Eating the Dinosaur

Eating “Eating the Dinosaur” (Part 4.5)

Mar 20, 2013
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Eating the Dinosaur CoverBefore I continue, I’d like to briefly(?) revisit the H.G. Wells section of “Tomorrow Rarely Knows,” because it occurs to me that I’ve unfairly given it short shrift. (Although this actually is in line with Klosterman’s observation that pretty much everyone gives H.G. Wells short shrift.)

One interesting thing Klosterman observes about Wells’ novel The Time Machine is that Wells introduced the concept of the time machine itself — the notion of using a machine to travel back and forth in time on purpose.

Prior to Wells, time travel was something that just sort of happened to characters, as in Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, where the 19th century protagonist gets bonked on the head and wakes up in Arthurian times. The protagonist had no agency, therefore there was no reason to explore why people would want to travel through time. Wells transformed the time travel narrative by recasting it as something the protagonists did knowingly, with premediation and therefore — motive.

The time traveler was now moving forward or backward on purpose; consequently, the time traveler now needed a motive for doing so.

That’s a pretty huge innovation. There are still time travel stories that involve accidental or unintentional connections between past, present, and/or future — like the 1999 film Frequency, in which a magical aurora borealis allows Jim Caviezel to use a ham radio to talk to his dad 30 years in the past — but the vast majority of modern narratives involving time travel follow the Wells model of active, deliberate travelers.

And it’s not just that Wells expanded the pool of time travel storytelling possibilities beyond satire and escapist fantasy. By introducing motivation into the premise, he created the question of why people would want to travel through time, which brings subjects like ethics and the psychology of emotional needs into the mix.

What makes us want to travel into the past or future, and what do our reasons reveal about us?

Next: Klosterman’s eight time travel dilemmas.