Timey-Wimey Wibbly Wobbly

Yesterday at my book group, we discussed time-slip, time travel and backwards-history books (When You Reach Me, A Wrinkle In Time and My Place), and I was surprised by the number of people who said that they didn't enjoy time-travelly stories. There were three particular books of my childhood, all timey-wimey in theme, which I think have influenced my taste as a reader and my ambitions as a writer.

A Wrinkle In Time
It was weird re-reading Madeleine L'Engle's 1962 classic, because despite its enduring reputation, especially in the US, I felt it didn't actually stand up that well. To begin with, I was annoyed by the cover blurb, which insisted on casting it as Charles Wallace's story, not Meg's -- which perhaps goes to show, the pressures of marketing to boys were around even in the 1960s! When I first read (and re-read) AWIT at about the age of ten, I was fascinated by the Big Ideas it contained - the tesseract, five dimensions, the power of faith and love to defeat the grey and banal (but still very frightening) face of evil.
I still love those ideas, and I love Meg, and her family, and her mother's science lab where she cooks stew over the bunsen burner. But some elements seemed horribly clunky -- just who the hell are the Mrses Who, Which and Whatsit anyway? Winged horses? Seriously? The giant pulsating brain? Hm...
However, this book still remains a true original -- part fantasy, part science fiction, part parable, part realistic family drama (except that Dad hasn't deserted them, he's trapped on another planet. Um, okay...)
Time-slip mechanism rating: 1/10. Loses points because no actual time travel.

Charlotte Sometimes
By contrast, Penelope Farmer's 1969 time-slip proved to be rather better, on an adult re-read, than I'd remembered it. Charlotte wakes up in her boarding-school bed to find that she's swapped places with Clare, who lived forty years before (during WWI). This deeply eerie story takes seriously the possibility that they may not succeed in swapping back, and in one disturbing section, Charlotte finds herself doubting her own identity, slipping into becoming Clare without even realising what's happening to her. This is very scary stuff, and perhaps explains why I re-read CS sparingly as a child, though it always haunted me.
It was only thanks to Penni Russon that I found out that Charlotte and her sister Emma also feature in two previous books by Farmer, both equally weird in their own ways, The Summer Birds (where children learn to fly) and Emma In Winter (where Emma enters a dreamscape which she realises is dragging her gradually backwards in time).
Time-slip mechanism rating: 8/10 (the girls share the same bed and wake up in each other's times; elegant)

Tom's Midnight Garden
I must have talked about TMG before, haven't I? I always credit this book as the single greatest inspiration behind my own Cicada Summer. Though Philippa Pearce's beautiful 1958 novel is perhaps a little wordy for modern tastes, I read it over and over again as a 10 or 11 year old, spellbound by deeply satisfying structure and its detailed exploration. Tom, sent to stay with relatives in a big old house long since converted to flats, finds that when the clock strikes thirteen, he can open the back door and enter the original, sprawling garden of the house, seventy years ago. He befriends a little girl in this other time, Hatty, and they help each other combat their respective loneliness. At the end of the book it's revealed that Hatty is in fact old Mrs Bartholomew, who lives upstairs and has spent night after night dreaming of her childhood. The final scene, where she and Tom at last recognise each other and fly into each other's arms 'as if they'd known each other for years and years' still brings a lump to my throat.
Time-slip mechanism: 10/10 (the grandfather clock, and the old woman's dreams - perfect!)

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