Monday, 24 July 2017

Outer Narrators

Here is a fictional, and logically possible, scenario:

time travellers from our future are present now but disguised and concealed;

they have been active throughout history and have even influenced the course of history but again without anyone else's knowledge.

I will consider four versions of this scenario, one by Wells, three by Anderson.

The Time Machine
We begin not with time travellers from our future but with a time traveller from the author's present, i.e., from the late nineteenth century. The original "Time Traveller" presented an unconfirmed account of his journey through the future, then departed for a second time into either the past or the future but never returned. Notionally, he is invisibly present now in Richmond, London, on his outer and return journeys. He will be there until the end of life on Earth.

The Time Patrol Series
Time travelling explorers, scientists and tourists from civilizations later than 19452 AD are policed by the Time Patrol.

The Corridors Of Time
Two antithetical civilizations from two millennia in our future wage war throughout history.

There Will Be Time
Two groups of mutant time travellers contend to influence the further future after the post-nuclear Maurai Federation.

How different are Anderson's three scenarios! Now I want to address a point about narration. In all four cases, the time travel notionally occurs in our timeline although without our knowledge. If the Time Traveller had returned from his second expedition and had then initiated regular, publicized time trips, then those trips would have had to have occurred in an alternative timeline because we know perfectly well that there have been no such trips in our timeline. However, Wells "saved the appearances" by making both the Time Machine and the Cavorite sphere disappear, never to return, at the end of their respective narratives.

Similarly, Anderson's Time Patrol might really be operating in secret in our timeline? Well, no, it can't be. As a first point, Anderson subtly underlines that the Time Patrol scenario is fictional because Sherlock Holmes is a real person in that timeline. More importantly, however, our timeline is one in which the Time Patrol series by Poul Anderson has been published. A single timeline cannot accommodate both a secret Time Patrol and a published Time Patrol series. Therefore, we must in this case contemplate two timelines:

ours, in which the Time Patrol series exists;
theirs, in which the Time Patrol exists.

The same point applies to The Corridors Of Time, which begins with a third person account of its viewpoint character, Lockridge, being bailed out of gaol by a woman who turns out to be a time traveller and to need Lockridge's help. Such events cannot occur in the same timeline as a novel describing them. In any case, Lockridge winds up in the Bronze Age and there is no way that an account of that could ever have got back to the twentieth century.

However, there is a fictional convention by which, sometimes, real events are published as if they were fictional or at best ambiguously. In The Time Machine, the outer narrator tells us what was said at the Time Traveller's dinner table. It is the Time Traveller himself who is responsible for the accounts of time travelling. In There Will Be Time, Poul Anderson publishes a fictionalized acount based on notes left by Robert Anderson of his conversations with the mutant time traveller, Jack Havig. CS Lewis corresponds with the original of "Ransom" in his Ransom Trilogy. In these three cases, there is an "outer narrator" who merely informs his readers of what was said to have happened by the inner narrator...

It could have happened. This is a literary device to reinforce that "willing suspension of disbelief" which is necessary for all fiction.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I can see how MUCH you enjoyed reading and thinking about Anderson's Time Patrol stories. I too have read them with pleasure, but never analyzed them in the amazing detail you do!