Time travel in fiction

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Time travel is a common theme in fiction and has been depicted in a variety of media from prose fiction to television and advertisements.[1][page needed] It can be the central theme of the plot, or merely a plot device to set the story in motion. In some science fiction stories, time travel is included in the plot or at least normal time speed is slowed down. Whereas the theme of time travel may be restricted in hard science fiction which would examine the causes and effects of time travel paradoxes; the theme may be allowed in soft science fiction, fantasy and science fantasy which may ignore these aspects and focus on fantastic wonders and adventures.[2]

Sean Redmond regards the time travel motif as providing a "necessary distancing effect" which can allow fiction to address contemporary issues in metaphorical ways, and valuable for providing a view of history where every person is significant.[3][page needed]

Early stories featuring time travel[edit]

Although The Time Machine (by H. G. Wells, published 1895) was instrumental in moving the concept of time travel to the forefront of the public imagination, non-technological forms of time travel had appeared in a number of earlier stories. Some even earlier works had featured elements suggestive of time travel, but remain somewhat ambiguous.

  • In ancient Hindu mythology, the Mahabharata, written around 700 B.C. mentions the story of the King Revaita, who travels to a different world to meet the creator Brahma. The King is shocked to learn that many ages have passed when he returns to Earth.[4]
  • Another very old example of this type of story can be found in the Talmud, with the story of Honi HaM'agel, written in 300 A.D., who went to sleep for 70 years and woke up to a world where his grandchildren were grandparents and where all his friends and family were dead.[citation needed]
  • Urashima Tarō, an early Japanese tale, involves traveling forward in time to a distant future,[5] and was first described in the Nihongi (720).[6][page needed] The tale was about a young fisherman, named Urashima Taro, who visits an undersea palace and stays there for three days. After returning home to his village, he finds himself three hundred years in the future, where he is long forgotten, his house is in ruins, and his family long since dead.[5]
  • In Walter Map's 12th century De nugis curialium ("Courtiers' Trifles"), Map tells of the Briton King Herla, who is transported with his hunting party over two centuries into the future by the enchantment of a mysterious harlequin.
  • Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (1733), by Samuel Madden, is mainly a series of letters from English ambassadors in various countries to the British "Lord High Treasurer", along with a few replies from the British foreign office, all purportedly written in 1997 and 1998 and describing the conditions of that era. However, the framing story is that these letters were actual documents given to the narrator by his guardian angel one night in 1728. For this reason, Paul Alkon suggests in his book Origins of Futuristic Fiction that "the first time-traveler in English literature is a guardian angel who returns with state documents from 1998 to the year 1728", although the book does not explicitly show how the angel obtained the documents. Alkon later qualifies this by writing, "[i]t would be stretching our generosity to praise Madden for being the first to show a traveler arriving from the future", but he also says that Madden "deserves recognition as the first to toy with the rich idea of time travel in the form of an artifact sent backwards from the future to be discovered in the present."
  • In the play Anno 7603, written by the Dano-Norwegian poet Johan Herman Wessel in 1781, the two main characters are moved into the future (AD 7603) by a good fairy.
  • In the science fiction anthology Far Boundaries (1951), the editor August Derleth identifies the short story Missing One's Coach: An Anachronism, written for the Dublin University Magazine by an anonymous author in 1838, as a very early time travel story. In it, the narrator is waiting under a tree to be picked up by a coach which will take him out of Newcastle when he suddenly finds himself transported back over a thousand years. There he encounters the Venerable Bede in a monastery, and gives him somewhat ironic explanations of the developments of the coming centuries. It is never entirely clear whether these events actually occurred, or were merely a dream.
  • In 1843, the Charles Dickens novella A Christmas Carol depicts Ebenezer Scrooge being transported back and forth in time to points in his own lifetime by a series of Ghosts to visit Christmases Past, Present and Future. However, the things he sees are merely "shadows"; he and the Ghosts do not interact with them.
  • The book Paris avant les hommes ("Paris before Men"), by the French botanist and geologist Pierre Boitard (published posthumously in 1861), has the main character transported to various prehistoric settings by the magic of a "lame demon", and who is then able to actively interact with prehistoric life.
  • The short story The Clock that Went Backward, written by editor Edward Page Mitchell, appeared in the New York Sun in 1881, another early example of time travel in fiction.
  • Looking Backward (1888), by Edward Bellamy, and News from Nowhere (1890), by William Morris, each feature a protagonist who wakes up in a socialist utopian future.
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), by Mark Twain.
  • Tourmalin's Time Cheques (1891), by Thomas Anstey Guthrie (and written under the pseudonym F. Anstey), was the first story to explore the paradoxes that time travel might cause.
  • Golf in the Year 2000 (1892), by J. McCullough, tells the story of an Englishman who fell asleep in 1892 and awakened in the year 2000. The focus of the book is how the game of golf would have changed by then, but many social and technological themes are also discussed along the way, including devices similar to television and women's equality.

Time travel themes[edit]

A number of themes can be seen to recur in time travel stories.[citation needed]

  • Changing the past: in this genre, a visitor to the past changes history using knowledge and/or technology from his or her own time, either for good or evil, creating an alternate history as a result.[citation needed] Examples of this genre include Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp and the 2009 Star Trek film.
  • The Guardians of time: in this genre, a group of people are charged with ensuring that time turns out "properly" (i.e. protecting it from changes by other time travelers).[citation needed] Examples of this genre include John Schettler's Meridian series[7] and Simon Lee's Timekeepers.[8] TimeRiders, a series of novels by author Alex Scarrow, tells the story of three people who are rescued moments before their deaths and are recruited into a secret organization in order to prevent time travel from unraveling history.
  • Preventing a bad future: in this genre, the main characters learn, either by going to the future and returning or by the arrival of a time traveler from the future, that the future has not turned out well, having either turned into a dystopia or resulted in the end of the world. The characters try to change something in the present which prevents that future from coming to pass.[citation needed] The Terminator film franchise includes several stories of time travelers from the future waging war with each other so as to create or prevent a post-apocalyptic future. In the TV series Terra Nova, humans travel 85 million years into the past to begin the human race again. This was also shown in the film X-Men: Days of Future Past, when a main character is sent back to 1973 to prevent a pivotal moment that leads to the future dystopia, including both humanity and mutantkind facing extinction.
  • Unintentional change or fulfillment: in this genre, a time traveler intends to observe past events, or is taken to the past against his will and tries to return to his proper time. However, the time traveler discovers that his actions have unintentionally altered the future because of the Butterfly effect.[citation needed] A Sound of Thunder is an example of this genre.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nahin, Paul J. (1999). Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction (2. ed., [corr., rev. and exp.] ed.). New York, NY [u.a.]: Springer [u.a.] ISBN 9780387985718. 
  2. ^ Vichitra Kumar,St... (2013-11-18). "Codes & Conventions of Time Travel Sci-fi". Slideshare.net. Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  3. ^ Redmond, Sean (2014). Liquid Metal: the Science Fiction Film Reader. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231501846. 
  4. ^ "Revati". Mythfolklore.net. 2007-10-16. Retrieved 2013-08-30. 
  5. ^ a b "JET 15(1) - February 2006 - Yorke, Rowe - Malchronia: Cryonics and Bionics as Primitive Weapons in the War on Time". Jetpress.org. 2005-01-03. Retrieved 2014-07-25. 
  6. ^ Rosenberg, Donna (1997). Folklore, Myths, and Legends: A World Perspective. Lincolnwood (Illinois): NTC Publishing Group. p. 421. ISBN 0-8442-5780-X. 
  7. ^ "The Home of Author John A Schettler". Dharma6.com. Retrieved 2013-08-30. 
  8. ^ "Timekeepers - the time travel adventure book for children aged 9 to 90 - Home". Timekeepersbook.com. 2011-02-15. Retrieved 2013-08-30. 

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