Time travel is the movement between two different points in time. While it is uncertain whether or not time travel is a remote possibility for humans, it presents various different challenges and ideas that make for highly interesting stories (Hawking). According to the concepts of special relativity and general relativity it is possible that humans have the ability to travel into the future, although this is not currently a possibility due to limitations in modern day technology (Poidevin). Given the implications of time travel relating to the impact that it would have on our perception of time, many authors have used it to explore various different issues within modern day society.
The idea of time travel through the use of machines was first popularized in the story The Time Machine by H.G. Wells in 1895. This novel brought the concept of time travel to the forefront of the reader’s imagination, focusing heavily on the consequences of changing the past or future (Hawking). Since then, hundreds of stories have been written about the use of time machines and about time travel in general bringing to life the idea that even the slightest changes in history or in the future can have a major impact on our daily lives in current time. Oftentimes, these stories allow authors to discuss contemporary issues in highly metaphorical ways, still making their readers think about the topics at play without directly associating them with modern day society.
A major example of this is seen in the A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. L’Engle fights the ideal image of women in the 1950s through the character of Meg who instead of following the traditional role of women during the time, goes out to explore unknown planets. It was a novel that changed the way that people think about science fiction and the application that the fiction stories have in our everyday lives. At the time when this book was written, it was uncommon to see science fiction novels written by females. The use of time travel within this novel allows for L’Engle to explore concepts of feminism and strong female lead characters in a way that brings into question the ideal image of women during the time while still maintaining a fictional sense of story throughout. A Wrinkle in Time along with The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster changed the way that we view science fiction. They caused a shift in the significance of the issues that are discussed within science fiction to not only tell hypothetical stories, but to address significant modern day problems that the readers are facing.
Time travel has an interesting impact on readers. It encapsulates the imagination of the reader and encourages them to consider for themselves whether they believe what is happening to be plausible, or solely fictional. It encourages the readers to think about what they are reading in a way that they rarely do, with a skeptical yet hopeful point of view that causes them to truly become engaged and invested in the development of the characters that they are reading about. While many novels featuring the idea of time travel are simple stories that are meant to be enjoyed, many of the novels use the idea of time travel to emphasize the impact that our everyday actions have on the future.
Many novels discussing time travel relate to the idea of the perception of time as opposed to the actual traveling through time itself. Time perception is the study of subjective sense of time, and is studied in conjunction with cognitive linguistics, neuroscience, and psychology (Gozlan). It is the idea that all people experience time differently, that there may actually be a perceived difference in the amount of time that passes between two events. Modern day technologies make it possible to distort one’s time perception under certain circumstances (Poidevin). The ability to do this has allowed scientists to uncover information on the neural mechanisms that are responsible for time perception.
Along with the idea of perception of time, many people neurologically experience what psychologists call the stopped clock illusion. This is the illusion where when people look at a clock, it seems as if, just for a second, the clock is not moving at all, and is instead suspended in time (Stafford). The majority of people experience this phenomenon, though it is not frequently discussed. It is believed by scientists that this illusion is caused by an interruption in consciousness that our brains attempt to fill in. While this idea is not directly used in any famous literature, it applies greatly to the concept that it is possible that characters within stories containing time travel are not truly traveling through time, and are instead only perceiving time to be different than the people around them.
The idea of time travel in literature brings into play the significance that our every action has on the outcome of the future. Novels that use time travel to address major societal issues are able to use this to creatively express concerns with modern day society, while expressing the outcomes that they believe different events will have on the future while still creating a story that contains relatable and complex characters for the readers to latch onto. Time travel is a highly significant aspect of literature in part because it explores a concept that people have a desire to understand and to learn more about, and in part because it allows authors to explore problems in society through metaphorical examples in fiction worlds.