Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Time Fantasies

Stories in which time is shaped, stopped, saved, speeded up or travelled through are extremely common in fantasy. But time itself is perceived in significantly different ways in different eras and in different contexts; and the sense of time which permeates most fantasy differs as a whole from that which governs in general our sense of the nature of time in other literatures. To modern eyes, the medieval notion of Time is itself fantastic, and any story – which means almost any fantasy – where time shapes itself around and gives significance to human and supernatural events will read like a TF. In this encyclopedia, when the term TF is used it may be assumed that a specific manipulation of time is being referred to. There is an additional assumption: that most stories in which time is manipulated are set, at least in part, in this world.

Both Timeslips and Time Travel are common in fantasy. They are found particularly often in Children's Fantasy. They tend to be caused by Magic, or by travel through Portals, or via Dreams; almost all timeslip tales and most time-travel stories take place in this world. Tales featuring Malign Sleepers or Once and Future King figures are not normally time fantasies, as it may normally be presumed that figures so described have actually slept through long periods during which time passes neutrally; but sometimes the chamber in which the Dark Lord or the Hidden Monarch are sequestered is a tiny Polder in which time has been stopped. Larger polders frequently encompass some distortion in time: time may be stopped; time may pass only at intervals, as in Brigadoon; or, as in Sleeping Beauty, may start again only once a Spell has been broken; or time may pass more slowly (> Time in Faerie). Time may also pass at differing rates between various Otherworlds; the sense that time passes at the rate appropriate to the world it enfolds is, almost certainly, a default sense on the part of fantasy writers and readers.

Other kinds of tale which involve manipulations of time include: Cycles, in which events repeat themselves like the Seasons; Multiverse tales, like those spun with very great interweaving complexity by Michael Moorcock; and time-trap tales in which characters, more narrowly, find themselves repeating their lives, as in Ken Grimwood's Replay (1986), or perhaps – as in Groundhog Day (1993) – a single day. [JC]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.