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!