| Innisfree Poetry
| Enskyment Journal
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THE TIME WAS WHEN
WRITING TIME TRAVEL TALES
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My fantasy hero, Darvan of Verdel, owns a scepter with time travel capabilities
that I borrowed to write this story. I haven’t had enough free moments recently,
so I went forward a couple months to a time when my schedule had more
flexibility. I wrote it then and brought it back to the present.
So here it is, ahead of its time—some time travel for an article on writing time
travel tales--available now, but written later on (this introduction written
Now, there is a time travel error above, violating one of the four rules I
discuss below. I’ll insert a note about it near the end.
1. Time travel can only be accomplished by supernatural means.
Actually, I believe that time travel in the real world is nonsense; if it is
possible at all, only spirit beings can do it.
• From time to time
When I imagine the possibility of real-life time travel, I think of moving at
greater speed, traveling so quickly that you arrive at your destination before
leaving your starting point, thus going backward in time. Let’s call it
traveling super-fast, which would surpass the following two barriers:
Speed of light—At approximately 186,000 miles per second, the speed of light is
far too slow for time travel, requiring many years just to reach the nearest
Immediacy—This, my term, means you arrive at your destination precisely when you
left your first location; vastly faster than the speed of light, that would
still not move you into another time period.
To move backward in time you must arrive at your destination before you leave,
or you must finish some event or activity before you start it.
So if you brush your teeth super-fast, you could return to the breakfast table.
Or if you finish breakfast before you start it, you might return to the shower
or to bed.
But how does one go forward in time? I don’t have a clue. It should be the
opposite of going super-fast—which is what? Going super-slow? Or standing
exceptionally still? How about changing time zones or going to daylight savings
time? Maybe it’s by going super-fast also, but facing the other way—for example,
while brushing your teeth super-fast, you stand with your back to the sink.
There seems to be no serious way to make the former process (going backward in
time by traveling super-fast) work in reverse. So the concept of going
super-fast only works theoretically for time travel in one direction, namely
going backward in time.
• In real time
While traveling super-fast won’t get you forward in time, the process of going
backward in time also has serious difficulties. Consider that if you finished
your night’s rest before you started it, you might be returned to your previous
day’s work. In that case, you had one very short sleep, way less than six to
eight hours; in fact, you didn’t get any sleep at all, because you got up before
you lay down.
And if you didn’t get any sleep, what was it you did so fast to send you
backward in time? Nothing, actually. It’s for sure you didn’t sleep. So in that
case, you didn’t go backward in time either.
Isn’t the same true about brushing your teeth or eating your breakfast
super-fast? Or going from one place to another? Of course it is. To spend no
time (or less than that) at an activity means you didn’t do it. And if you
didn’t do these things super-fast, you couldn’t go backward in time.
So not only is there no reasonable way to move forward in time, but probably
there’s also no real-world way to move backward in time either.
• At the same time
I described the concept of immediacy above as being that of a speed so fast that
the departure and arrival times are precisely the same. It’s obvious that at
this speed all distances could be reached instantaneously, so it amounts to
potential omnipresence (being everywhere simultaneously).
Christian faith teaches that God is omnipresent, although God probably isn’t
traveling from place to place at the speed of immediacy, but is already at every
point. Still, who knows? Maybe God can travel with immediacy or super-fast.
Neither empirical analysis nor, in my opinion, scripture indicates either way.
So I use God’s power to effect time travel in my stories.
I also use demonic power to create time travel. There is a problem here,
however. If demons can reach super-speeds (arriving before leaving), then they
have gone faster than the speed of immediacy. That would make them potentially
omnipresent, which they aren’t. But since time travel might not have anything to
do with speed, I give that capability to my fantasy world’s main demon anyway.
The concept of real-life human immediacy, however, is subject to the same
problem we have just noticed about going super-fast: There is no time for the
prospective event to occur, and if it does not occur, then it obviously cannot
occur fast enough for immediacy to be reached.
If you could go infinitely fast, you could hypothetically travel to eternity
past, inhabiting all of history. Some have suggested this describes the nature
of God, although I would argue that Biblical passages typically cited for this
view must accordingly be treated in a superficial manner (without regard for
linguistic, historical, and cultural matters). Still, there is no way for us to
know God’s complete nature.
However, in real life, the concept of omni-temporality (another of my terms) is
subject to the same problems as the super-fast travel and immediacy theories;
and it doesn’t enable travel into the future (see above).
• Time machines
Time travel technology therefore appears not to be achievable. It may be that
time travel, if possible, occurs via some other mechanism than going super-fast,
so this discussion isn’t conclusive. However, there have been plenty of sci-fi
attempts to use great speed to make time travel work. And it just won’t.
Because speed seemed to be the likely vehicle to time travel and since it isn’t,
I won’t write a time travel story that depends on fictional science to generate
the trip. In this respect, I think, fantasy writers have a clear advantage over
sci-fi authors; we can write make-believe, but their concepts must make sense.
2. A journey to the past cannot change history.
Everything that happens in my journeys to the past had to have happened back
then in precisely the same way I have it occur in the time travel story.
• Time changes things—not
God has, I believe, established all things (including the future) according to
his will. So what happened in the past did so as he planned. As such, God is not
going to use time travel to undo what has occurred.
Time travel authors who allow such changes necessarily treat their time traveler
as if he/she were the only realities in existence. So if the traveler chooses to
change history, people who exist in the traveler’s present tense may cease to
exist. This is a sort of literary idealism (a term from philosophy). It’s as if
the existence of the traveler is the only real thing. But it isn’t. The
traveler’s present-tense contemporaries are just as real as the traveler and
cannot be caused to be as if they never were.
Further, if the traveler could change the past so as to erase people’s
existences, the traveler could also erase her/his own self. But if that
occurred, there would be no traveler to go back in time to make the changes. Yet
that would mean the traveler could not erase his/her own self, so everything
would remain unchanged. In other words, that possibility doesn’t exist. And if
the traveler can’t make that change to history, it would seem likely that no
other changes could be made either.
3. The God-empowered scepter won’t do anything God doesn’t want done.
I think I’m good at pretending, but I won’t pretend in ways contrary to my
• Time limit
For example, I could not have written Lord of the Rings, because I don’t believe
in good wizards (other reasons escape me at the moment). And since I consider
magic to be evil, the God-empowered scepter cannot be magical.
I gave the demon Morodek time travel capability, so time travel could do evil
things—which it won’t do under God’s direct control.
4. Keep time travel data consistent, and pursue all of their implications.
Time travel is tricky, and since we don’t ever experience it in real life, it’s
easy to forget how we’ve set up our story’s facts and what they imply.
Inconsistent data was the error I made in the introduction (above). Since I took
my whole body forward in time, there should have been two of me there, not just
one. Instead, I implied I would be inside my future body, even though two
material objects cannot occupy the same space.
• A fantastic time
Even fantasy writers have problems with time travel. Imagine this scenario:
Eldurath the giant knows he will soon face a dragon. Our hero Darvan uses the
God-empowered scepter to send the contemporary Eldurath into the
future—intending to bring him back seamlessly to himself (precisely to the time
he left, so that no one could notice he’d ever left)—to help the future Eldurath.
Then he takes an Eldurath from five seconds future and does the same with him;
now the future Eldurath will have two Elduraths to help him fight the dragon.
Since between any two moments there is an infinite number of moments, we could
continue to send Elduraths forward to help the future Eldurath fight the
dragon—creating an army of Elduraths or populating the entire universe with
Interestingly, too, all of these Elduraths are invincible except the last one,
because the last one couldn’t exist if the dragon killed an earlier one.
If we put three Elduraths in a room together to plan their strategy against the
dragon, we create a meeting that is repeated forever. Here’s why: Eldurath
Number One is from the present; Number Two is from the near future; and Number
Three is contemporary to the dragon. After Number One has his meeting with Two
and Three, he goes back to himself who is soon pulled away to be Number Two to
meet with One and Three (a second meeting). Then when Number Two comes back to
himself, he is later pulled away as Number Three to meet with One and Two (third
meeting). But it can’t stop there, because there must be three Elduraths in the
meeting, so there’s always a new One and a new Two who must move on to Two and
Three. In other words, here is a meeting worse than any we’ve ever endured: It
truly never ends!
In fact, it has been repeating forever previously too, because when Number One
sits down in his first meeting, there are Number Two and Number Three who must
already have been in prior meetings as One and Two! There is never a first or
last meeting, because they repeat eternally!
Worse, in the same way, the battle between the three Elduraths and the dragon
repeats eternally too.
These scenarios are a logical consequence of the concept of time travel, yet
they are absurd. So it is probably a wise idea not to let your time traveler
meet a different version of self in these journeys—unless you want to create
some absurdities thereby.
• The end of time
Although I don’t believe in time travel in the real world, time travel stories
are fun and intriguing. Nevertheless, my skepticism about this concept makes me
cautious, and I’ll try to travel only according to the rules I’ve set; I have my
But they don’t apply to God.
Dave Cassel is a Baptist minister who has pastored for 19 years and has recently
retired after nearly 16 years as a prison chaplain. A husband, a father of two
adult sons, and a grandfather of one beautiful ten-year-old girl, he’s run seven
marathons and has hiked and backpacked extensively in Oregon. This is his fourth