the FTLs had more room for world re-building equipment, the second objective of the later versions.
In writing these stories, which ended by Weena and I being together, I convinced myself she was out there somewhere. I spent summer afternoons before ninth grade anchored to a chair at the kitchen table creating the latest version of rescuing her featuring me leading rock-solid Marines kicking truckloads of Morlock butt. Lying in bed at night while spinning down from a day of writing, I believed she called to me. She was afraid and lonely. Like Kris in Come Find Me, I didn’t know where to look, but we shared the lonely part. Cutting off your friends to write can do that. Mom just shook her head and pronounced it a phase I was going through.
She was right. A week after starting ninth grade, I discovered flesh and blood girls. Weena’s grip relaxed, allowing my life to proceed on normal tracks. I never forgot the little sprite or the book. I saw every TV or movie version of The Time Machine. Yvette Mimieux reigns as my favorite Weena. In later readings, after I had my own family and children, I began the process of uncovering the subtleties of this wonderful work I missed as a youngster. After gaining a conviction of Weena’s survival, other passages hinted her age may have been younger than first supposed. Wells referred to her as a ‘little woman’ when she first meets the Time Traveler but afterward describes both physically and behaviorally in terms associated with adolescents. True, she was consistent with the other Eloi; consistent except for the depth of emotions such as gratitude and concern. Gradually, I created a vision of her being different, a precocious child rather than an infantile adult.
For more than fifty-five years Weena resided in a backwater of my mind, coming out occasionally when I happened across an article, movie, or program concerning time travel. Somewhere in twenty-three years of moving among duty stations while in the Navy, I lost all the sequels, a tragedy now but no big deal back then.
The film Time After Time caused a notable stir in 1979. I spent several evenings at the library updating on all things Weena and Wells. These once every couple of decades refreshes would’ve probably remained the extent of my interaction on the subject until I learned of my cancer.
In the summer of 2017, I developed an aggressive kind of prostate cancer. Part of the treatment required injections of chemotherapy to suppress male hormones and reduce the prostate size. A side effect was I felt emotions more deeply. I cared more for family, people, and things; prayed more; listened better; and worked toward becoming the man I should have been. Somewhere in that time, Weena returned. A soft whisper simmered in my brain: ‘Write my story.’
An article I read in college proposed that the spirits of literary characters come alive when created by a writer, and float around in some interdimensional ether, waiting to be restored to this world by admission to our thoughts. To that, I said, ‘Welcome home, girl.’
So, armed with a new asset, the World Wide Web, I took up the task. I learned everything about her there was, including the name of the artist who immortalized her in Issue 133. I would’ve tried to get the rights to some of the illustrations for the book cover but sadly, Mr. Cameron passed away in 2013. I did the next best thing and found a live model. She’s exactly as I imagine Weena to be.
The volume of information and artistic representations of The Time Machine and Weena, specifically, on the web surprised me. The fact many artists and writers agreed with me and drew or described Wells’ Weena as a child came as a pleasant surprise. There I started. I grew her into the woman Joe Corrigan gave his heart to and who ages gracefully into Ally Corrigan, the story’s narrator.
I chose the rarely seen ‘Holt’ edition of the Wells novel–The Time Machine: An Invention. This one, published in America is the same story, different only in rearrangement and titling of the chapters, and minor typographical edits. Come Find Me is faithful to either version. The book wrote itself. In the process, Weena returned to my heart, not as the object of juvenile love but in memory of someone dear, separated by a vast gulf of time. By telling her story as the muses presented it, I will have repaid a debt owed to my beloved imaginary friend and first crush.
Read and enjoy.
This post is contributed as a Guest post by Mike Arsuaga.
About the author:
Raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, I completed careers in the United States Navy Submarine Force and the Transportation Security Administration. I live in Orlando Florida, with wife and Editor in Chief Cynthia, daughter Jennifer, granddaughter Larrna and partners-in-crime Fitzy, a Silky terrier, and Sally, a Miniature Pinscher.
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