Time Travel in Fiction and How It’s The Perfect Escape From Reality

The mornings in New Orleans French Quarter are eerily quiet during August. The tourists are still sleeping off their drunken nights, and the air is thick and humid; it's like trying to breathe through warm milk froth. I wander down Ursulines Ave towards the Mississippi, navigating the footpaths that rise and dip like ocean waves.

The brightly painted doors are starting to fade, peeling from years of relentless sunlight. Gas lanterns hang from awnings and galleries. If you stop and listen carefully, you can hear the soft hiss of the gas flickering overhead, and if you listen beyond that, you can start to picture what it would have been like here a hundred years ago.

This is when I wish that time travel was real, just for a glimpse, an experience of the past. For as long as I can recall, time travel fiction has fascinated me. It has a haunting allure that beckons and is almost painful because I know it's something I will never be able to experience in reality.

I've never been able to explain why it holds the appeal it does for me. As a child, the TV would hold me in its grip as I listened to the sound of Doctor Who‘s TARDIS appearing or disappearing from view. For that 30 minutes of my life, I would be transported to a different time and place.

It was always the stories that went into the past that fascinated me most. The notion of something or someone being where they don't belong yet emerging triumphant despite the unfamiliar environment makes it relatable because I always felt I was out of place, the odd one out.

A Gateway to History

Perhaps it's because the past is tangible and something we know about, but it's so different from our modern-day world that I find it fascinating. Time travel is a gateway to history, enabling me to learn about different periods and cultures through a medium that isn't a textbook.

Outlander, for example, allows viewers to follow the journey of Claire Randall as she crosses centuries and finds herself immersed in the rich tapestry of Scottish history. I appreciate the authenticity and depth that historical narratives can bring. Through Claire's eyes, I explore past generations' pivotal events, experiences, struggles, and triumphs and develop a profound respect for the complexities of human history.

Yet, something is exciting about knowing Claire knows the future, that she knows things people in the 17th century couldn't possibly understand. Knowing that the history presented is fictionalized also drives research into the real stories behind what I see — something that I would have never found out on my own.

Through time travel narratives, I can reflect on the nature of time, the impact of our choices, and the interconnectedness of history and the present. The characters in Outlander, for example, grapple with the consequences of altering history and its profound effects on their lives and those around them.

This exploration of cause and development, and the ripple effects of our actions, prompt me to reflect on the importance of mindfulness and the power of every decision we make in shaping our futures. It also serves to contemplate my past choices and understand that there is a reason for the universe's chaos.

Igniting Imagination and Transcending Ordinary Existence

David Tennant, Matt Smith in "The Day of the Doctor" episode of Doctor Who
Image Credit: BBC Studios

The concept of time travel ignites my imagination, inspiring me to explore new realms of creativity through writing and storytelling. The time-traveling adventures in Doctor Who, Quantum Leap, and Outlander spark my curiosity and push the boundaries of what I believe is possible.

By immersing myself in these narratives, I learn to weave intricate plots, develop compelling characters, and embrace the freedom to blend past, present, and future in my storytelling endeavors. Time travel catalyzes endless possibilities, driving my creativity.

For example, Quantum Leap‘s protagonist Sam Beckett offers a unique perspective on escape through time travel. Sam, a time-traveling scientist, finds himself leaping into the bodies of different individuals throughout history, compelled to right past wrongs and alter the course of their lives. Unlike other time-travel stories that struggle to ensure the course of history is not altered, Quantum Leap‘s narrative does the opposite.

Sam's journey becomes a metaphor for escapism. It allows him to temporarily detach from his own reality and immerse himself in the lives of others. While in the narrative, Sam has no say in what happens. It explores the notion of seeing life through someone else's eyes.

Like Sam's journey, time travel transcends the boundaries of ordinary existence, transporting characters, readers, or viewers on extraordinary journeys. Through their experiences, I can escape the limitations of my own reality and embrace the unknown.

Time travel fiction allows me to step outside the confines of everyday life and undertake adventures that challenge my perceptions and expand my horizons. Perhaps it was part of being an only child, having social anxiety, or being bullied, but it provided me with a means of escape back then and still intrigues me today.

When I find myself walking in places steeped in history, like the New Orleans French Quarter, I can use these techniques to transport myself momentarily to a different time and place and forget the current issues of the day and step out of the depression it causes just for a moment. What is war, death, and hatred when there is magic in the imagination?