Type 1: “Walk in my shoes”

Mini Time Travel Series

Type 1: “Walk in my Shoes”

“Walk in my Shoes” is the defining trait of this type of time travel novel. In other words, experience what I’ve lived through. The use of time travel is for the sole purpose of teaching the protagonist a lesson.

This type of time travel has a very identifiable story structure. It begins in the present with a protagonist who doesn’t appreciate the importance of an historic event. The protagonist’s “I don’t care” attitude is what sets events in motion. For example, The Devil’s Arithmetic, by Jane Yolen, opens with the family celebrating the Passover Seder. Hannah is sick of remembering the past, and only grudgingly participates in the celebration.

Once the character’s attitude toward the event is established, he is sent back in time to learn its importance first hand. This is where the heart of the story begins. The protagonist is immersed into an unfamiliar historical setting, and his journey begins. Hannah’s journey starts when she symbolically opens the door to welcome the prophet Elijah and finds herself in a small Polish Village in 1942.

The rest of the novel is about the protagonist’s journey in “someone else’s shoes”. The protagonist must experience the events he previously didn’t appreciate or understand. Along the way, of course, his views alter. Then, only after the protagonist has learned a lesson, does he return to the present.

On a side note, a common trait in these novels are they almost always take place in more recent historical settings, usually the past 100-300 years. This is probably due to the fact that events that took place in the more distant past, say, during the Middle Ages or the Roman Empire, tend to have much less direct relevance to peoples’ lives today.

One last trait of this type time travel is it’s typically a character driven story as opposed to plot driven, which most time travel tend to be.


4 Responses to Type 1: “Walk in my shoes”

  1. Tricia says:

    Thanks for the great information. I look forward to all the posts in this series. I guess I didn’t realize there were so many different types of time travel. 😀

  2. Jennifer says:

    Yeah, you could lump them all together, but there really are very specific types of time travel and the type you use is typically defined (or at least determined to a degree) by your plot (and of course you can mix types :D)

    I’m starting to get together a list of time travel books and classify them by type. (Note: I hope to be able to in part do my PhD study on the time travel genre…there’s more to it, but this would be a start).

  3. […] Do miss any of the Time Travel Mini Series! Type 1: Walk in my Shoes […]

  4. Ron Edison says:

    One of my favorites along these lines is THE DEVIL IN VELVET, a time-traveling deal-with-the-devil mystery by John Dickson Carr. Not only does the protagonist go back in time (from 1925 to 1675), but he’s forced to inhabit someone else’s body. The owner of the body was not a nice guy and the protag has to deal with the baggage this guy created and figure a way out of his pact with the devil. Read it in HS and again in college but that was a long time ago.

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