The Eloi in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine were like celestial beings who’d lost any sense of earthly usefulness. The Morlocks, in contrast, were an industrious and hungry race of beings that had lost any sense of virtue - they were cruel and predatory and a product of a world that had over generations deprived them of the best that life on earth had to offer.
At night, the Morlocks emerged from their dark and dirty tunnels to stalk Eloi for food. The Morlocks, according to the Time Traveller, were the genetic result of a subordinate class of humans who historically laboured and toiled in badly-lit, poorly-ventilated underground facilities for the upper world class (the ancestors of the Eloi). Their economic relationship with the Eloi as labourers had ceased some generations back though they maintained their industrial infrastructure and expertise and continued to live underground. As a result of their environment, they were pale creatures, averse to sunlight, and experts in underground living.
Like the term Eloi, Morlock is likely derived from Ancient Near East origins: the Canaanite god Moloch, best known as the deity associated with child sacrifice. Tradition depicts Moloch worship to a heated bronze statue that had the body of a man and the head of a bull, into which the cruel sacrifices would be made. While the Morlocks of 802,701 hunted Eloi for food, presumably out of necessity, there is also clear ritualistic and political significance in their killing and consumption of the gentler, more privileged species.
When observing the Morlocks, the time traveller also makes a reference to a ghost story by Grant Allen (1848-1899), Pallinghurst Barrow (1892) In the story, the protagonist is seduced to an ancient burial mound (barrow). There, he is attacked by a horde of bloodthirsty wights who pull him into their barrow to be offered as a human sacrifice, an act that would bring fresh-blood and youth to the undead King of the Barrow. Just as the sacrifice of a living human serves the needs of the undead king that inhabits the barrow, the stalking of the Eloi plays a similar role in the Morlocks' world.
While Wells’ imagining of the world 800 millennia from now is shaped in large part by Charles Darwin’s theories of natural selection, he draws heavily of religious and supernatural imagery to emphasise his ideas about class and race. He saw a clear parallel between ancient rituals of blood sacrifice that fed angry and hungry gods and the ecosystems (organic and manmade) that demanded a form of living sacrifice to sustain it. Many of his stories, The Time Machine included, are about the victims and the terrifying consequences of all-devouring systems.
Illustrations by Mike Schwartz. Buy the illustrated and annotated Story Subway edition of The Time Machinehere.