My previous articles here at Mysterious Universe were on the subject of time-travel: the theoretical science surrounding it, the mind-boggling possibilities, and the conundrums that come with time-travel, such as what happens if you go back in time and kill your grandfather before you’re born? Does that mean you’ll be wiped out of existence? Or, do you enter into another theoretical time-line? In relation to time-travel, there are many questions. The few, hard answers, however, are few. If any at all. With that all said, this final article from me on the issue of time-travel takes a somewhat different approach. It takes a look at the incredible popularity that comes with time-travel in the domain of fiction – and why it’s so popular.
Within the specific genre of science-fiction, fantastic tales of time-travel to the far-flung future or to the distant past are hardly rarities. Take, for example, H.G. Wells’ epic novel of 1895: The Time Machine. The book (and the movie versions too) tells the story of a brilliant, London, England-based scientist, inventor and adventurer who journeys to the year A.D. 802,701. To his complete and utter dismay, he finds that the Human Race (in the form that we understand it, at least) no longer exists. In its place are the Eloi and the Morlocks. The former are relatively human-looking beings (albeit of smaller stature), yet they utterly lack vitality, imagination, and any desire to learn or advance. The Morlocks, meanwhile, are fearsome, savage and nightmarish beasts who dwell in darkened underground lairs and who use the Eloi as we use cattle: namely, as a source of food. In the 1968 movie, Planet of the Apes, Charlton Heston’s character, Taylor, a NASA astronaut, arrives on a nightmarish world run by a ruthless race of talking apes. Only at the film’s climax, as he stumbles upon the broken remains of the Statue of Liberty, does Taylor realize with horror that he has not set foot on some far-off planet, after all. Rather, he is home, 2,000 years in the future and after a worldwide nuclear holocaust has destroyed human civilization and given rise to the world of the apes.
Then there is The Philadelphia Experiment. It’s an entertaining Hollywood film allegedly based on real events, and which tells the story of two sailors – David Herdeg and Jim Parker – who are propelled through time from 1943 to the Nevada Desert, circa 1984. And we should not omit the BBC show, The Flipside of Dominick Hide, in which the main character travels through time from A.D. 2130 to London, England in 1980. Ostensibly there to observe the transportation systems of the past, Hide subsequently finds himself on a quest to locate one of his distant ancestors. Let’s not forget Michael J. Fox’s character, Marty McFly, who in the 1985 Hollywood comedy blockbuster, Back to the Future, travels through time to 1955. He almost makes out with his then-teenage mom, comes perilously close to wiping out his own existence as a result of his time-traveling antics, and invents rock ‘n’ roll. And, there was Déjà vu, with Denzel Washington, a 2006 movie which told the story of U.S. Government agents trying to solve a terrorist attack by using secret time-travel technology to look into the past. And who can forget 12 Monkeys, starring Bruce Willis? In other words, at least as far as mega-bucks movies and literary classics are concerned, the theme of time-travel is a spectacularly successful one.
Of course, the main reason why such books and movies are so popular is because a lot of them are very entertaining and, for the most part, done well. There is, however (as I see it, anyway) another angle that makes the world of time-travel in fiction so spectacularly successful. I think (and, yes, it is just my theory and nothing else at all) that all of us can relate to the angle of being able to go back in time and change something and make it all good. At some time, I’m sure all of us have thought to ourselves: If I could only go back and put it all right. Maybe to 2005. Perhaps to 1998. Or, to 1989. Even further back in time, perhaps. As a teenager I was involved in a severe car accident. It was totally my fault and due to stupidity and inexperience behind the wheel. Thankfully, I was the only one hurt (I thought it was cool not to wear a seat-belt. I learned the hard way that it wasn’t cool at all). For weeks – with wires in my jaw – I cursed myself for what happened and I wished I could go back and turn that accident into a non-accident. And, to some significant degree, I think that angle of us all wishing to be able to go back in time and fix this or fix that causes us to resonate with the on-screen characters, who are doing exactly the same. And, as a result, that leads to big bucks for Hollywood’s movie-makers.