NOTE: This list is a republication- Source: Penguin.co.uk (John Self).
If you had a time machine, where would you go? Back to Austen’s England, or the swinging Sixties? To an exciting / terrifying future millennium (delete as applicable)? Time travel has been with us ever since Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol whisked Ebenezer Scrooge into the past and future to learn the error of his miserly ways. Since then, writers’ imaginations have been fired by the idea of jumping through time, or time flowing backwards, or any other permutation of the enticing and the impossible. Here are some of the best examples of time travel in novels.
The great grandfather of modern science fiction (Men on the moon! A war of the worlds!) popularised the idea of being able to scoot back and forward in time at will. The hero is a classic gentleman scientist, who travels hundreds of millennia into the future to find humanity has evolved into two types: the elegant Eloi, and the ape-like Morlocks, representing an extreme version of class divisions in Victorian society. As with most science fiction, Wells was writing not about the future, but about his own society, and about evergreen human truths.
Twain got there a few years before Wells, but he didn’t really care about the theory of time travel – he just gave his modern-day engineer, Hank Morgan, a bash on the head and transported him back to King Arthur’s England. These days we call it the time-slip genre. And he invented another classic time travel idea: Hank uses his modern knowledge (such as knowing when a solar eclipse will take place) to persuade the Arthurians that he’s a powerful wizard, as any sensible person would. It’s all in the service of Twain’s romping satire of romantic ideas about the Middle Ages, which he saw not as romantic but filthy and snobbish.
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