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Time and Again

February 2, 2009

Since today is Groundhog Day, we were thinking of watching the movie. This movie is so well-known that “Groundhog Day” has entered the cultural vocabulary as referring to a particular type of time travel: being caught in an infinite loop and reliving the same experience over and over.

What is your favorite movie about time travel? Mine would probably be “Back to the Future,” “The Final Countdown,” or perhaps “The Lake House.” Of course, there are many others, including “Somewhere in Time” and the classic, “The Time Machine.”

“The Time Machine” was adapted from the novel by H.G. Wells which defines the genre, but in American literature there is another very fine example: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain. I have always enjoyed the chapter where Hank, the Yankee, is trying to explain the concept of inflation to sixth-century peasants who think a penny is an excellent wage for a day’s work. Film cannot possibly capture the fun of the verbal slapstick in Twain’s dialogue as Hank predicts a time in the future when a mechanic’s average wage will be an astonishing 200 cents a day.

In 1890, the year after Twain’s book came out, Ambrose Bierce published a short story entitled “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” This tale set the standard for journeys through compressed time, wherein a character lives a lifetime in a single moment of imagination.

All of these forms of fiction illustrate the mystery of time and the magic of literary and cinematic art. A good book is, after all, a time machine in itself.

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