The Time Traveler's Wife The Time Traveler's Wife question


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time travel?
Shawna Shawna May 08, 2012 10:32AM
i loved this book! but i was so confused when Henry could time travel and would sometimes run into himself. how is that possible?! time travel does not allow you to have 2 selfs? or does it? can someone explain?



Deirdrebunny (last edited Dec 28, 2012 09:37PM ) Dec 28, 2012 09:36PM   1 vote
Shawna wrote: "i loved this book! but i was so confused when Henry could time travel and would sometimes run into himself. how is that possible?! time travel does not allow you to have 2 selfs? or does it? ..."

Time travel may allow for meeting one's self. Many theoretical physicists have speculated on this subject, and frankly, we simply do not know what would happen. A device often used in time travel fiction is to create a devastating effect, whether universal breakdown or something more localized, when one runs into an earlier version of one's self. In some cases a character may cease to exist, and in others, the meeting causes some sort of disruption that throws the universe into chaos. This used to be more of a common hook in time travel fiction, but I don't see it as much any more.

There is another major problem in time travel to the past, and that is the paradox. Theoretically, one could travel back in time as much as they want, as long as nothing they do creates a paradox. The age-old example is called "The Grandfather Paradox". Example: If you travel back to visit your grandfather as a child and killed him, your father wouldn't have existed, therefore you wouldn't have existed, which ultimately means you couldn't go back in time to kill your grandfather in the first place, thus the paradox. Science hates a paradox, so there needs to be a solution in which they are prevented.

One theory is that things are sort of 'set-in-stone', so that if you were to travel back to kill him, something would prevent you from doing so. Maybe you'd be hit by a car, or your car would break down on the way to his house, etc. As long as you don't succeed (or do anything else that might prevent your birth), no paradox would then exist, and time would go on as usual.

The other theory is that once you travel back in time, the simple act of doing so creates an alternate timeline, which is exactly the same as the timeline you came from, but only up until the point of your arrival. You would then be able to kill your grandfather, because the effects wouldn't be felt in your original timeline, only the new one. And since you are not native to the new timeline, you could go on existing. However, if you were able to return to your own timeline, your grandfather wouldn't have died at that time, your father would have been born, and all would be well.

As for Henry, aside from potential issues with actually meeting one's self, he can visit any version of himself in the past, so long as he doesn't coerce his younger self into doing something that would change his future. If you recall, Henry has memories of being visited by his future self, so that when he grows up and becomes that self, he knows he will go back and visit the younger version. If future Henry visited his younger self, but has no memory of receiving a visit from a future version of himself on that day, that could create a paradox.


At one point in one of the Austen Powers movies Austen's boss is explaining that Austin is going to have to travel back in time. It's confusing. The boss turns to the camera and says something to the effect of, "You shouldn't think too hard about this..." Time travel is impossible. If you think too hard about it, your brain will explode. The Time Traveller's Wife did a great job keeping our brains under control. Most time-travel books and movies? Not so much. Sometimes I stay up late trying to comprehend how John Connor came to be in the world... oh no, I feel my brain starting to explode...


Time Travel is for now anyway, science fiction. This means that there are no real science rules, only perceived rules from earlier fiction.
This is one of the reasons that I liked the writing style of this book – it broke a lot of these perceived rules and made for a very interesting read.

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Andrew Weaver You are welcome Kisha - I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did!
Oct 07, 2012 10:52PM

Depends on the fiction and the travel rules being applied. Back to the Future had multiple selves but Dr. Brown was worried about them meeting because it might unravel time. Quantum Leap had Sam meeting himself while he inhabited different bodies.


deleted member Aug 18, 2012 04:21AM   0 votes
Most time travellers in fiction avoid meeting themselves, for various reasons. In Harry Potter it's because it would drive you mad and you'd kill your future self; in Doctor Who (and many others) it would create a universe-destroying paradox. I found it interesting that Niffenegger chose to break the convention, but it does seem to work, logically.


Ah Quantum Leap - that takes me back. Yes it's up to the author to decide the rules. It's done differently each time, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Harry Potter. Should you or should you not interfere with history is another question. Lots of authors say no but Henry did. I remember in Harry Potter when he scared off the dementors in book 3, he said he knew he could do it because he'd already done it. This is the approach that was taken here as what he did when he was in his past became part of his past, if that makes sense.


Shawna wrote: "i loved this book! but i was so confused when Henry could time travel and would sometimes run into himself. how is that possible?! time travel does not allow you to have 2 selfs? or does it? ..."

Ive mulled over this for a little while and I think Ive got it sorted out. Henry time travels from age 8 to age 43. he can travel forward and backwards in time. When he travels, he will be present with all the people that are alive at that point in time. Including himself. Since he ages as he travells, sometime he is 43, sometimes he's 28. He only knows about the travelling he's done. So when he was 43 and he time traveled back to Clare he had come from 2006 or so. When she runs into him in his "Present" the time he lives in, where he ages and lives and reappears after travelling, he hasn't met her yet. But since he time travelled to her when she was 6, she already knew him. And after he died, she was able to see him, because he traveled into the future. Make sense? So if he runs into himself, its the Henry who is currently alive at that time, or a Henry who has travelled to the current time.


Shawna wrote: "i loved this book! but i was so confused when Henry could time travel and would sometimes run into himself. how is that possible?! time travel does not allow you to have 2 selfs? or does it? ..."

I am on about page 80 and I have been wondering the same fact. How is he running into himself? How is that possible? But I guess its impossible to time travel period so I guess rules in time traveling isn't all that important. As much as I adore this book, that was very confusing. I really dont get into sci-fi because of its unrealistic theories but I love this book. So I'm trying not to be so literal in my perception of the story.


I think it helps to say that Henry's time travel, regardless of the "date" is linear. Meaning his life time spans 43 years. These years are scattered across a timeline (Clare's lifespan) but they still occur in order to the one Henry. It appears to us that he is in two places at once, but he is only experiencing one of the scenarios at a time.

Okay so now onto Denise's comment. I had a similar conversation with my wife about this. The difference between destiny and free will. Do you think life is constructed with multiple choices and every outcome is unique? or do you believe that there is one destiny for every person. To me, It sort of blows my mind to think that Henry has no free will. I would think that he could change his destiny and make new choices anywhere in his life. This being a story destiny is already written in a sense. Henry's 43 years as a human being are written out before him regardless of what he does. It's definitely interesting to think about.

Does anyone have any other suggestions for Time Travel books? I am going to look up Quantum Leap and Doctor Who... any others? I am looking for the time travel aspect, but it does not necessarily have to be overly sci-fi. I liked the mix in "The Time Traveler's Wife" of love and time travel.


It really depends on how the author chooses to do time travel. In Back to the Future, going back in time makes a new timeline, which is how everything gets screwed up for Marty. In The Time Traveler's Wife, a new timeline isn't made because everything has already happened basically. It's like a cycle, Clare goes to the meadow as a child, meets adult Henry and grows up with him, Clare meets younger Henry later, and older Henry goes back to the meadow when he's older to start it over again. It's a little hard to explain, but having two (or three or four) Henry's works because everything that happens to Henry in his future when he time travels to the past has already happened to him (this is what I was getting at!). It's similar to the time travel plots in Prisoner of Azkaban and the tv show Misfits.


One of the more interesting time travel books I've read is an old Dean Koontz book called Lightning. Check it out; it has an interesting twist on the whole "not changing history" issue as well as the restrictions of "meeting oneself."


Time travel brings up loads of conundrums, aside from the ability to meet yourself, and be your own father/mother. I read a book where one of the characters gave himself something, and then went into the past with it, and gave it to himself....!


Connie Willis has a few time travel novels...The Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. i think one of her more recent novels (Blackout, maybe?) is in this series as well.


I'm actually reading Outlander now, and that has time travel in it. It's mostly set in 18th century Scotland, from what I've read, and I'm about 400 pages in right now.

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Penny Fantastic series Kat!
Jan 12, 2013 03:05AM

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The Time Traveler's Wife (other topics)
Lightning (other topics)
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Dean Koontz (other topics)