by John Pecoraro, Assistant Director
People talk about having time, making time, and wasting time. We’re anxious about time all the time. It’s no surprise that we’re fascinated by the idea of time travel. After all, who hasn’t dreamed about going into their past, and maybe improving the present? Who hasn’t fantasized about journeying into the future to see how we all turn out?
While H. G. Wells’ “The Time Machine,” written in 1895, popularized the concept of time travel, prototypes of time travel stories include Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Washington Irving’s story “Rip Van Winkle,” (sleeping for 20 years), and even the 8th century Japanese folk tale “Urashima Tarō.” In this story, a fisherman visits a world under the sea for three days only to find after returning home to his village that three hundred years have passed.
There are several best of time travel lists on the Web, and hundreds of titles listed. Here is a small sampling of some of the best.
In “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” by Audrey Niffenegger. Librarian Henry de Tamble suffers from Chrono Displacement disorder. He disappears into the past or the future during times of stress. Needless to say this can wreak havoc with a marriage. Clare, the time traveler’s wife, endures, as does the relationship between her and her husband.
“The Time Machine,” by H.G. Wells is the classic time travel tale. Wells coined the term “time machine” to describe the mechanical device that propelled his Victorian scientist hero through time. The unnamed protagonist travels into the far future where he discovers a world peopled by the peaceful, childlike Eloi, and the ape-like, underground dwelling Morlocks, and the horrifying relationship between the two.
When illustrator Si Morley is recruited to join a covert government operation exploring time travel, he jumps at the chance to leave the twentieth-century for 1882. What happens when Si meets and falls in love with a woman in the past is the story Jack Finney tells in “Time and Again.”
In “Timeline,” by Michael Crichton, archaeologists studying the remains of medieval towns in Dordogne discover a pair of modern glasses and a note on parchment in the handwriting of missing Professor Edward Johnson. Using quantum technology provided by a mysterious company called ITC, a group of history students travel to 1357 France to look for the missing professor. What they don’t realize is that ITC’s motives for traveling to the past involve more than research.
When Claire Beauchamp Randall walks through a cleft stone in Scotland in 1945, she is somehow transported to 1743. There she encounters her husband, Frank’s, evil ancestor, Captain Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall. So begins “Outlander,” by Diana Gabaldon, the first in the popular series by the same name.
In “To Say Nothing of the Dog,” Connie Willis weaves the story of Ned Henry who travels from the 21st century back to the 1940s as part of a project to restore Coventry Cathedral. But when fellow time traveler, Verity Kindle, rescues a cat in Victorian times and brings it back to the present of 2057, she starts in motion events that can change the course of history. Now Ned has to jump back to the Victorian era to help Verity put things right.
Travelers through time may seek to change the past, or they may be guardians sent to protect the past from other travelers. They may want to prevent a bad future from happening by changing the present (think “The Terminator”). Time travelers to the past may unintentionally change the future (their present) by their actions. In Ray Bradbury’s story “The Sound of Thunder,” a time traveling safari to see the dinosaurs has drastic results when one of its members makes a very small adjustment in the past.
There was a moment in history when everyone in the western world jumped several days in time. On October 4, 1582, Pope Gregory XIII decreed that the very next day would be not October 5, but October 15, thus correcting the ten day error of the Julian calendar. Of course we all time travel on a very limited scale each fall and spring. We fall back in time to relive an hour, or we zoom ahead. Happy time travelling.