Misunderstanding Time Travel

I promise I’ll get round to a longer blog entry over the weekend, but I couldn’t resist commenting briefly on this paragraph from Peter Bradshaw’s review of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

It is very silly and of course cannot submit to close inspection. Making brief visits to an unalterable past is one thing, but how about that pesky butterfly effect? Why doesn’t he recognise Clare on their first meeting in the “present” – and why can’t he “remember” his future
journeys into the past?

Now I know that I’ve spent longer than most people either reading or watching stories about time travel. But I can’t believe that anyone seriously doesn’t know the answers to those questions. Why doesn’t Henry recognise Clare when they first meet in the present? Because those meetings haven’t yet taken place for him. Why can’t he remember his future journeys into the past? The big clue is in the word “future”.

Without understanding that, you’re missing the fundamental paradox in the plot of the Time Traveler’s Wife. If you really find it that confusing, I can understand why you would only give it two stars.

Do many people find basic time travel concepts like this hard to follow?


  1. Mark Kermode seemed to get stuck on the same point – I’ve been assuming I’ve missed something because it doesn’t seem to be that confusing.

  2. I see this all the time. In fact, arguing with people about these sorts of things is what lead me to realize how interested I really am in time travel. Maybe they find the story difficult to follow so they don’t realize what “first meeting” means. Maybe they’ve been ruined by the bad time travel theories of movies like Back to the Future and The Lake House.On a side note, I just found this blog (linked from your Perl blog) and you’re freaking me out by thinking about all the things I think about. Stop it.

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