Speculations – Time Travel

This is going to be a bit of a ramble and a wander through my ideas. I may go back and edit/revise my blogs at some point, as I tend to post them immediately with only cursory (spelling) revision. They could all stand to have some cutting and tightening.


Idea One: Time flows concurrently, no matter when you are. In (I think) episode two, my husband, who has not read the books, asked why Claire is in such a hurry to leave. “Can’t she just go back to the moment that she left?” He’s coming at this from a Back to the Future time travel perspective, where you program a date and time into the DeLorean’s dash, floor the gas pedal to 88, and bang: the flux capacitor delivers you to your time period destination. But that isn’t how things work in Outlander.

(EDIT- in a recent (April 2016) episode of The Scot and the Sassenach, Alastair referred to concurrent timelines as “San Dimas Time.” In the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (which is getting another sequel!!), for every hour that they spend moving in time, an equal hour passes in San Dimas.)

We don’t truly understand Outlanderverse time travel yet, even in the books. All of the characters that can do it have theories about how it works, but we have few definitive answers. The “default” seems to be that you always go 202 years from the point when you left. That suggests that time continues to run concurrently, no matter when you are.

Even though they’ve figured out quite a bit about time travel by book eight, Claire knows nothing when she first touches the stones, not even that she could possibly steer with a gemstone. So no, Steve (that’s my husband), she can’t just go back to the moment she left. That’s proven by seeing Frank dealing with the loss of Claire in episode 108 (EDIT: And again in episode 201, when she comes back in 1948). The same amount of time has passed for both of them, and he’s spiraling into despair and desperation.

In the book, Father Anselm says something similar. It has been nearly a year since Beltane by the time Claire and Jamie are at the Abbey, and he says, “won’t your husband have moved on by now, tried to put his life back together, perhaps even found someone else?” So it is a generally understood time travel principle in the Outlanderverse that time runs concurrently.

Idea Two: Outlander is a stable time loop. One of the fun things about time travel stories is figuring out how the author makes it work. Now, I don’t mean the physics involved (although both the show and, in the books, Brianna, try to explain it in terms of places of pooled energy), but rather how time travel affects the world.

A couple of time travel tropes:

  • The stable time loop. This is where everything always happened the way it happens. The Pern books are an example of a stable time loop. Lessa makes the enormous jump back in time to bring the Weyrs forward because she knows the Weyrs have been deserted for years and, therefore, she must have always done it. For the most part, the Outlanderverse is a stable time loop. It is hinted at that, if Claire and Jamie hadn’t managed to undermine Charles’ attempts to raise funds, that he might have been successful during the Rising. So not only did they not stop it, but they may have contributed to its failure. Since the Rising has already happened for Claire, it can be said that she was meant to go back in time and take part in those events.
  • The multiverse. This is time travel where things can be changed. But, in order to avoid paradoxes, each time something is changed, a parallel universe is formed. Back to the Future is a multiverse. Changes to past and future cause a new timeline to be spawned (as explained in the second film). Sometimes that’s a good thing (Marty’s much more successful family) and sometimes it’s bad (Biff’s gambling-land).
  • The paradox. HG Wells’ The Time Machine deals with paradox. It isn’t a stable time loop because things can be superficially changed. The protagonist tries to change the past, but both can and can’t at the same time. If his wife lives, what was his reason for building the time machine in the first place? So every time he “saves” her, time “fixes” itself by making her die again.
  • The everything. Doctor Who is an “everything” time travel show, depending on what the writers need that week. We’ve had paradox episodes (the one where Rose saves her father’s life) and the show has famous “fixed points” in time that not even the Doctor can change. Sometimes these turn out to be stable time loops – like with the 10th Doctor in Pompeii. But there are also indications of a multiverse. For example: why don’t people remember, in the 11th’s time, all of the things that happened with 10? That has yet to be answered satisfactorily.

There are other time travel paradigms, but those are some of the main ones.

The only clue we have that time travel might not be a completely stable loop is the reference that Roger makes, in An Echo in the Bone (pg 225 in the hardcover edition), to the newspaper notice having changed. But that’s ret-conning, because in the end of A Breath of Snow and Ashes, we’re given the scene where the printer uses the wrong month because the slug for the correct month has gone missing.

Diana has ret-conned before. Originally the Montauk Five disappeared in New England; Bree remembers that a body was found in the mountains somewhere there. But when we meet Donner, he says they used the stones on Ocracoke. And, to muddy the waters even more, Robert Springer/Otter Tooth’s journal indicates that he came through at the circle near the rhododendron hell that Roger found. Some people point to this as evidence that travel between stones as well as between times is possible, but I don’t know about that.

In any case, I’m not sure what to make of the different death notice. But every other “can we change the past” question has been answered in the negative (or, if you accept that they are “changing” things just by being there, that those changes were always meant to have happened), so I’m still sticking with the stable time loop.

I think one of the reasons for the ret-conning is because at first, Diana didn’t dig into the whys and wherefores of time travel. It was just a mechanism that got her outspoken 20th-century heroine into her 18th-century Scottish story. But as the series has progressed, the story has required some changes to her original ideas, and some of the ideas have been clarified and codified. There’s a whole bit when Roger and Bree are back in 1980 where they write out a “Time Travelers Guide” a la Douglas Adams.

Idea Three: How Time Travel works, as of MOBY:

  • Using gemstones (possibly also blood and fire) helps you steer beyond the standard 202 years. This doesn’t quite negate San Dimas time, because it seems like it would be quite difficult to come back moments after you left.
  • Precious metals provide some protection (speculation that Claire’s gold wedding ring protected her on her first trip, and the gold and silver together on subsequent trips).
  • It’s easier to travel at the equinoxes and solstices, although possible (not recommended!) at other times.
  • There are some metaphysical speculations that connection to a particular person makes travel “easier.” When Jamie takes Claire to the stones the first time in Outlander, and she starts to enter the time passage, she can feel both him and Frank. Later in the books, although it isn’t “fun” for them, Jem and Mandy travel VERY easily because they have a deep psychic connection to each other and their family members. (More speculation about the nature of travelers below.)
  • You cannot travel to a point at which you already exist. Roger tried and almost died.
  • It is not advisable to travel forward, although we don’t know why. In “The Space Between,” Saint Germain wants desperately to do it because he is trying to extend his life. Raymond tells him it is a bad idea, and Joan’s voices tell her to tell him “don’t do it.” I was so mad at the end of the story that we switched back to Michael and Joan’s PoVs and didn’t find out what happened!! Diana, I am totally OK with waiting longer for a main series book if you will put out a “what happened next” story.
    • PS – Raymond has almost certainly traveled forward, given that he was originally from the prehistoric Orkney Islands. I think he’s come unstuck in time, and that’s why he tells Saint Germain not to try to go forward.

Side rant: some people have said that they couldn’t stick with the book series after Dragonfly because it started getting “too weird” or “too sci-fi” for them. I don’t think it is sci-fi enough. I love reading about the mechanics of time travel, and I am DYING to read the Raymond story that Diana mentioned (in the National Geographic article about the Orkneys) that she’s planning. But I’m a fantasy writer, and worldbuilding fascinates me. YMMV.

Idea Four: Wild Speculations.

  • The blue aura of Raymond’s family is a sort of “extra energy” that travelers have. It allows them to enter the passage, and depending on how strong it is, protects them in the space between time. This is why some people still die in there. The aura allows them to do what we might consider “magic.” Raymond tells Claire she has a blue aura in Dragonfly in Amber (it’s why he calls her Madonna), and she sees him through a haze of blue light when he heals her after her miscarriage. The blue light healing/connection is seen again with Dr. McEwan in MOBY and with Saint Germain in “The Space Between.” There is some indication that this aura is connected to an ability to manipulate physical reality. Claire is an excellent diagnostician because she can use that sixth sense to figure out what is wrong (physically and emotionally) with a patient. We know that it’s more than just reading people’s body language cues and palpating their abdomens because she does it to a skeleton (that turns out to be Geillis Duncan, who, by the by, is someone Claire has already/not yet killed with her own hand – talk about freaky time travel dynamics). Dr. McEwan has taken it a step farther- he can, in a limited way, manipulate people’s actual flesh (he says he knows what the body should feel like, and he attempts to make it more like how he knows it should be). He uses this to heal people, notably Buck and Roger.
    • From the Daily Lines snippets that Diana posts, Claire will be experimenting with using Dr. McEwan’s healing methods on Roger in Book Nine. I almost called it “Blue Magic,” but in the Final Fantasy game series, blue magic is when you can copy other creature’s attacks and skills. Not the same thing!
  • Mandy and Jem are very strong travelers, probably because both of their parents can do it. Even though Jem is haunted by his experience at the stones on Ocracoke, he has no problem going after Mandy when she dashes through at Craigh na Dun. And the two kids have a very strong psychic link with each other and their parents (and, to a lesser extent, other people). I think their auras are much larger than normal as a consequence of having two time-traveling parents.
  • At least one of Claire’s parents was a traveler. We’ve gotten stories about Roger’s family as travelers (from Gillian herself, to Buck, to Jerry MacKenzie), but nothing about Claire’s family. There are hints in the last couple of books that she may be related to the Beauchamp family that Percy Wainwright has married into. And it is not unreasonable to speculate that the child Percy seeks (who may or may not actually be Fergus) is the progenitor of Claire’s family line. I don’t think it’s Fergus, to be honest. But if there is such a child, and if said child reappeared and took up the family name, then escaped during the Terror to England and started using the English pronunciation of the name…it makes sense. Also, when Lord John goes to visit the Beauchamps, he notes that the brother is a terrible card player. Hello glass face? The corollary to this supposition is, if Saint Germain really did have a child with the lost sister, and that child is Claire’s great-great-whatever…Saint Germain might actually be her many times great-grandfather. MIND BLOWN.

I could ramble on about this forever, but I need to go and do my actual job that makes me actual money. Anyone else have some speculations about time travel in the Outlanderverse? What’s your favorite time travel story, other than Outlander? Do you love or hate a particular time travel paradigm? Leave me a comment and let me know!

13 thoughts on “Speculations – Time Travel

  1. I’ve stopped trying so hard to speculate because of the retroactive continuity issues. That has been a problem for me the farther along in the books that we get. I know that Diana doesn’t have a master plan all sketched out and she just kind of finds how things play out as she goes but there is a high risk for continuity errors in that process that makes speculation a bit of a fruitless exercise. One thing that I think that we may be able to depend upon is that whatever the final theory turns out to be it will be firmly rooted in science. Diana is a scientist and has been pretty vocal about how it is important to her that things work in ways that are scientifically grounded. On CompuServ the term “time loop” is pretty much verboten, if you use it in a post it’s like throwing chum into shark-infested waters. This is despite more recent theories in quantum physics that potentially solve the stickier problems of the concept. But she also seems to have an interest in metasciences as well. The concept of auras is an interesting example in that such discussions can get pretty New Age Reiki, yet there is a certain degree of science that can be applied to it as well. Taking both together you can apply the electromagnetic spectrum to the presentation of auras, and possibly gemstones, in the series.

    Blue is very high on the electromagnetic spectrum. (frequency is high, wavelengths are short). Because the wavelengths are so short in the visible spectrum, they are scattered more efficiently by the molecules in the atmosphere. That’s why the sky looks blue. Claire is blue. I think that’s why she can TT easier than most (she didn’t use any precious gems or fancy patterns, she just… goes). I don’t think Raymond uses any special preparations either. In Reiki, blue represents cool, calm, collected, caring, loving, sensitive, intuitive, driven to help others. Kind of sounds like Claire.

    Red is very low on the electromagnetic spectrum. (frequency is low, wavelengths are long). Jamie is red. I think that’s why he cannot TT. In Reiki red is grounded, realistic, active, strong, powerful, will-power, survival-oriented. Also very sexual and passionate. Sounds like Jamie.

    Also of note is that both of the non-visible ends of the spectrum, ultra-violet at the high end and infrared at the low end are both perceived as HEAT. UV can cause sunburn and skin cell damage, and you can see what happens when you direct infrared sunlight at something through a magnifying glass. That may have something to do with why some folk wind up on fire when they try to TT.

    Brianna is the genetic product of Claire (blue) and Jamie (red). There is one color higher on the electromagnetic spectrum than blue and that is Violet – just below ultra-violet. I don’t think I would want to be near Bree when she loses her temper, I think she has a high heat signature. Sounds like a “dangerous woman”. In Reiki, violet represents a psychic power of attunement with self, intuitive, visionary, idealistic, artistic, futuristic, and magical. Could be Bree.

    In Reiki, green represents growth and balance and change. Appropriate for the conception process that the Comte observed occurring in the womb.

    I think that when out time travelers focus on someone they love in order to direct their travel, they are just tuning into a specific frequency on the spectrum. Jem and Mandi may be able to not only tune into frequencies easily but they may also be able to manipulate them. We might see that Jem is able to channel heat (red) to water (blue) and that is how he made the quartz crystal (high in water content) explode. The effect of resonant vibrations on crystalized gems may play a part in their importance to TT. They are consumed in order to provide energy for travel.

    Fun to geek out about these things 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is so fun to geek out about these things!

    No matter what the peeps over at the CompuServ forums think, the truth is that the “Stable Time Loop” is a recognized time travel trope. And Diana constantly delves into questions of predestination and fate in the narrative, which is basically what a Stable Time Loop is, if you get right down to it. So I stand by what I said, and fans can come and be rabid if they want. 🙂

    I love, love your theories about color and how it connects to Reiki. Jamie is definitely red! I always just thought Raymond saying “the red man” referred to his hair, but if he has a red aura that would make even more sense. And then Brianna is definitely violet. Awesome!

    I’ve often wondered if Geillis and her descendants have a different color aura than Claire/Raymond/St Germain. We know that McEwan is blue, but do we ever actually see Geillis, Roger, or Buck’s?


  3. I totally agree with you about the stable time loop. I accept time itself as linear – but with infinite timelines running parallel to one another, so a time traveler’s _experience_ of time can definitely operate as a loop. That’s the only plausible explanation for the letter that Roger wrote being found in that desk at Lallybroch, for example. You’ll hear a lot of lame retroactive continuity moonwalking on that one! As a believer of both predestination and free choice, I visualize God viewing time from an omnipresent position, able to see time from end to end as a single entity. I do think there are limiting rules, though. Most folks accept that travelers cannot cross into their own timeline and very few accept that a traveler can loop indefinitely, living infinite lifetimes. I think the resistance on CompuServ is to anything that could be considered to go *poof*. They refute anything that looks like “magic”. You can actually hear the groans when the discussion turns to Raymond transforming into a cat, lol! Alchemy is not a popular subject!


  4. Loved that you mentioned your theory on Claire’s bloodline. I know her Uncle was an archeologist of some kind. (sorry, I need to go re-read for specifics) I can’t help think it might be a possible “seed” DG might have placed in storyline to elaborate on in the future. I am hoping the Uncle was actually researching stones & all possible stones locations or other locations. Or even possibly that it was his intention of having Claire along with him to see the effects of a location on her. There are SO MANY questions & possibilities!!!


    • Ooh, I love that theory about Uncle Lamb! If the time-traveling “gene” really does come from the Beauchamp line, and that is mixed with Saint Germain, then it’s absolutely possible that Uncle Lamb and Claire’s father were travelers. Although now I can’t remember if Uncle Lamb is a Beauchamp. It’s been a whole year since I read the books. When I started this blog, I had just finished my fourth (yes, I know, don’t look at me like this) read-through and had excellent recall on details like that. Now they are flitting away! But I can totally see him being curious about the stones, and using Claire as an oblivious guinea pig.

      I really want an Uncle Lamb story!


    • I have been wondering if Uncle Lamb was Claire’s actual father and/or searching for evidence of her Mother which is why he became an archeologist and was teaching Claire the trade? Either that or both Claire’s parents were travelers and had Uncle Lamb care for her to keep her safe from something else? Also interestingly enough, you can’t exist in two timelines, hence why Buck disappeared when he conceived himself with Geillis/Gillian.


      • I obviously need to read MOBY again, because I don’t remember that about Buck. I also was pretty sure that they were way too early in the timeline (since Jamie was still in Paris, aged 17) for him to have been his own father. I’ve been planning a series re-read, so I’ll have to look into this.

        I don’t think Uncle Lamb was her father. If he were, I don’t think he would have even attempted to drop her off at a boarding school. But I do think that both he and her father (I just checked, and his name is Quentin Lambert Beauchamp, which makes him a paternal uncle) were travelers. Or at least had the potential to be.

        I also don’t think both of Claire’s parents were travelers. We have some evidence in the books that children who have two traveler parents are even more…whatever it is that allows them to travel than others. Jem and Mandy are very strongly empathic and mildly telepathic. Claire has her own gifts, but they’re nowhere near as strong as her grandchildren’s.

        That isn’t to say that one of her parents (probably her father) wasn’t still alive during at least part of the books, lost in another time. But I’ve always assumed that the car crash that Claire likens to time travel was the one that killed her parents, and that she was in the car. There’s no direct evidence to support that, of course, just a feeling. I don’t know if DG will ever give us all of the answers!


  5. Interesting theories, thank you.
    Regarding the newspaper; yes, the end of Breath of Snow and Ashes uses the missing slugs to explain, but the paper was originally published Feb 1776; I’ve always assumed that the change a tiger finds ims not a change in the text but a change in the publication date – it is now published in Feb 1777…
    Interesting enough, regarding an earlier comment, it’s the non-time travel continuity problems that jump out at me … Such as when Lord John gives Jamie Hector’s ring and it states Hector died the day after John first met Jamie, but John met Jamie and Claire just before Prestonpans whilst Hector died at Culloden. But that’s a whole different post!


    • (No worries about tigers appearing randomly in posts…I type fast, too!)

      I know what you mean about continuity errors! I don’t try to make those work. It hurts my nitpicking soul a little every time I encounter one, but I do my best to whistle past them. The story and the characters are worth a little fancy-footwork around changes in dates/locations/sequences of events.


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  7. There is an interesting movie about time travel “About Time” from 2013 and it is actually pretty good. It is hereditary but only for the males. You should watch it. I have watched it several times and I love it. I would TT if I could…and I really wonder if it can be done. Who knows????


    • I will have to check that out. Thanks for the recommendation! I love to speculate about time travel, but even though it is theoretically possible, the amount of energy needed to do it is prohibitive. (Also, as far as I know, we’ve only ever been able to push something forward in time, not backward). Still, it’s really fun to think about. Maybe I’ll write a time travel romance one day!


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