The Accidental Time Traveler

I tried time travel for the first time after reading E. Nesbit’s fantastic novel, The Enchanted Castle. There was a castle in our neighborhood, which seemed a sign of magical possibility. It was called Ardenia, an old red brick apartment house, with the false front of a castle, and a wall shielding its modest form from the eyes of passers-by.  Ardenia’s gloomy, narrow yard extended all the way between our back-yard fence and that of the neighbors on the street behind us. We were mad about Ardenia.  We tried incantations. We followed a black cat around the garden. We left messages in a hollow tree. Soon we gave up, because it was boring waiting for magic to happen. Magic, we learned, mostly occurred in books.

As an adult, I have mastered the art of literary time travel. When I reread Ovid’s Metamorphoses, an epic linked by the theme of change in classical myth, I am transported by the elegant, alien Latin to the alien culture of Rome.  My Rome, part imaginary, part historical, is almost wholly created by Roman poets. The colors are even different:  purpureus can be purple, but it is also crimson.  And  Ovid’s Rome is peopled by enchanted beings, nymphs, dryads, malicious gods and goddesses, monsters, and beings changed into trees, flowers, birds, and monsters.

Literary time travel can take you anywhere.  On a recent rereading of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, I was delighted to get reacquainted with Catherine Morland.  Catherine, an avid, occasionally silly, fan of Gothic novels, is as intent on finding real-life Gothic tropes as I am on time travel.  Here’s an example of a bookish dialogue between Catherine and her friend Isabella. 

Isabella begins,

“Have you gone on with Udolfo?”

“Yes, I have been reading it ever since I woke; and I am got to the black veil.”

“Are you indeed?  How delightful!  Oh!  I would not tell you what is behind the black veil for the world!  Are you wild to know?”

“Oh! Yes, quite; what can it be?  But do not tell me – I would not be told on any account.  I know it must be a skeleton….”

Where will I travel next? Perhaps to Baltimore. I am eager to reread Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist, my favorite of her novels.  I love the concept of a travel book writer who doesn’t like to travel, and who is cozier and snugger in  his hometown of Baltimore  than he probably was in his mother’s womb.  I have been to lovely Baltimore:  it is one of the most underrated cities in the U.S.

And so let’s go to Baltimore, where Tyler’s characters await us!

3 thoughts on “The Accidental Time Traveler”

  1. I love to time travel through older books also. I also love Anne Tyler, whose novels are now becoming part of that historical past even though she’s still alive, but the whole of Baltimore is in them back to the late 1890s especially in a novel like Searching for Caleb. It is hard for me to fathom how the Victorians read their novels when they were about contemporary times and how much different they are for us as time travel experiences.

    Tyler Tichelaar

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