No, I’m not about to discuss whose house to go to for a friendly drink, but about whose period in history to choose for a time-travel novel. Richard’s? Or ours? So there he is in the above picture, with Old London Bridge behind him, and the modern London Bridge in front. Is he leaving his own time to come to ours? Or taking one look at our time before staying in the 15th century?
The advent of time-travel stories about Richard has been discussed recently on Facebook, and the subject has stirred me into wanting to write about it. I am engrossed by how different people regard the enigma of Ricardian time travel. Whether to bring Richard to modern times, go back to his times, take a step sideways into a more magical world, or for no one to ever go anywhere at all. Those are the questions.
My favourite time-travel book is ‘The House on the Strand’ by Daphne du Maurier, in which her modern twentieth-century hero goes back to medieval Cornwall by means of an LSD-type new super-drug, but he is an invisible witness to everything. That, I think, is my ideal of time travel (not the LSD element!) but I’d like a convenient extra ability—to become tangible, visible and audible if I feel like it! Well, I always want to have my cake and eat it. So, if I were writing a time travel novel about Richard, I’d be going back to him, to ‘join in’ if I felt the need. Otherwise I’d remain conveniently (and safely) out of sight. But I could go anywhere I wanted. Anywhere. I’d love to do that.
But if others were going to write a time travel, have written one, or would simply like to read one, what form would it take? Forwards? Backwards? Something else? My preference you already know, so I’ll continue at this point with those who are inspired by the thought of Richard coming from his time to ours.
Here is what the author Joanne Larner has to say on the matter of her own time-travel book:-
‘When I wrote my first (and so far only) novel, ‘Richard Liveth Yet’, I decided to make it a time travel one because I was tired of reading about Richard III dying at Bosworth. I started to think “What if he’d won, he so nearly did…?” and then I read Joan Szechtman’s novels about Richard in the 21st century and loved the idea. She made it that there was no disruption of history by substituting a dead ‘body double’ for Richard, but I had a different plan. Everyone who asserts that “you can’t change history” misses the point – in a work of fiction you can do whatever you like – that’s the beauty of it, surely! I hadn’t decided whether I would have history being changed to a great extent, to a small extent or even whether changing things would ultimately end up with an identical modern day (if, for example everything was fated to some extent and history just took an alternative route to the same main conclusions). I finally decided that I WOULD change history, but I didn’t feel the need to make it drastically different – so for example we still have Queen Elizabeth II, but she is of the House of Plantagenet. I wanted to play with some ideas in a lighthearted way, and so had Richard finding out about different modern ideas and events and using them when he went back (examples being taxing alcohol, inventing forks, composing Greensleeves and financing Christopher Columbus). Don’t forget, time travel is impossible at this moment so writing about it has no actual limits except those of our imaginations!’
Very true. The whole point about fiction is just that. It’s fiction! So why do we impose rules upon it? There’s no need. Time is our oyster, and we can consume it however we darned well please.
Joanne’s intention is to write a sequel, which will be the reverse of the first, with the heroine going back to Richard’s time. So she is an author who is prepared to take on both aspects. A talented lady.
Another excellent writer who has whisked Richard forwards to the present day is Joan Szechtman. This is what she has to say:
“Ever since I read, and reread A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain when I was but a girl of ten, I’ve loved time travel fiction, for many reasons, not the least of which is because one can examine culture and technology with alien eyes……One point of fascination for me is the mechanism the author uses to get the time traveler from his or her now to the past or the future……Authors use a variety of literary devices to get their character from one time to another. Many use natural objects or phenomena such as the “standing stones” in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Other authors such as H.G. Wells and Michael Crichton have “invented” devices that would enable time travel. Although I fall into the latter category in that I created a device that I call a Quantum Displacement Engine, I don’t go into any great detail as to how it might work. I am aware that there are some current theories that involve quantum mechanics that might point to how time travel might be accomplished, but this aspect is at its most nascent phase. I used time travel to enable the story that I wanted to tell……
Another consideration of time travel is that the Earth, our Solar System, the galaxy, and our universe are themselves all traveling through space at incredibly high speeds. So for anyone to go into the past to a specific point on this planet, would require knowing where the Earth was in space at that time. I haven’t read any time travel novels that even hint this might need to be solved. In addition, I haven’t read any that compensate for the laws of conservation of mass and energy. I have tried to do this in my novel, and have used the laws of conservation as a plot point……Even though my inner-geek not only made me consider the scientific considerations and the improbabilities of time travel, I do agree that novels that don’t try to cover the science, or even give it a nod, are worth reading. It is up to the skill of the author to convince the reader to suspend disbelief, regardless of what mechanism the writer chooses to use……
In This Time, my first novel about Richard III in the twenty-first century, I was interested in the attitudinal and cultural differences between fifteenth-century England and twenty-first century……Time travel gave me an opportunity to not only look at these differences between now and the past, but by my bringing Richard into this time, I was able to see the world today through my main character’s eyes. I hope the people who have read or are going to read my book will experience the same.” Joan’s blog post is Time Travel in Fiction.
So, fiction and time travel must be more precise and scientifically correct to be feasible for Joan, with, among other things, hints of the theory of quantum physics and matters of mass and energy. So the way the time travel takes place is as fascinating to her as what follows, when Richard is actually here in the future.
Someone else wondered if it might be intriguing to bring Richard halfway between his time and ours, and then meet him on neutral territory, so that you/your character are both in a new century, both faced with having to learn and keep your wits about you. Together, you face the same steep learning curve. Imagine it, you and King Richard III trying to evade Roundheads one day, and Cavaliers the next. Or some such scenario.
Janet Reedman, another author of time travel—and a writer of fantasy—introduces an Otherworldly aspect to Richard’s story. She has this to say:
‘It [time travel] seems to be a little bit controversial. I have certainly seen a number of comments in reviews saying ‘stick to the history.’ However, as a fantasy writer, I don’t have problem with fantastic elements in Ricardian fiction, as long as it can truly ‘suspend disbelief’ and does not belittle the King. In Richard’s own time Mallory had written Morte D’Arthur which was essentially mythologising a possible dark age British war-lord and making him a ‘modern’ medieval English king, and this process had been going on since the earlier Middle Ages when the Arthurian myths were first popularised by Geoffrey of Monmouth and others. In my own novella, Sacred King, Richard is initially in the ‘Otherworld’ after death rather than in modern times, but does come, for a time, to the 21st c, after he is found at Greyfriars and ‘given back his face’ and his identity.”
A fascinating alternative, I think. What is it about Richard that inspires us all with so many different and exciting fictional possibilities? He is unique. A perfect tragic hero. And we love him for it.
Rachel Walker had yet another thought.
“I think having him in the future would be more enjoyable in some ways, because he would be forced to believe you, and at the same time you would not need to worry about history. Saying that, if you did travel back then if history is set I would be worried about being the actual cause of something in regards to my actions.”
Now there’s a situation to ponder. To go back and find that we actually prompt some (perhaps awful) momentous event. Not changing the course of history, but setting in motion what is known to have happened. Perhaps we tried desperately to save Richard at Bosworth, but only succeeded in triggering Sir William Stanley’s last minute intervention, and thus Richard’s death? Not a weight with which to be burdened, I think. It would be devastating to return to the present knowing you’d been the final catalyst!
But not everyone likes even the thought of fictional time travel, as someone who wants to be known only as Iris has written to me:-
“However fanciful to think of a second chance for everybody, including our hero, I personally shrink from time-stories in general and particularly in the case of Richard because: (1) It’s the kind of wishful thinking Charles Ross accused Ricardians of when discussing real history, indulging in this sort of fantasies does not help our category. (2) As a Roman Catholic I believe our time on earth is just a passage in a longer journey and I prefer to think Richard now rests in peace and is in heaven with his wife and children.”
So, for Iris, no time travel at all involving Richard. Not even going back to his time without changing a thing, but simply observing his story unfold. Iris wants nothing at all of this nature. Perhaps she chooses not to read general Ricardian fiction either. After all, to take it to a logical conclusion, putting any thoughts or words into Richard’s mouth is wishful thinking. Fantasising. Because what he actually thought and said in any given situation is simply not known. So, even writing that he shouted “Charge!” at Bosworth would be conjecture. To me, all this is no different from time travel. It’s all invention. Guesswork. Fiction.
To use the words of Brian Wainwright (a master of words): “Here’s an arcane thought for you. Is not all historical fiction a sort of time travel? Albeit, in the reader’s mind only?” Yes, yes, Brian. That’s exactly it. Reading a novel fixed in some past time, whether the late fifteenth century or not, is an escape for us, as is science fiction about the future, or even a story set in a distant but exotic part of our present world. It’s simply escapism. Time travel of the mind.
The actual ability to transport ourselves back and forth always eludes us. Well, it does as things are at present, but perhaps a version of H.G. Wells’ time machine will one day be invented. Or something like it. “Beam me back, Scottie!” If so, how many of us will rush to book a ‘journey’. And whichever way we wish to go, full steam ahead or astern, being Ricardians, we will all want to see Richard. See him, meet him, hear him, maybe kneel before him and kiss his hand? Just imagine that. ‘Imagine’ being the key word.
King Richard III is our abiding interest, and I see nothing wrong with wishing. All we lack is that Pumpkin Coach and a convenient Fairy Godmother to make the wishes come true. So we read books that at least take our imagination to him, in whichever direction the author chooses —forward, backward, halfway or sideways. Or, of course, we don’t buy a ticket, or a book, and thus stay exactly where we are—which I don’t fancy at all.
Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s back to Richard I go . . .
(The above are mere samples of people’s views on time travel, and I have no doubt there are a lot more that have not been touched upon.)
Details of time travel books by the authors mentioned above, in order of ‘appearance’:-
Richard Liveth Yet: A Historical Novel Set in the Present Day
by Joanne Larner
Author’s Facebook page for the book:
Sacred King: Richard III, Sinner, Sufferer, Scapegoat, Sacrifice
by J.P. Reedman.
Available on Amazon Kindle and in print. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sacred-King-Sufferer-Scapegoat-Sacrifice-ebook/dp/B00MFVN0UO/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=
This Time by Joan Szechtman
2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards Finalist for General Fiction/Novel
Loyalty Binds Me by Joan Szechtman
Recommended by Midwest Book Reviews, ForeWord 2011 Book of the Year Finalist
Both of Joan’s e-books are available on iTunes, Kobo, Sony, etc.