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Slipping through Time
Time travel is a staple of modern folklore
I enjoy a good time travel story.
Back to the Future is one of my all-time favorite movies. Imagine hopping inside a DeLorean and going backward or forward in time once your car reaches 88 miles per hour. The idea captures my imagination and a compelling story populated with well-rounded characters makes it work.
One central theme Back to the Future explores is changing our past to improve our future. Early in the movie, Marty McFly is in a poor working-class family stuck in a miserable situation. Biff Tannen — a lifelong bully of Marty’s father George McFly — is a major instigator of their problems. When Marty is inadvertently sent back to 1955, he helps his teenage father learn how to stand up for himself against Biff. Once Marty returns to 1985, his life and the lives of his family have changed for the better.
Time travel stories have been a staple of film and literature from the beginning. It’s only natural for this storytelling device to also infiltrate modern folklore and urban legends.
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Imagine walking along a busy street. Without warning, your surroundings change. Unfamiliar buildings and vehicles greet your eyes. People around you are dressed in strange clothing. The whole scene appears as though someone ripped it straight from a black-and-white photograph dating to the early 20th century.
You have experienced a time slip.
Time slips are a common phenomenon in modern time travel folklore. These moments describe how one person – or multiple people – inexplicably enter a time and place different from their own. Such journeys are usually brief. These accidental time travelers stick around only long enough to take in their unfamiliar surroundings before returning to their own time as if nothing ever happened. Each time slip story describes seeing out-of-place buildings and vehicles, strangely dressed people, and an acute sense of disorientation for the traveler.
Evidence of time slips will occasionally be presented in the form of early photographs or video clips to try to bolster claims of being factual events. One such photograph purports to depict a hipster traveler at a 1941 bridge opening in British Columbia who is dressed in clothing and sunglasses seemingly more modern than other people in the photo. A video clip of the 1928 premiere of a Charlie Chaplin film called The Circus shows a woman going to the premiere who is allegedly holding a cell phone to her ear as she passes by the video camera.
Several time slip tales will depict travelers from the past or the future — or even parallel timelines — who journey to the present time of the story. Travelers from the future will share warnings about upcoming cataclysmic events and vanish once more. People who pop up from the past — or a parallel timeline — generally act disoriented before disappearing again.
One popular example of this time slip variation is the tale of The Man from Taured. According to the story, a traveler was detained in a Tokyo airport in 1954 after presenting a passport from a European country named Taured. He subsequently vanished from the high-security room where airport officials detained him, never to be seen again. (Snopes has a good breakdown on where this particular urban legend originated, if you want to check it out.)
The Man of Taured and other such stories are usually rooted in embellished newspaper accounts of specific boring events or variations on sci-fi stories from the mid 20th century. This tracks with how ancient myths and folklore grew out of stories orally transmitted from one generation to the next.
Bottom line: Your chances of slipping through a crack in time are about the same as getting struck by lightning on your living room couch while an asteroid simultaneously lands on your house — just as you win the jackpot in the Powerball lottery.
Hollow Planet update
My forthcoming novella, Hollow Planet, is now available to pre-order at several major retailers. You can reserve your ebook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, Google Play, and Smashwords. The release date is scheduled for April 11th. I plan to also release a paperback edition the same week.