A time traveler’s dilemma: Great Expectations or a glass of absinthe?
Writing prompt: If you had a time machine that let you spend one hour in a different time, where would you go?
Text: Solveig Hansen
“Coming back in time, changing history, that’s cheating” (young Kirk to future Spock in Star Trek while preparing for transwarp beaming). At that time, Kirk of course didn’t know that he and his crew would do the same (well, at least they did in the original timeline) years later, when they traveled back to 1986 San Francisco (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) to find humpback whales, inventing transparent aluminum in the process, and bring the whales back to their own time to save the Earth.
The concept of time travel captures our imagination more than anything. We tend to forget that we already are time travelers, traveling into the future second by second. Still, it’s not every day you get an opportunity to travel to a different time period, even only for an hour. You might want to get a glimpse of what’s ahead of you or go back to relive an episode in your own life or witness a historic event.
If I were to travel into a time in the future, I would choose an Earth colony in space, there’s no question about that.
Most of all I would like to travel back in time and observe the events as they unfold, like a movie. There’s plenty to choose from:
– Falling of the Berlin Wall
– The shores of Normandy on D-Day
– Titanic in her final hour
– The very first performance of Beethoven’s mighty 9th Symphony, with the deaf master himself on the stage
– Michelangelo at work in the Sistine Chapel
– And the list goes on…
We could even go back to year 33 AD to see what really happened, or be a fly on the wall at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD to see the making of dogmas. Or why not go all the way and watch the very first sunrays as they hit the newborn Earth?
In the end, we have to make do with what we have here and now. And since we already are time travelers, I thought I would find inspiration in the past to take with me as I write my way onwards. No inventing of transparent aluminum, no humpback whales, no tampering with the timeline, just one hour of pure creative input.
I’m torn between two choices:
I could visit Charles Dickens as he works on Great Expectations in his study at Gad’s Hill Place. “Good day to you, Sir,” I shall say. Maybe he’ll say, “Would you like a cup of tea, dear?” I would ask him about the characters in his books. Does he create a full bio for them before he starts the actual writing? Does he know the full story beforehand, or does the story reveal itself as he writes? I would ask him about the role of writers as voices of society vs. entertainers. Things like that. If I told him that I came from the future, would he ask whether he was still remembered? Do people still read my books?
Decision time: In the end, I choose the Paris bohemians at the turn of the 20th century and walk among the writers and artists in Montmartre for an hour. I know we tend to romanticize them, but we need a few rebels from time to time. There may have been destruction, but there was also creation. I raise my glass of absinthe to that.