As a child, movies like the Robert Zemeckis classic Back to the Future helped inspire my love for science fiction. There's just something about a good time travel yarn, something wondrous and intriguing that other stories seem to have to work just a little bit harder for.
This fascination is not limited to the modern art forms. While the fictional means of time manipulation have grown more sophisticated as the human grasp on technology has improved, the concept might be as old as literature itself. 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.
Within the Sanskrit epic of ancient India, the Mahabharata, is the story of a king named Kakudmi who sought the counsel of the Hindu god Brahmā to decide who should have his daughter's hand in marriage. He waits patiently to gain an audience with the deity, only to find out that time passes very differently in his plane of existence--millions of years on Earth passed by while he waited; his daughter's suitors have long passed away. The Jewish Talmud speaks of Honi ha-M'agel, who sleeps for 70 years and wakes to find that no one will believe he is who he says he is (written around 1800 years prior to the publication of Washington Irving's famous Rip Van Winkle).
And I could go on and on about the classic works of literature that helped shape the modern incarnation of the concept, from the ghostly visions of past, present, and future in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol to the anachronistic hijinks of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain.
He first toyed with the idea in The Chronic Argonauts, a short story published by the Royal College of Science, but his most famous depiction of time travel is undoubtedly the 1895 novella, The Time Machine, which influenced scores of works to come and coined the term that is now universally synonymous with the concept.
These days, time travel stories are pretty solidly regarded as cliche territory, but I still love them. The ever-flowing nature of time remains a captivating source of inspiration to me, as it has human beings for thousands and thousands of years. 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. We'll probably never stop grasping for the reigns, even if it's only in the stories we tell.
In the mean time, don't ever let anyone tell you that time travel is just fiction. Our communications satellites are doing it right now. And if guys like Ronald Mallett ever get their way, there may come a day when bona fide time machines are traversing the space-time continuum. So buckle up.
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury
11/22/63 by Stephen King
Back to the Future
The Journeyman Project
Shadow of Destiny