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Time travel in fiction

Time travel in fiction

Overview
Time travel
Time travel
Time travel is the concept of moving between different points in time in a manner analogous to moving between different points in space. Time travel could hypothetically involve moving backward in time to a moment earlier than the starting point, or forward to the future of that point without the...

 is a common theme in science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 and is depicted in a variety of media. It simply means either going forward in time or backward, to experience the future, or the past.

Time travel can form the central theme of a book, or it can be simply a plot device. Time travel in fiction can ignore the possible effects of the time traveler's actions, as in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is an 1889 novel by American humorist and writer Mark Twain. The book was originally titled A Yankee in King Arthur's Court...

, or it can use one resolution or another of the Grandfather paradox
Grandfather paradox
The grandfather paradox is a proposed paradox of time travel first described by the science fiction writer René Barjavel in his 1943 book Le Voyageur Imprudent . The paradox is this: suppose a man traveled back in time and killed his biological grandfather before the latter met the traveler's...

.

Although The Time Machine
The Time Machine
The Time Machine is a science fiction novella by H. G. Wells, published in 1895 for the first time and later adapted into at least two feature films of the same name, as well as two television versions, and a large number of comic book adaptations. It indirectly inspired many more works of fiction...

by H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells
Herbert George Wells was an English author, now best known for his work in the science fiction genre. He was also a prolific writer in many other genres, including contemporary novels, history, politics and social commentary, even writing text books and rules for war games...

 was instrumental in causing the idea of time travel to enter the public imagination, non-technological forms of time travel had appeared in a number of earlier stories, and some even earlier stories featured elements suggestive of time travel, but remain somewhat ambiguous.
  • In ancient Hindu mythology
    Hindu mythology
    Hindu religious literature is the large body of traditional narratives related to Hinduism, notably as contained in Sanskrit literature, such as the Sanskrit epics and the Puranas. As such, it is a subset of Nepali and Indian culture...

    , the Mahabharatha mentions the story of the King Revaita
    Kakudmi
    Kakudmi was the King of Kusasthali, a kingdom beneath the ocean. He was the father of Revati, who married Balarama...

    , who travels to a different world to meet the creator Brahma
    Brahma
    Brahma is the Hindu god of creation and one of the Trimurti, the others being Vishnu and Shiva. According to the Brahma Purana, he is the father of Mānu, and from Mānu all human beings are descended. In the Ramayana and the...

     and is shocked to learn that many ages have passed when he returns to Earth.


  • Urashima Tarō
    Urashima Taro
    is a Japanese legend about a fisherman who rescues a turtle and is rewarded for this with a visit to Ryūgū-jō, the palace of Ryūjin, the Dragon God, under the sea...

    , an early Japanese tale
    Japanese literature
    Early works of Japanese literature were heavily influenced by cultural contact with China and Chinese literature, often written in Classical Chinese. Indian literature also had an influence through the diffusion of Buddhism in Japan...

    , involves traveling forwards in time to a distant future, and was first described in the Nihongi
    Nihon Shoki
    The , sometimes translated as The Chronicles of Japan, is the second oldest book of classical Japanese history. It is more elaborate and detailed than the Kojiki, the oldest, and has proven to be an important tool for historians and archaeologists as it includes the most complete extant historical...

    (720).
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Encyclopedia
Time travel
Time travel
Time travel is the concept of moving between different points in time in a manner analogous to moving between different points in space. Time travel could hypothetically involve moving backward in time to a moment earlier than the starting point, or forward to the future of that point without the...

 is a common theme in science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 and is depicted in a variety of media. It simply means either going forward in time or backward, to experience the future, or the past.

Literature


Time travel can form the central theme of a book, or it can be simply a plot device. Time travel in fiction can ignore the possible effects of the time traveler's actions, as in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is an 1889 novel by American humorist and writer Mark Twain. The book was originally titled A Yankee in King Arthur's Court...

, or it can use one resolution or another of the Grandfather paradox
Grandfather paradox
The grandfather paradox is a proposed paradox of time travel first described by the science fiction writer René Barjavel in his 1943 book Le Voyageur Imprudent . The paradox is this: suppose a man traveled back in time and killed his biological grandfather before the latter met the traveler's...

.

Early stories featuring time travel


Although The Time Machine
The Time Machine
The Time Machine is a science fiction novella by H. G. Wells, published in 1895 for the first time and later adapted into at least two feature films of the same name, as well as two television versions, and a large number of comic book adaptations. It indirectly inspired many more works of fiction...

by H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells
Herbert George Wells was an English author, now best known for his work in the science fiction genre. He was also a prolific writer in many other genres, including contemporary novels, history, politics and social commentary, even writing text books and rules for war games...

 was instrumental in causing the idea of time travel to enter the public imagination, non-technological forms of time travel had appeared in a number of earlier stories, and some even earlier stories featured elements suggestive of time travel, but remain somewhat ambiguous.
  • In ancient Hindu mythology
    Hindu mythology
    Hindu religious literature is the large body of traditional narratives related to Hinduism, notably as contained in Sanskrit literature, such as the Sanskrit epics and the Puranas. As such, it is a subset of Nepali and Indian culture...

    , the Mahabharatha mentions the story of the King Revaita
    Kakudmi
    Kakudmi was the King of Kusasthali, a kingdom beneath the ocean. He was the father of Revati, who married Balarama...

    , who travels to a different world to meet the creator Brahma
    Brahma
    Brahma is the Hindu god of creation and one of the Trimurti, the others being Vishnu and Shiva. According to the Brahma Purana, he is the father of Mānu, and from Mānu all human beings are descended. In the Ramayana and the...

     and is shocked to learn that many ages have passed when he returns to Earth.


  • Urashima Tarō
    Urashima Taro
    is a Japanese legend about a fisherman who rescues a turtle and is rewarded for this with a visit to Ryūgū-jō, the palace of Ryūjin, the Dragon God, under the sea...

    , an early Japanese tale
    Japanese literature
    Early works of Japanese literature were heavily influenced by cultural contact with China and Chinese literature, often written in Classical Chinese. Indian literature also had an influence through the diffusion of Buddhism in Japan...

    , involves traveling forwards in time to a distant future, and was first described in the Nihongi
    Nihon Shoki
    The , sometimes translated as The Chronicles of Japan, is the second oldest book of classical Japanese history. It is more elaborate and detailed than the Kojiki, the oldest, and has proven to be an important tool for historians and archaeologists as it includes the most complete extant historical...

    (720). It 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 in ruins, and his family long dead.
  • In Walter Map
    Walter Map
    Walter Map was a medieval writer of works written in Latin. Only one work is attributed to Map with any certainty: De Nugis Curialium.-Life:...

    's 12th century De nugis curialium
    De Nugis Curialium
    De nugis curialium is the major surviving work of the 12th century Latin author Walter Map. He was an English courtier of Welsh descent, probably born in Herefordshire, whose studies and employment took him to Canterbury, Paris, Rome and to several royal and noble courts of western Europe...

    (Courtiers' Trifles), Map tells of the Briton
    Britons (historical)
    The Britons were the Celtic people culturally dominating Great Britain from the Iron Age through the Early Middle Ages. They spoke the Insular Celtic language known as British or Brythonic...

     King Herla
    Herla
    Herla or Herla King is a legendary leader of the German mythic Wild Hunt and the name from which the French term, Herlequin may have been derived...

    , 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
    Samuel Madden
    Samuel Madden was an Irish author. His works include Themistocles; The Lover of His Country, Reflections and Resolutions Proper for the Gentlemen of Ireland, and Memoirs of the Twentieth Century. Dr...

     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
    Guardian angel (spirit)
    A guardian angel is an angel assigned to protect and guide a particular person or group. Belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all antiquity...

     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 these documents. Alkon later qualifies this by writing "It would be stretching our generosity to praise Madden for being the first to show a traveler arriving from the future", but 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
    Dano-Norwegian
    Dano-Norwegian is a linguistic term for a koiné that evolved among the urban elite in Norwegian cities during the later years of the union between the Kingdoms of Denmark and Norway . It is from this koiné that Riksmål and Bokmål developed...

     poet Johan Herman Wessel
    Johan Herman Wessel
    thumb|Johan Herman WesselJohan Herman Wessel was a Norwegian-Danish poet. Some of his satirical poems are still popular.-Biography:...

     in 1781, the two main characters are moved to the future (AD 7603) by a good fairy.
  • Rip Van Winkle
    Rip Van Winkle
    "Rip Van Winkle" is a short story by the American author Washington Irving published in 1819, as well as the name of the story's fictional protagonist. Written while Irving was living in Birmingham, England, it was part of a collection entitled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon...

    , Washington Irving
    Washington Irving
    Washington Irving was an American author, essayist, biographer and historian of the early 19th century. He was best known for his short stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle", both of which appear in his book The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. His historical works...

    's 1819 story, is about a man named Rip Van Winkle who takes a nap at a mountain and wakes up twenty years in the future, where he has been forgotten, his wife deceased, and his daughter grown up.
  • In the science fiction anthology Far Boundaries (1951), the editor August Derleth
    August Derleth
    August William Derleth was an American writer and anthologist. Though best remembered as the first publisher of the writings of H. P...

     identifies the short story Missing One's Coach: An Anachronism, written for the Dublin University Magazine by an anonymous
    Anonymity
    Anonymity is derived from the Greek word ἀνωνυμία, anonymia, meaning "without a name" or "namelessness". In colloquial use, anonymity typically refers to the state of an individual's personal identity, or personally identifiable information, being publicly unknown.There are many reasons why a...

     author in 1838, as a very early time travel story. In this story, the narrator is waiting under a tree to be picked up by a coach
    Coach (vehicle)
    A coach is a large motor vehicle, a type of bus, used for conveying passengers on excursions and on longer distance express coach scheduled transport between cities - or even between countries...

     which will take him out of Newcastle
    Newcastle upon Tyne
    Newcastle upon Tyne is a city and metropolitan borough of Tyne and Wear, in North East England. Historically a part of Northumberland, it is situated on the north bank of the River Tyne...

    , when he suddenly finds himself transported back over a thousand years, where he encounters the Venerable Bede
    Bede
    Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

     in a monastery
    Monastery
    Monastery denotes the building, or complex of buildings, that houses a room reserved for prayer as well as the domestic quarters and workplace of monastics, whether monks or nuns, and whether living in community or alone .Monasteries may vary greatly in size – a small dwelling accommodating only...

    , 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
    Charles Dickens
    Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

     novella A Christmas Carol
    A Christmas Carol
    A Christmas Carol is a novella by English author Charles Dickens first published by Chapman & Hall on 17 December 1843. The story tells of sour and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge's ideological, ethical, and emotional transformation after the supernatural visits of Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of...

    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.
  • The book Paris avant les hommes (Paris before Men) by the French botanist and geologist Pierre Boiterd, published posthumously in 1861, in which the main character is transported to various prehistoric settings by the magic of a "lame demon", and is able to actively interact with prehistoric life.
  • The short story The Clock That Went Backward, written by editor Edward Page Mitchell
    Edward Page Mitchell
    Edward Page Mitchell was an American editorial and short story writer for the New York Sun, a daily newspaper. He became that newspaper's editor in 1897, succeeding Charles Anderson Dana. Mitchell retired in 1926, a year before dying of a cerebral hemorrhage...

     appeared in the New York Sun
    New York Sun (historical)
    The Sun was a New York newspaper that was published from 1833 until 1950. It was considered a serious paper, like the city's two more successful broadsheets, The New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune...

    in 1881, another early example of time travel in fiction.
  • Looking Backward
    Looking Backward
    Looking Backward: 2000-1887 is a utopian science fiction novel by Edward Bellamy, a lawyer and writer from western Massachusetts; it was first published in 1887...

    (1888) by Edward Bellamy
    Edward Bellamy
    Edward Bellamy was an American author and socialist, most famous for his utopian novel, Looking Backward, set in the year 2000. He was a very influential writer during the Gilded Age of United States history.-Early life:...

     and News from Nowhere
    News from Nowhere
    News from Nowhere is a classic work combining utopian socialism and soft science fiction written by the artist, designer and socialist pioneer William Morris...

    (1890) by William Morris
    William Morris
    William Morris 24 March 18343 October 1896 was an English textile designer, artist, writer, and socialist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the English Arts and Crafts Movement...

    , which feature a protagonist who wakes up in a socialist utopian
    Utopian socialism
    Utopian socialism is a term used to define the first currents of modern socialist thought as exemplified by the work of Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, and Robert Owen which inspired Karl Marx and other early socialists and were looked on favorably...

     future.
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
    A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
    A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is an 1889 novel by American humorist and writer Mark Twain. The book was originally titled A Yankee in King Arthur's Court...

    (1889) by Mark Twain
    Mark Twain
    Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

    .
  • Tourmalin's Time Cheques (1891) by Thomas Anstey Guthrie
    Thomas Anstey Guthrie
    Thomas Anstey Guthrie , was an English novelist and journalist, who wrote his comic novels under the pseudonym F. Anstey....

     (written under the pseudonym
    Pseudonym
    A pseudonym is a name that a person assumes for a particular purpose and that differs from his or her original orthonym...

     F. Anstey) was the first story to play with the paradoxes that time travel could cause.
  • Golf in the Year 2000
    Golf in the Year 2000
    Golf in the Year 2000, or, What We Are Coming To is a novel by J. McCullough about golf which also may be classed as a specimen of Victorian era science fiction. It tells the story of Alexander J...

    (1892) by J. McCullough
    J. McCullough
    J. McCullough was a Scottish author and avid golfer of the late 19th century. His fame rests on two books, Golf in the Year 2000, or, What we are coming to and Golf: Containing Practical Hints, with Rules of the Game ....

     tells the story of an Englishman who fell asleep in 1892 and awakens 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 a device similar to television
    Television
    Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

     and women's equality
    Social equality
    Social equality is a social state of affairs in which all people within a specific society or isolated group have the same status in a certain respect. At the very least, social equality includes equal rights under the law, such as security, voting rights, freedom of speech and assembly, and the...

    .

Time travel themes and ideological function


A number of themes tend to recur in time travel stories, often with enough variations to make them interesting.
  • Changing the past: in this genre, a visitor to the past changes history using knowledge and/or technology from their own time, either for good or evil, or sometimes accidentally, creating an alternate history as a result. Examples of this genre include Lest Darkness Fall
    Lest Darkness Fall
    Lest Darkness Fall is an alternate history science fiction novel written in 1939 by author L. Sprague de Camp. The book is often considered one of the best examples of the alternate history genre; it is certainly one of the most influential...

    by L. Sprague de Camp
    L. Sprague de Camp
    Lyon Sprague de Camp was an American author of science fiction and fantasy books, non-fiction and biography. In a writing career spanning 60 years, he wrote over 100 books, including novels and notable works of non-fiction, including biographies of other important fantasy authors...

    .
  • The Guardians of Time: in this genre, a group of people are charged with ensuring that time turns out 'properly' (or protecting it from changes by other travelers). This includes The Big Time
    The Big Time
    The Big Time is a short science fiction novel by Fritz Leiber. It won the Hugo Award in 1958.The Big Time is a vast, cosmic back story, hidden behind a claustrophobic front story with only a few characters.-Plot:...

    and the other Change War stories by Fritz Leiber
    Fritz Leiber
    Fritz Reuter Leiber, Jr. was an American writer of fantasy, horror and science fiction. He was also a poet, actor in theatre and films, playwright, expert chess player and a champion fencer. Possibly his greatest chess accomplishment was winning clear first in the 1958 Santa Monica Open.. With...

    , Terry Pratchett
    Terry Pratchett
    Sir Terence David John "Terry" Pratchett, OBE is an English novelist, known for his frequently comical work in the fantasy genre. He is best known for his popular and long-running Discworld series of comic fantasy novels...

    's Thief of Time
    Thief of Time
    Thief of Time is the 26th Discworld novel written by Terry Pratchett, a 2002 Locus Award nominee.-Plot summary:The Auditors are upset because the human race are living their lives in - what the Auditors consider to be - an unpredictable way...

    , Simon Hawke
    Simon Hawke
    Simon Hawke is an American author of mainly science fiction and fantasy novels. He was born Nicholas Valentin Yermakov, but began writing as Simon Hawke in 1984 and later changed his legal name to Hawke. He has also written near future adventure novels under the penname "J. D...

    's TimeWars
    TimeWars
    TimeWars is a series of twelve science fiction paperback books created and written by author Simon Hawke beginning in 1984. The story involves the adventures of an organization tasked with protecting history from being changed by time travelers...

    series, Simon Lee's Timekeepers, A Tempus Viator Novel and The End of Eternity
    The End of Eternity
    The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov is a science fiction novel, with mystery and thriller elements, on the subjects of time travel and social engineering....

    by Isaac Asimov
    Isaac Asimov
    Isaac Asimov was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000...

    . Another example of this concept is the Doctor Who
    Doctor Who
    Doctor Who is a British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC. The programme depicts the adventures of a time-travelling humanoid alien known as the Doctor who explores the universe in a sentient time machine called the TARDIS that flies through time and space, whose exterior...

    sci-fi series, whose main character is a "Time Lord
    Time Lord
    The Time Lords are an ancient extraterrestrial race and civilization of humanoids in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, of which the series' eponymous protagonist, the Doctor, is a member...

    " called "the Doctor" who personally intervenes to fight the evil he encounters if he is called on to do so and whose people are essentially scholars and historians who usually only observe histories.
  • 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
    Dystopia
    A dystopia is the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian, as characterized in books like Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four...

     or resulting in the end of the world
    Risks to civilization, humans and planet Earth
    Various existential risks could threaten humankind as a whole, have adverse consequences for the course of human civilization, or even cause the end of planet Earth.-Types of risks:...

    . The characters then try to change something in the present which prevents said future from coming to pass. The Terminator
    Terminator (franchise)
    The Terminator series is a science fiction franchise encompassing a series of films and other media concerning battles between Skynet's artificially intelligent machine network, and John Connor's Resistance forces and the rest of the human race....

    franchise includes several stories of time travelers from the future, waging disputes to influence a post-apocalyptic future.
  • 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
    Butterfly effect
    In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions; where a small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state...

    . A Sound of Thunder
    A Sound of Thunder
    “A Sound of Thunder” is a science fiction short story by Ray Bradbury, first published in Collier’s magazine in 1952. As of 1984 it was the most re-published science fiction story up to the present time...

    is an example of this genre.

See also




  • Ontological paradox
  • Grandfather paradox
    Grandfather paradox
    The grandfather paradox is a proposed paradox of time travel first described by the science fiction writer René Barjavel in his 1943 book Le Voyageur Imprudent . The paradox is this: suppose a man traveled back in time and killed his biological grandfather before the latter met the traveler's...

  • Predestination paradox
    Predestination paradox
    A predestination paradox is a paradox of time travel that is often used as a convention in science fiction. It exists when a time traveller is caught in a loop of events that "predestines" or "predates" them to travel back in time...

  • Time viewer
    Time viewer
    The Time viewer is a fictional device occasionally used in science fiction. It is usually a device which functions along the same lines as a television, except that the picture depicts events in another time, either the past or the future...



External links