Time travel

British author H. G. Wells' 1895 novel The Tim...

British author H. G. Wells’ 1895 novel The Time Machine is an early example of time travel in modern fiction. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In our last installment of Golden Threads, our heroine and her entourage had escaped her uncle’s clutches and landed safely in 1810 AD, to find the cave full of witches. What adventures await our young sixteenth century witch? How will she adapt as she moves through time? If you’ve been following along, find the next chapter here, or click the Golden Threads link to find earlier chapters.

Why are so many authors drawn to time travel?

You, like me, could probably reel off a list of dozens of books and movies containing some form of time travel. There’s The Time Machine, by H. G. Wells, with its creepy Morlocks, there’s Back to the Future, with the knotty problems caused by meeting one’s parents when they’re your own age, there’s the entire Diana Gabaldon Outlander series, in which people step through a stone circle on the right day of the year and travel backward or forward 200 years, and so on (you can find extensive lists on various internet sites). More recently, there’s Steven King’s novel 11/22/63 about JFK’s murder and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, which isn’t strictly time travel, but has some of its aspects. There are comedies, tragedies, social commentaries, adventures, mysteries, love stories, and scary thrillers. What they all have in common is a fascination with other times and places.

These pieces of fiction ask all kinds of questions:

  • What was it really like then?
  • What will it really be like in the future?
  • If you plunk a person or people down in (fill in the blanks) how will they survive?
  • Will they or can they change the course of history?
  • If someone from another time ends up in our time, how do they fit in?
  • How will they react?
  • If someone comes from the future, will they be evil? Will they have powers we can’t imagine and overpower us?
  • Have people from the future already been here, and, if so, did they affect us (bring medicines, knowledge, etc that we wouldn’t have had)?

I used to lie awake at night and make up stories in which I would go back in time, perhaps as part of a science experiment to gather data, and have all sorts of adventures. I’d pick a time period, perhaps something we’d been studying in school, and imagine going there. Maybe I’d have the right clothes made, and find a little money from the period before going, but I’d always end up in trouble. I’d have to fight with a sword, or I’d come back and organize a rescue operation to save a member of our team who’d been captured, etc. Or I’d fantasize about going to the future, and make up some world where things were really different.

Obviously, the idea of time travel is just one step away from historical or futuristic fiction: instead of just setting something in the past, it adds someone from another time period. But what why do we find it fascinating to imagine ourselves in another time? This fascination isn’t limited to authors. Little kids play games in which they’re Native Americans trying to sneak up on game in the woods, or cowboys battling those Natives, or they’re pirates on the open seas, or grand ladies going to some seventeenth century ball. We like to imagine ourselves in different settings. Perhaps, we’d be better and stronger then than we seem to be now. Perhaps, we could be heroes and prevent a catastrophe or cause one.

I have no answer for the question I’ve raised, only more questions. What do you think? I searched briefly on the internet and found no satisfactory speculation. Maybe it’s fascinating because it’s so very impossible (though physicists keep trying to figure out how to do it, or if it could ever be possible).

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  1. #1 by kimpdx on June 14, 2013 - 4:05 pm

    I think some of it is because our subconscious minds, and our imaginations, love questions. And few things raise as many and varied questions as time travel does. And it’s fascinating because it seems like it might make just about anything possible.

    What a great topic and a great bunch of questions you’ve raised!

  1. #DailyBookQuote 2Jul13 : H G Well’s The Time Machine | Whatever It's Worth...

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