Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Time Travel In The Books Of Magic

In Neil Gaiman's The Books Of Magic, Book IV, The Road To Nowhere (New York, 1991), Tim Hunter and Mister E travel through time to visit the future. If they had traveled through space, e. g., to the US or Mars, then it would have been known approximately how much time they needed for the round trip and they could also have told their colleagues who remained behind how much time they intended to spend at the other end.

Thus, a remark like, "They've been gone a while..." (p. 12) or a question like, "Shouldn't they be back by now?" (p. 24) would make sense. It would take some calculable length of time for them to return to their starting point so that any absence longer than that would be a cause for concern.

However, in the case of time travel, the starting point is not a place to be returned to at a later time but a time. If E can travel through time and can return to his starting point, then he should be able to return to and at the exact moment from which he left - or even a moment earlier to witness his and Tim's departure and to assure their earlier selves of their return. Thus, "They've been gone a while..." should already be a cause for concern and "Shouldn't they be back by now?" can be answered by saying, "They should have been back instantaneously."

When the Phantom Stranger has answered, "Yes," he continues, "They are lost to me. Wherever they have gone, it is so far in the future that I can no longer feel them." (p. 24)

"Wherever..." should be "Whenever..." We have no reason to believe that Tim and E have changed their position on the Earth's surface. Other things being equal, they should still be in the same place although at progressively later times.

The Stranger now adds a new datum that is not a usual feature of time travel. After the time travelers' departure, he has continued to endure at the rate of one subjective minute per one objective minute - his body ages one minute and his wrist watch, if he is wearing one, shows the passage of sixty seconds while the rest of the world also ages one minute and records the passage of a single minute. That much is to be expected. However, during each of these minutes, until he loses contact with them, the Stranger retains a magical or psychic link with E and Tim as they travel.

They are "traveling" at, let us guess and to stay with round numbers, the rate of one subjective minute per one objective millennium. So for (I am having to guess) an hour, the Stranger retains this contact until they have "traveled" for sixty millennia but then they have traveled too far away and the contact ceases? And he makes no mention of whether he should be able to detect them as they return. Does this mean that they do not return or just that he does not know whether they do?

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