It’s an amazing thing. A dictionary definition of hindsight will give you something like this: – understanding after the fact; retrospection; observation or perception of what was.
In my early teens, I loved reading H.G.Wells’ novel – The Time Machine. Fantasy isn’t my most favourite genre normally, but reading The Time Machine took me back to Victorian Britain and then on to the adventures the time traveller experienced. With hindsight, I realise I loved the Victorian historical aspects almost as much as I loved the adventures.
I suppose I also liked the idea, back in the early 1960s, that I was reading a novel written by someone considered to be one of the ‘Fathers of Science Fiction’, if not THE founding father.
The couple of film adaptations I’ve seen, based on the book, have been entertaining interpretations – but for me it’s all about the mind-sets of those Victorian characters and about the historical settings of their ‘normal’ time that appeals the most. The DVD here is a fairly recent one.
Detials of the original H.G.Wells story can be found here if you’ve never read the book: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Time_Machine
Over the years since that first reading, I’ve read other time- travel novels and realised the amazing variety that has been produced. There are ones which are more firmly in the sci-fi category, where the characters (human or otherwise) time-travel to other planets on purpose, or set definite courses for other worlds or alternative earths. I enjoy them, but they are still not my most favoured genre.
There’s currently a plethora of time- shift plots of the Outlander/ Diana Gabaldon type available to read where a character time-slips- and not necessarily because they want to, but because some uncontrolled event makes it happen. In this type of novel, the character must make decisions which will affect their life when they return to their own time. In effect their future will be set according to what they achieve for themselves in their ‘past’ experience. I think it’s very hard to avoid anachronistic details from slipping into this kind of novel and when they do, I’m afraid it grates on me as the reader. For example, someone in 17th Century Scotland isn’t likely to have reached for the shampoo bottle to wash their hair in the shower!
There are the time-slip novels like Audrey Niffenegger’s ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ where the main character, Henry, finds himself popping in and out of his own life, making appearances as a younger or older man, finding his circumstances confusing till he realises where he is in time and with whom. There are many varieties of this parallel time idea. Keeping track of the plot in this kind of parallel time shift writing seems very demanding.
There are also those novels where the adventure takes place firmly in a past time, where the protagonists are whisked back either to a pre-set time, or to one which is randomly chosen. The time adventurers spend a while, generally with a quest to fulfil, and then return to their own time enriched by their experience but their futures are not dependent on their actions in that past time, because they have generally done nothing major to ‘change’ time in a way that would have a devastating effect on the long-term future.
I’m sure you’ll be able to add to this short list of time-travel types. What other ones have you read?
The mechanisms of the time-travelling are also fascinating and can vary so much, as can the ultimate purpose of the novels. There are time ‘portals’ in the form of a mirror (there are lots of time- slip romance novels using this mechanism just now), or a wardrobe as in the ‘Narnia’ novels, or a physical vehicle as in Dr. Who’s Tardis, or H.G. Wells’ time machine.
I’ve, so far, only written the one time-travel novel WIP for early teens but I’ve really enjoyed being able to have my characters use the value of hindsight in different ways. Whisked back in time to 209 AD, my trio of kids find themselves in an adventure which scares them silly, confuses them, shocks them and makes them alternatively frustrated and desperate. Sometimes these emotions are produced because they feel physically threatened, but often it’s because they feel a huge responsibility- with the benefit of hindsight they know what’s about to occur but have to be so careful of their involvement in that it makes no major changes to the course of history. To fulfil their demanding mission they use hindsight knowledge, facts gained about the era they are plunged into. This writing genre has allowed me to write about an era I love, ie Roman Scotland, and also given me the opportunity to make it a mystery ‘of sorts’ since there are definite goals/ quest set for the kids to fulfill.
In this time-travel novel, like in my main historical writing, I’ve needed to have my historical details sharp as the tacks on the hob-nailed Roman sandals of the advancing Legions. Now I need to keep plugging on, to polish that little guy’s armour and get my story ready for the editor.
Have a lovely weekend, however you spend your time!
ps. As an update to my last blog post here on Wranglers. In many ways, the members of the present Scottish Parliament would have liked to have been able to use the value of hindsight before the Scottish Referendum of last week. If they had known how close the YES to independence camp were at 45% of the vote, they might have been able to persuade another 6% of the very high turnout to vote (84%) YES. I would have been posting my today’s blog post from a very different situation in Scotland.
Nancy Jardine writes contemporary mysteries and historical adventures– available in print and ebooks.