Time Travelling through History


This month is Historical Fiction month. As the resident Science Fiction nut, my mind(naturally) thought of Time Travel! Of course the snag here is that most Time Travel stories are not actually Historical Fiction. Time travel focuses on speculations, on the laws and physics and consequences of travelling through time. Pedantically speaking, these stories are truly Science Fiction. But let’s not pigeon hole! Hybridity in genre is more and more commonplace so open your minds and take in some Historical Time Travelling!

As much as I love and am fascinated by History I just can’t seem to chew on a straight Historical work – they are typically quite dense and, to be honest, just too darn realistic for me. I want a fiction wrapped up in the truths, some mystery to rope me in; and, if I’m going to be honest, I feel like I learn more when there is fiction involved in retellings or speculations of History. Instead of spending pages and pages describing schematics or listing names of important people, authors can highlight only the interesting facts and times. The beauty of Time Travel in particular is that these interesting points in History are seen through a set of eyes comparable to my own. Now, I’ll grant you that there is less actual factual (hehehe) information in Historical Fiction but, in the good ones anyway, the authors have done the work for me. Through their own research and plotting authors have combed through History to find interesting tidbits that they can wrap into the scheme and plot of their story, they know what the feel and look of the time periods and people are and they describe it in 21st century terms!



This fascination with travelling through time is not limited to the modern art forms – there are stories upon stories in the folk tales of cultures around the world that depict some form of time travel, usually by mystical or supernatural means. There is the story of Mahabharata from India, which I think is truly time travel. But other myths toy with the idea of reversing what has already happened, of travelling to the ends of the earth to change the past and the future – playing with godlike powers for control over the timeline. For me, thought, it all began with stories like Robert Zemeckis’ classic Back to the Future and James Cameron’s Terminator that helped inspire my love for science fiction. Within these timeless (hohoho) classics lay the “altering the future by altering the past” trope – which is just so much fun and doesn’t ever seem to lose it’s spark for me, probably because there is so much History out there to change! Of course, I cringe every time I see an “Under the Sea Dance” but I honestly love it. I kind of love all the tropes:

Despite the overdone-ness of the tropes there’s just something so wondrous and intriguing about a good time travel yarn. I think perhaps it’s that time travel comes with it’s own built in plot – I mean conflict, strangers thrown together, rules of the world. This is not to say that they author’s job is easy, they still have to research and they still have to create the rules of their time travel. But, time travel is such an easy story to slip into, and this ease is something that other stories seem to have to work just a little bit harder for.

Funny video that incorporates as many tropes of time travel as it can: http://www.themarysue.com/present-tense-short-film/

Despite time travel being overrun with tropes and clichés, I think that it is in for a revival. Technology is every changing and theories and mechanical iterations of time dilation are becomming more and more sophisticated. Perhaps it will never be possible, but it’s just so fun to think of it as plausible (and to pick up a little History on the way). I have read quite a few time travel ARCs recently. Shifting from the dystopic speculating horrendous futures where hope rests on the young towards finding ways to alter the past before humans can destroy the world – well, doesn’t it just sound like a natural shift?

The ever-flowing nature of time remains a captivating source of inspiration to me. What is it about the endless march of time that fascinates? Is it because the reigns of its passage seem so far of out of reach? Perhaps, it’s that underlying fear of death that so many of us carry around in our day to day. After all, what is death if not an end to our own subjective voyage through time? One thing’s for sure, I think that time travel is the next “fire” and these time travel stories are futuristic prometheus tales. As long as the speculation about time travel’s possibility is out there, humans will probably never stop grasping for the reigns. For now, be happy that it’s only in the stories we tell.


15 responses to “Time Travelling through History

  1. I love time travel stories, but linguistic differences are so often overlooked, ignored, or handwaived. It takes a really good writer with knowledge of several languages to pull it off in a believable way.

    An important reminder to time travelling American kids who want to visit King Arthur’s England. They will not be speaking English. They will be speaking a gutteral mix of german and celtic with a smattering of latin, and you probably won’t be able to understand each other, much less convince them you’re a wizard. The 14th century is the farthest back you can go and have a reasonable chance of communicating, but everyone will think that you’re pronouncing everything wrong. Also, consider brushing up on your french.

      • Haha, I found it online and read up on it – yeah! Kakudmi can travel to a different plane and visit Brahma (we don’t get a sense of what time period Brahma exists in, perhaps out of time altogether). When Kakudmi travels back to earth he finds it has advanced a number of years.

        • I’ve never read a full version, but William Buck’s condensed edition along with his Ramayana got me incredibly fascinated in Hindu religion and philosophy for awhile.

        • On a side note about the Ramayana; do you think that Hellenism may have played any part or influence in it? I’ve never found any scholarly works anywhere on the subject, but the parallelisms between the story of Rama and Sita and Helen of Troy are numerous.

          Rama: like Menelaus, only also embodying the ideals and virtues of noble manhood, Rama goes on an epic quest to save his wife.

          Sita: like Helen, only instead of a wanton, she is the embodiment of the feminine ideal, moral and chaste.

          Lanka: like Troy, the kingdom over the sea

          Ravanna: like Paris, but much more awesomely villainous

          The loyal demons and talking animals: like the fellow greeks who went to war for their king.

          • Also, I would wager that if we looked widely enough there are plenty of stories (even today) that treat women as objects to be stolen from their rightful “owners” as a way to punish either them or their husbands (or their people). Conquering a woman is basically a metaphor for conquering her people or the land she is from, because here (Illiad/first 3/4 of Ramayana) she isn’t really treated as a woman with personhood.

            And IMHO, Raavan is nothing like Paris. Raavan has a pretty interesting back story that does not actually paint him as a straight-up moustache-twirling villain. I would almost argue that it is Rama, at the very end of the saga, who leaves a sour taste in readers’ mouths.

            That said, it is very possible that Greek mythology influences other mythologies/religious texts.

            • Yeah, when at the end Rama was all “Nah, I know i fought a war for you, but i won’t have you any more” I was pretty floored. Raavan was probably one of the most interesting and compelling villains in ancient literature, you’re right.

              The two theories that I’ve come across (but sadly haven’t found much extensively written on them) are that either the story of Troy came into India by way of Turkey not from the greek epics but from the source tales of Troy and the war itself and was eventually adapted to have taken place in India or the final versions of the Ramayana that crystallized in the 3rd century were based on an originally Indian tale but had adapted into them elements of the Greek epics brought by Alexander.

              As for modern stories of villains taking women as objects to punish heroes, I am reminded of a time where I heard someone make the case that Super Mario Brothers was a post-industrial surrealist retelling of the story of Perseus and Medea…

        • That isn’t time travel though. Brahma lives in a heavenly/spiritual plane. Kakudmi is merely able to visit that plane of existence without having to divest his mortal body.

          • I’m not sure if it’s not time travel either – Kakudmi does travel across light and time to be in Brahma’s plane and when he returns he is in a future time. A time where there is a suitable suitor for his daughter.

            Also! Really interesting comparison with Troy! I imagine that Yash is correct, stories, mythologies and tales are always converging. Interesting how they are also always compelling to read.


  2. I’m kind of the reverse–I’m not a huge fan of time travel unless there’s some historical fiction thrown in there too. Guess that’s why I fell in love with To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis when I discovered it a few months ago.

    • Ooooh! I’ll have to check that one out.

      Yeah, it’s a toss up. For me, what really wrecks a time travel story is when the rules and physics of the actual time travel don’t make any sense – or if the history really bogs it down. I read a book once where the kids got to save a major historical figure and there were no negative repercussions – this just didn’t do it for me. For a History buff though, it might have been great.

      :) Thanks for the comment!

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