By way of wrapping up last week’s discussion of romantic love in science fiction, or the lack thereof, I want to highlight a sub-genre that seems to grasp the power of the emotional bond between a man and woman devoted to each other: The time-travel story.
In a world where romantic love is defined by hormone-charged dalliances, throwaway relationships of convenience, and spur-of-the-moment “hookups,” the idea of a love that endures across the years in defiance of the ravages of time can seem alien indeed. Yet, I think human beings, deep down, long for love that lasts. Wedding vows that can seem trite and unrealistic in our cynical modern culture still resonate with our souls: “…to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish ’till death do us part.”
Last week, I objected to the “science fiction romance” as lacking a substantial speculative element–it may be set in an exotic locale somewhere beyond known space, but it doesn’t use that extraordinary opportunity in a way that makes a difference. There’s form, but no substance.
Enter the time-travel story. It’s often a romance, or has a romance embedded in it. It’s a metaphor writ large, the story of two people struggling to hold onto each other across the years…or centuries. Love that is figuratively and literally timeless. Love that endures despite the passage of time and its inexorable corrosive force. There are difficulties. Some might protest that time travel is silly, inherently paradoxical, and lacking in common-sense.
To that I would answer, “Big deal. So is love.” And that only makes the metaphor stronger. Love flies in the face of common sense and our own mortality. It is powerful despite our weaknesses, and it doesn’t give up no matter how vanishing the odds of success. As Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 13, “Love is patient…It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Finding examples of romance in a time-travel story isn’t difficult, whether we’re talking about books, movies, or television. Here are a few:
“Somewhere in Time”: In this film adaptation of the novel Bid Time Return, by Edward Matheson, a self-absorbed playwright is smitten by the image of a woman in an old photograph and employs a kind of self-hypnosis to unstick himself from time and travel into the past to meet her. Although the premise is a little lightweight, the romance works, supported by some lavish cinematography of northern Michigan’s Mackinac Island and a musical score that plucks at the heartstrings.
The Forever War: Joe Haldeman’s novel is set centuries into the future and told through the eyes of a soldier endlessly fighting a mysterious alien race. It’s primarily an allegory of the author’s experience in and after the Vietnam War. There’s a strong love story at its heart, though, a romance both hampered and facilitated by lifespans extended hundreds of years via time dilation from near-lightspeed travel.
“Back to the Future”: The cinematic adventures of Doc Brown and Marty McFly focus on Marty’s growth and enlightenment from hot-headed idiot to someone who understands the value of friendship, family, and, yes, love, as he snarls and unsnarls the threads of past and future. In Part III, absent-minded Professor Brown meets his match in a forward-thinking Old West schoolmarm–it’s a sweet and adventuresome love-story-within-a-story.
Star Trek, “The City on the Edge of Forever”: A personal Trek favorite, one of a couple of stories where the womanizing Kirk stumbles into genuine love, though it’s sadly torn from him in the end to save human history from an unspeakable alteration. Of course, the good ship Enterprise is Kirk’s only enduring love, which might come up again in next week’s column.
I’ll leave mention of everyone’s favorite time-tripping Doctor to our resident fans.
Plenty of examples, but what about an exemplar, a story that captures the enduring quality of love I’ve been talking about? Here’s a possibility:
The Time Traveler’s Wife: I wanted to read Audrey Niffenegger’s novel first, but my lovely wife beat me to the punch and rented the movie. The synopsis is linked here, for sake of brevity, but this is a story about a man whose peculiar affliction sends him bouncing backward and forward in time, and his one true anchor is the woman who loves him, never knowing when he’ll vanish and when he’ll return–or what age he might be when they’re reunited. She waits, and endures, and they both struggle with the challenges of their disjointed life while cherishing every moment they share together.
The critics didn’t show much love to the film version, but I liked it. I even got a little misty-eyed a couple of times, and that doesn’t happen to me very often. Having spent much of my married life in the military, with all the short-notice travel and frequent separations that entails, the story felt poignantly familiar–I may not jump around in time, but I know the difficulties of life on an uncertain calendar, and the profound joy of finding a person willing to share that life with me, even though it often means waiting and enduring, holding it all together in my absence.
She is a gift from God, and no matter how far or long we are apart, I will always and forever return to her.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Next week: alien gbznetnxyn.