One of the most profoundly disturbing moments of my childhood happened when I watched the 1960 George Pal film version of H.G. Well’s, The Time Machine. In the movie our hero, Rod Taylor is demonstrating real anger and frustration towards the Eloi, a species of milky, docile “cows” who at one point may have been fairly intelligent and naturally inquisitive modern-day humans, but exist now only as a simple and blissed out food source for the subterranean Morlocks. Pampered, relaxed and terminally dull, the Eloi sit around eating fruit and, one supposes, occasionally screwing (just to pass the time and keep the numbers up). Rod is raging at the Eloi, “What about culture? You pathetic bastards!” The Eloi are lounging around a large Grecian bath and raising an eyebrow at Raging Rod, “Chill out man, we have everything we need and if a few of us get picked off once in a while, well, more fruit for the rest of us, I guess.” I’m paraphrasing.
“Look.” Yells Rod, “You’ve got all these books and you haven’t been near them in centuries.” He walks up to a conveniently placed marble bookshelf, sticks his hand into the last book and with a sweep of his arm turns the lot to a huge cloud of dust. Books so old, so neglected, so unread that they have literally disintegrated. Centuries of ignorance, of complacency, raining down on the unconcerned Eloi’s heads.
Living, as I do, on the upper west side and owning, as I do, a used book store, I can certainly sympathize with Rod. We get a few Eloi in, wandering around with an apple in one hand a girlfriend’s hip in the other. I remember the profound fear I felt as a child watching this movie. Well, why are they just sitting around waiting for death? Why haven’t they touched their books? Why don’t they fight back? The terror I felt for the complacent Eloi never left me. What happened to them? Man by nature, desires to know, but not to read?