Time is awesome. It’s interesting, though, that western society’s major study of time is history, something that looks backwards in order to perhaps foresee the future. This is indeed wise, but perhaps limited. In Balinese society (according to what I remember from my first year anthropology lecturer) the symbolic emphasis is on looking to the future, with children seen as the important thing. If they are lucky enough to have members of their family 4 generations or more before them alive, they are not allowed to know them, for it is needed to move on.

I don’t know what I believe about that – surely past elements are not forgotten; it seems like a theory that assumes quite a lot of things. Or perhaps I don’t totally understand. And also, it’s not as if western society doesn’t ‘look towards the future’ – though perhaps in not such an embedded way.

Moving on to other things, however, is individual perception of time. We all think we’re living in the ‘present’, however by the time it takes for the brain to process what we see, feel, hear etc., it has moved on. As you look out onto planets, the time it takes to view images of what is going on it could be indeed many years earlier to what’s going on now. Relativity and all that. There’s a great story in Dan Simmons Hyperion (1989, Headline Feature) which tells of a recruit who spends his work in space for mere months, and during resting spends his time on a local planet which has his inhabitants (including his love) age dramatically as they live in a state relative to their planet. So in a short period of a man’s life, he loves someone who he sees in short bursts, where she has aged immensely each time and eventually dies.

Still, these people are moving forward. What about living life backwards, such as another story in Hyperion, which shows a girl aging backwards each day. There is also the case of Merlin in T. H. White’s interpretation (The Sword in the Stone from The Once an Future Kind, HarperCollins Publishers 1996):

‘Ah, yes. How did I know to set breakfast for two? That was why I showed you the looking-glass. Now ordinary people are born forwards in Time, if you understand what I mean, and nearly everything in the world goes forward too. This makes it quite easy for the ordinary people to live, just as it would be to join those five dots into a W if you were allowed to look at them forwards, instead of backwards and inside out. But I unfortunately was born at the wrong end of Time, and I have to live backwards from in front, while surrounded by a lot of people living forwards from behind. Some people call it Second Sight.’

He stopped talking and looked at the Wart in an anxious way.

‘Have I told you this before?’

‘No, we only met about half an hour ago.’

‘So little time to pass?’ said Merlyn, and a big tear ran down to the end of his nose. He wiped it off with his pyjamas and added anxiously, ‘am I going to tell it to you again?’

‘I don’t know,’ said the Wart, ‘unless you have not finished telling me yet.’

‘You see, one gets confused with Time, when it is like that. All one’s tenses get muddled, for one thing. If you know what is going to happen, and not what has happened to them, it makes it difficult to prevent it happening, if you don’t want it to have happened, if you see what I mean? Like drawing in a mirror.’

p. 31

This, plus The Scholar’s Tale in Hyperion both are interesting concepts, yet confusing as while they age backwards they seem to talk and do things in a forward motion. Rachel ages backwards (I think in her sleep), but each day she acts it out and talks in a very linear fashion. And as for Merlin, well, I’m not sure I understand his plight at all. He seems to be going backwards, but I’m not sure why he isn’t going completely backwards, i.e. walking backwards, uneating his food, talking in a rather amusing way but incomprehendible way (except perhaps for satanic messages).

And now we have the Infinite Chronicles stories, that doesn’t give a damn about being clear (since it doesn’t decide to be linear). For example, these characters manipulate time indefinitely (despite not ever gaining the Infinite Power Device) yet don’t change their own fate!

In the first story (The Good, The Bad and The Infinite) many major characters die. In later stories we have these characters alive (logically, as they are at an earlier point in their lives [even if they're in a setting which is many years after their death...as you can see, this is confusing]). Some characters even KNOW about their deaths! Yet, with their timetravel ability, don’t alter this.

I suppose the Time Jump Law Enforcment Agency is doing it’s job.


  1. Posted 5 May 2006 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

  2. corcaroli
    Posted 26 January 2009 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    What if Merlyn has simply trained himself to talk and walk in reverse? What if he plans his sentences and actions from back to front instead of front to back? It sounds horribly difficult, I know — something like having to trace out a ‘W’ while looking only in a mirror. But he is a wizard after all.