The problem I have with time travel

time turner harry potter

I hope all of you have seen one of the greatest movies of our time. I’m talking about a piece of film that has forged our pop culture and that was years ahead of his time. Or decades behind it, depending which of the three we’re talking about. Which movie series am I talking about? I’m talking about Back to the Future of course!

Back to the Future must have been my first exposure to the concept of time travel as a kid. The idea of literally racing back (or forward) in time intrigued me, but back then, the idea of watching a show about five teenagers fighting Japanese sentai show stock footage also “intrigued me”. All I saw then was a cool idea involving a DeLorean, but as I grew older (and more critical), I realised that everything involving time travel just bugs me.

The first time I noticed how much of a problematic plot point time travel is was while reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. While the build-up to the reveal of the Time-Turner was done nicely (both in the book and the movie), the introduction of such an item brought with it the question of “Why don’t we use this damn thing to set everything right?” The absence of such a powerful tool in the later books annoyed me even more, considering how it would have been just the right tool for about every problematic situation.

And here lies my problem with time travel: the moment you introduce the possibility of going back in time to change things, you open up a can of worms, or rather one of plot holes and inconsistencies. The entire concept is difficult to begin with, so why would you as an author think you’re able to handle it the right way, without damaging your plot and the suspension of disbelief of your audience?

Of course, there are ways of handling time travel right. As much as I despise the new movies (though I still have to see Into Darkness. I’m a prejudiced prick), Star Trek and the MMORPG based on it solved most of the problems of time travel by deciding that the events of the movie simply created an alternate timeline, in which the new movies and the MMORPG progress. It’s not a perfect solution, but it gives me some comfort. Hopefully, Blizzard is taking notes for their upcoming time-jumping adventure.

Nevertheless, time travel is something I find hard to enjoy. The reason for that might just lie somewhere in my past, but considering I won’t be up for the destruction of our timeline, we’ll never find out.


  1. aren`t you going to be fun when the new x-men movie is finally released :p

    (I, for one, am a big fan of all timetravel-y stories, precisely because of the problems they face and the creativity they often show in solving the problems – or not solving them, for that matter. But then again, I do watch Doctor Who, so I`m used to just kind of accepting whatever excuse they have.)

    1. Paradoxically, I’m looking very much forward to Days of Future Past. Mostly because it’s X-Men, but also to see how they deal with my time travel peeves. I’ll do my best to be not the guy who goes like “Wait, but since they’re from the future…”

  2. I loved the terminator films ….WAIT…OK clarification: I liked the open ended time travel paradoxes left in the films…the father of John is the guy sent back to protect his the mum to be of John (resistance leader…) The arm left from the terminator ends up being the kick starter to all the future ‘cyberdyne’ technology which leads to the upcoming confrontation with the machines…(they must be really pissed that they could never beat us at chess but chitteringly happy that they could overwhelm us militarily!)

  3. I agree – Teminator was kind of fun that way. I like Dctor Who, too, but there’s really not much philosophizing about time travel there – the Doctor’s not an Earthling, can’t die, and has no issues about running into HIMSELF somewhere. Back to the Future actualy did it reall well. I liked your comment about Hermione’s time turner, too: Why DIDN’T they just use that to solve all future problems, indeed?? I think Dumbledore makes some trite summation that passes for an excuse for not using it again…
    Great post!

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