Friday, 5 October 2012

The Cleverest Kind Of Time Travel Story

The cleverest kind of time travel story is one in which the past seems to have been changed but then turns out not to have been. Poul Anderson's The Dancer From Atlantis (London, 1977) is one such. Erissa remembers that, before the catastrophe, she and Duncan were together on Crete where he became the father of her first child.

However, the catastrophe occurs while Duncan is still en route to Crete. So why does Erissa remember events that cannot have occurred and who was the father? By the time Duncan arrives, Theseus has raped the teenage Erissa but the adult Erissa, accompanying Duncan, hypnotises her younger self with spurious memories. Thus, the causal circle is completed.

When the older Erissa and Duncan meet - the second time for her but the first for him - they resume a physical relationship that they had not in fact had when she was younger. Parting from the hypnotised younger Erissa, Duncan says, " 'Know that in the end I'll call you back to me.' " (p. 166)

We last see Theseus swaggering away - not a usual last scene for the villain of an action-adventure novel. However, by rescuing young Erissa, Duncan and the mature Erissa prevent Theseus from using her to consolidate his power through the Goddess religion. To that extent, they thwart his plans.

The high priestess called "the Ariadne," conspiring with the invader Theseus, had ordered that a thread of lamps be lit to guide his men through the main halls of the Minos' palace, called "the Labyrinth." Thus, very understatedly, Anderson presents a possible origin for the myth of Minos' daughter Ariadne helping Theseus to escape from the Labyrinth that had housed the Minotaur.

Duncan and Oleg, stranded in 1400 BC but knowing that futurian time travelers will probably observe the imminent Atlantean eruption, build anachronistic ships to sail nearby in the hope that the futurians, seeing the ships, will deduce the presence of stranded time travelers and rescue them. It works:

"A shining shape descended from the clouds."(p. 167)

- while the anachronisms burned in battle.

Erissa's Cretans celebrate the death and resurrection of the god, Asterion. While it is true that Paganism included such myths, I wonder if Anderson had to invent some of the details for novelistic purposes? Lastly, I would like to read a time travel story in which the hero is told of a happy summer that he spent in Crete and ends the story by beginning that summer exactly as it had been related to him!

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