The Clock that went Backwards by Edward Page Mitchell

18586183Source: Own collection
Format: Hardback
Rating:  4 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

I read this as part of The Time Traveller’s Almanac, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer.

What a lovely short story, asking an excellent question: if time can go forwards, surely it can go backwards too?

The story is about two cousins who visit a ‘great-aunt Gertrude’ (I had to chuckle at that – just how many great-aunt Gertrudes are there?) who has a notable clock: the clock neither ticks nor tocks. Then one night they witness their great-aunt Gertrude winding the clock up, and it then going backwards – something great-aunt Gertrude appears to be happy about, until she falls down, apparently dead.

Then comes one of the funniest lines I’ve read in a while, speaking of experiences in military school: “…and a good deal of the art of standing with our noses over our heels”. That really had me chuckling for a while.

Either rate, so the two cousins – well, Harry being the main recipient – inherit the clock, and get finances to go and study at the University of Leyden, which just happens to be in the town the clock originates from. They go, taking the clock with them, and there they meet a philosophy scholar who is into metaphysics, and is quite happy to accept the concept of time going backward just as much as it goes forward. At which point the theory gets a little hairy, if one can follow it at all!

How fantastic that this story was written almost 140 years ago, and is pretty complex in its consideration of time and time travel. A groundbreaker indeed – and it certainly came onto the stage with a splash. It has the whole time paradox question, which leaves one chewing over it for a good while after reading, and is really, on the whole, quite complex.

An excellent, accessible read that is not – to me, at least – stilted by the language of 140 years hence, and for what it is, a prime example of time travel.


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