04 February 2010

Time After Time

This year's Newbery Medal winner, When you Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, is doing the rounds of our office. It's one of those books that as soon as you've finished you want to read again from the start so you can see how all the pieces click together. (Kind of like Fight Club, only really really not at all like Fight Club.) It's got us thinking about other time-travel books. Here are a few of our favourites:

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
This is the only book that the wonderfully endearing Miranda, who tells the story of When You Reach Me, ever reads. Truth to tell, I generally read it at least once year myself - so I knew right away that Miranda was going to be a girl after my own heart. (It was clearly completely justified that I buy Wrinkle in Time again in the beautiful new edition - but why did I not know there was a box set?!) In some ways, A Swiftly Tilting Planet is really more about time travel in the sense of going somewhen than Wrinkle is, which is about travelling through time to a somewhere. (And don't even get us started on Many Waters - where the O'Keefe twins find themselves in biblical times when everyone is, you know, sleeping with angels, and having tiny unicorns as pets.) But it all begins with Wrinkle, and what a beginning it is. (She says sternly, glaring at the wall of the adjoining office wherein resides a children's book editor who has NEVER READ MADELEINE L'ENGLE.)

Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
This book will gently break your heart. Time travel is not just about rollicking adventure, it's about memory and change, being young and growing old, the eternal and the ephemeral, loneliness and friendship. And gardens and clocks and iceskates. Oh, the iceskates.

Cicada Summer by Kate Constable
We love this book. It's a moving, gentle, funny, heart-squeezing timeslip tale. Eloise needs out of her now - but where or when does she stumble into? We suspect this book might be a time-traveller in another way too - it feels enduring, sort of out-of-time... classic.

Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park
Speaking of a classic... If you're interested in children's fiction or you have been a child anytime since 1980 and you have not read this book, then we can only envy you the great pleasure that awaits. Reading Ruth Park's autobiographies, A Fence Around the Cuckoo and Fishing in the Styx, is another wonderful kind of time travel - especially if you are interested in New Zealand and Sydney in the 30s and 40s.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
Unless, like Marvin the paranoid android, you are Very Very Patient, you can only get to Milliways, the restaurant at the end of the universe, by travelling through time. But once you do arrive, you can sit and eat in comfort while you watch the universe end. Best floorshow ever.

Prince Caspian by CS Lewis
Not a book about time travel as such, but Queen Susan's horn brings the four Pevensie children out of the deep past (Narnia's past, that is - for the children it's only been about a year). And that scene at the beginning where the they wander round the ruins of Cair Paravel gradually working out that hundreds of years have passed since they were last in Narnia is wonderful, and a little bit heartbreaking. For some reason, this paragraph, where Susan finds a chess piece they played with centuries before, stays with us:
'All now saw what it was - a little chess-knight, ordinary in size but extraordinarily heavy because it was made of pure gold; and the eyes in the horses head were two tiny rubies or rather one was for the other had been knocked out.'

Merryll of the Stones by Brian Caswell
I felt sure we'd talked about this one before on Alien Onion - but if we did I couldn't find it. This has absolutely everything you could want in a timeslip adventure: welsh dragons; handsome, black-haired Welsh boys; magicians; usurpers; rebels and a modern girl who might be an ancient queen. In the interests of full disclosure, the very beginning takes a bit of getting through, but after that it's hands-down fabulous.

The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard & The Hero of Little Street by Gregory Rogers.
In one adventure The Boy slips into Shakespeare's London via the magic of theatre - the detail in this book is amazing, right down to heads on sticks. In the other adventure it's through the magic of painting that The Boy slips into seventeenth century Holland - more stunning streetscape detail, perhaps best to avoid the butcher scenes if you tend to the squeamish.

Honorary film mention:
Back to the Future
The time machine is a DeLorean that requires 1.21 gigawatts (pronounced jigawatts, by Doc Brown) of power. We don't feel any further explanation is required.
But for good measure we'll throw in: Michael J Fox, a flux capacitor, skateboarding, rock 'n' roll and a main character literally fading out of existence.

Dishonorable mention:
The Time Machine
by H.G. Wells
I understand that this book has a place in some people's hearts.* But not mine. Not when I had to read it for school. Not now. Not ever.

Which time-travel books are your favourites?

*Actually I don't understand this at all. It is inconceivable.


Hannah said...

I read A Wrinkle in Time every year as well. I love it so. And my secret guilty historical/time travel/romance saga is Diana Gabaldon. I haven't been able to make it through all of them but the first two are EXCELLENT.

Penni Russon said...

Just to slum it in tellie land for a moment:

I love every Star Trek episode that deals with time travel.

I also really enjoyed the paradox conversations in Lost:

Cicada Summer is a book you bring with you when you travel from childhood to adulthood (another kind of time travel).

I did enjoy the Time Traveler's Wife. It was like YA storytelling, but for grown ups.

A latte beckons said...

Cicada Summer is flattered to be included in such august company!

I must put in a plug for Penelope Farmer's shivery-eerie, haunting Charlotte Sometimes.

I also adored Alison Uttley's A Traveller In Time, about a girl who goes back to Elizabethan times and becomes entangled in a plot to save Mary, Queen of Scots (I must admit when I revisited this one it did seem awfully slow - I was enchanted by it as a child though!)

And surely no discussion of time travel would be complete without a nod in the direction of the good Doctor (Who, that is).

miss elise said...

OH, Charlotte Sometimes! Oh oh oh. Memories.

I still vote for Beatie Bow. And Merryl of the Stones - I'm still lending my well-worn copy to many the 30-something-year-old to this very day!

I haven't read Madeleine either. Lend it to me quick, quick!

How about the Silver Crown? Was that time travel? Or maybe straight fantasy. Either way it belongs on this list!

Misrule said...

I'm with Kate on A Traveller in Time. (Except for the "slow" bit. I still adore it to bits and reread it most years.) Onions, bring it back into print and I'll love and worship you forever.

Anonymous Lady said...

This is bringing back all sorts of fabulous memories. God I loved Playing Beattie Bow so much!
I also have to nominate A Devil on the Road by Robert Westall... and Thursday Next's rogue, ex-ChronoGuard father in the Jasper Fforde books.