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 such as literature, television and advertisements.[1][page needed]


In fiction featuring time travel, time travel is either the central theme of the story or is merely the means to set the story in motion.[citation needed]

H. G. Wells' story The Time Machine, written in 1895, was instrumental in moving the concept of time travel to the forefront of the public imagination.[2][3] Non-technological forms of time travel appeared in a number of earlier stories,[citation needed] and some earlier works featured elements suggestive of time travel, but remained somewhat ambiguous.[citation needed] Modern time travel stories examine the effects of temporal paradoxes, such as the grandfather paradox, and how travelling into the past can affect the future by accidently or intentionally changing history, creating an alternate history and/or parallel universe as a result.[2][3][4]

Sean Redmond regards time travel as providing a "necessary distancing effect" that allows science fiction to address contemporary issues in metaphorical ways.[5]

Early stories featuring time travel[edit]

  • 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.[6]
  • 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,[7] and was first described in the Nihongi (720).[8] 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.[7]
  • 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 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 Ebeneezer 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.
  • 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]

  • 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 and Simon Lee's Timekeepers. TimeRiders, a series of novels by author Alex Scarrow, tells the story of three people who have been rescued moments before death and 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 in an effort to prevent a later disaster from occurring.
  • 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 (2nd ed.). New York, NY [u.a.]: Springer [u.a.] ISBN 9780387985718. 
  2. ^ a b Alison Flood (2011-09-11). "Time travel in fiction: why authors return to it time and time again | Science". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-10-01. 
  3. ^ a b Sterling, Bruce (2014-08-27). "science fiction | literature and performance :: Major science fiction themes". Britannica.com. Retrieved 2015-10-04. 
  4. ^ Sterling, Bruce (2014-08-27). "science fiction | literature and performance :: Major science fiction themes". Britannica.com. Retrieved 2015-10-04. 
  5. ^ Redmond, Sean (2014). Liquid Metal: the Science Fiction Film Reader. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 114. ISBN 0231501846. Retrieved 30 September 2015. 
  6. ^ "Revati". Mythfolklore.net. 2007-10-16. Retrieved 2013-08-30. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Rosenberg, Donna (1997). Folklore, Myths, and Legends: A World Perspective. Lincolnwood (Illinois): NTC Publishing Group. p. 421. ISBN 0-8442-5780-X. Retrieved 4 October 2015. 

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