Time travel stories are the stories in which people get lost in the dimension of time (and space). Time travel stories seem to have more with the fantasy writing, but they, in fact, may present us with a very realistic depiction of contemporary society and men. Authors of this kind of literature do that in not so obvious way, for the facts they want to exhibit lie hidden beneath the improbability of time travel, and comical situations the characters who travel through time usually get into.
The source of comic lies in the situations where a character finds his usual behavior and beliefs contrasted and often confronted with those of an alien surroundings he finds himself into. From this kind of social, cultural and temporal misunderstanding rises a comical situation which the character finds difficult to manage, and therefore looks silly, or finds the society he got into to be that way. But behind these comic, light-hearted situations lurks the fact that shows that the cause of this type of misunderstanding lies in the rigidity of the characters. It shows how people are often not able to understand different social rules and customs, and therefore stick to their usual patterns of behavior, which makes them unable to adapt and empathize with people unlike themselves, which is not funny at all.
The characters in time travel novels are somewhat stereotyped as typical representatives of their societies. This occurs because the character's personality and behavior are strongly opposed to different social rules, so what is taken as most ordinary and common in one society, and often goes without giving any notion to it, becomes highlighted and very obvious in a different setting. That's how Hank Morgan is a typical man from industrial Connecticut, or how Arthur Dent is a typical Englishman from the second part of the 21st century.
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Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee on King Arthur's Court"- Hank Morgan is this type of character- lost in time and rigid in his behavior and beliefs. He finds himself listening to the jokes of Sir Dinadan in king Arthur's court. Hank Morgan finds Sir Dinadan far from being funny and is utterly bored with his stories.
"Sir Dinadan was so proud of his exploit that he could not keep from telling over and over again, to weariness, how the immortal idea happened to occur to him; and as is the way with humorists of his breed, he was still laughing at it after everybody else had got through. He was so set up that he concluded to make a speech -- of course a humorous speech. I think I never heard so many old played-out jokes strung together in my life. He was worse than the minstrels, worse than the clown in the circus. It seemed peculiarly sad to sit here, thirteen hundred years before I was born, and listen again to poor, flat, worm-eaten jokes that had given me the dry gripes when I was a boy thirteen hundred years afterwards. It about convinced me that there isn't any such thing as a new joke possible. Everybody laughed at these antiquities -- but then they always do; I had noticed that, centuries later. However, of course the scoffer didn't laugh -- I mean the boy. No, he scoffed; there wasn't anything he wouldn't scoff at. He said the most of Sir Dinadan's jokes were rotten and the rest were petrified. I said "petrified" was good; as I believed, myself, that the only right way to classify the majestic ages of some of those jokes was by geologic periods. But that neat idea hit the boy in a blank place, for geology hadn't been invented yet. However, I made a note of the remark, and calculated to educate the commonwealth up to it if I pulled through. It is no use to throw a good thing away merely because the market isn't ripe yet.
Hank Morgan describes Sir Dinadan's jokes as played-out and heard hundred times before. And that is true, but what Hank does not realize is that perhaps those jokes seem rotten and old, because they are really old- ten centuries or more. Hank Morgan shows his rigidity in regard to people different from himself. He wastes no time in describing Sir Dinadan's jokes as bad and boring, but it never occurs to him that some people may have a different sense of humor than his, or may not have foreknowledge he possesses so that they can understand his jokes, like the page boy who doesn't quite catch his joke about classifying Sir Dinadan's jokes by geological periods, simply because he does not know what geology is. Nevertheless, he finds his own jokes funny, and decides to keep this particular one in mind if he ever gets medieval people to discover and learn about geology. Hank Morgan thinks it would be useful for these people to deal with geology, for it is useful for him and other men of his industrial civilization. He is simply not able to realize and acknowledge a society different from his own. He sees rising industrial America and its democracy as the best possible way of ordering human society, and finds Medieval England and feudalism repulsive and terrible. He does everything in his might to reform it, never doubting whether he is right or wrong.
"A short while before this, Arthur Dent had set out from his cabin
in search of a cup of tea. It was not a quest he embarked upon with a great deal of optimism., because he knew that the only source of hot drinks on the entire ship was a benighted piece of equipment produced by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation. It was called a Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer, and he had encountered it before.
It claimed to produce the widest possible range of drinks
personally matched to the tastes and metabolism of whoever cared
to use it. When put to the test, however, it invariably produced
a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but nit
quite, entirely unlike tea.
He attempted to reason with the thing.
"Tea," he said.
"Share and Enjoy," the machine replied and provided him with yet
another cup of the sickly liquid.
He threw it away.
"Share and enjoy," the machine repeated and provided him with another one.
"Share and Enjoy" is the company motto of the hugely successful Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Complaints division, which now covers the major land masses of three medium sized planets and is
the only part of the Corporation to have shown a consistent
profit in recent years.
The motto stands - or rather stood - in three mile high illuminated letters near the Complaints Department spaceport on Eadrax. Unfortunately its weight was such that shortly after it was erected, the ground beneath the letters caved in and they dropped for nearly half their length through the offices of many talented young complaints executives - now deceased.
The protruding upper halves of the letters now appear, in the
local language, to read "Go stick your head in a pig", and are no longer illuminated, except at times of special celebration.
Arthur threw away a sixth cup of the liquid.
"Listen, you machine," he said, "you claim you can synthesize any
drink in existence, so why do you keep giving me the same
"Nutrition and pleasurable sense data," burbled the machine.
"Share and Enjoy."
"It tastes filthy!"
"If you have enjoyed the experience of this drink," continued the
machine, "why not share it with your friends?"
"Because," said Arthur tartly, "I want to keep them. Will you try
to comprehend what I'm telling you? That drink ..."
"That drink," said the machine sweetly, "was individually
tailored to meet your personal requirements for nutrition and pleasure."
"Ah," said Arthur, "so I'm a masochist on diet am I?"
"Share and Enjoy."
"Oh shut up."
"Will that be all?"
Arthur decided to give up.
"Yes," he said.
Then he decided he'd be dammed if he'd give up.
"No," he said, "look, it's very, very simple ... all I want ...
is a cup of tea. You are going to make one for me. Keep quiet and listen."
And he sat. He told the Nutri-Matic about India, he told it about China, he told it about Ceylon. He told it about broad leaves drying in the sun. He told it about silver teapots. He told it
about summer afternoons on the lawn. He told it about putting in
the milk before the tea so it wouldn't get scalded. He even told
it (briefly) about the history of the East India Company.
"So that's it, is it?" said the Nutri-Matic when he had finished.
"Yes," said Arthur, "that is what I want."
"You want the taste of dried leaves boiled in water?"
"Er, yes. With milk."
"Squirted out of a cow?"
"Well, in a manner of speaking I suppose..."
"I'm going to need some help with this one," said the machine
tersely. All the cheerful burbling had dropped out of its voice
and it now meant business.
"Well, anything I can do," said Arthur.
"You've done quite enough," the Nutri-Matic informed him.
It summoned up the ship's computer.
"Hi there!" said the ship's computer.
The Nutri-Matic explained about tea to the ship's computer. The
computer boggled, linked logic circuits with the Nutri-Matic and
together they lapsed into a grim silence.
Arthur watched and waited for a while, but nothing further happened.
He thumped it, but still nothing happened.
Eventually he gave up and wandered up to the bridge.
In the empty wastes of space, the Heart of Gold hung still.
Around it blazed the billion pinpricks of the Galaxy. Towards it
crept the ugly yellow lump of the Vogon ship.
Just as Hank Morgan represents the typical American man from the industrial era, so does Arthur Dent stand for an average British guy from the 21st century. Arthur Dent gets even more misplaced in space and time than Hank Morgan does- he gets to travel into future and past all throughout the galaxy. That quite messes his mind up, but Dent manages as well to mess up quite a few things as well. He is the same sort of a character like Twain's time traveler Morgan- Dent finds difficulty in adapting to a strange environment and thinks his way of life and his society best possible. He is rigid in his habits and expects everything in the universe to work like it does in Great Britain. He asks the
computer to produce him a cup of tea, for he finds it as terrible to be deprived of tea as it is to spend five years in a swamp.
"Later, I was thrown off a spaceship. Still in my dressing gown.
Rather than the space suit one would normally expect. Shortly after that I discovered that my planet had originally been built for a bunch of mice. You can imagine how I felt about that. I was then shot at for a while and blown up. In fact I have been blown up ridiculously often, shot at, insulted, regularly
disintegrated, deprived of tea, and recently I crashed into a
swamp and had to spend five years in a damp cave."
So the computer tries its best to make a cup of tea, but Arthur Dent is not satisfied. So the machine takes all the power from the starship in order to make tea. Too bad the ship gets attacked in that moment, and all the people on the starship, including Arthur who is still wining about a proper cup of tea, escape utter destruction merely by luck. The situation is extreme and very funny as well- no one would think a simple cup of tea could be a cause of such a fatal destruction. But underneath this comical situation Arthur Dent, rigid in his behavior, does not realize that exactly this kind of behavior may cause disasters in another time and space, like this cup of tea that almost kills everyone on the starship. Arthur Dent travels the galaxy and time, sees new worlds and species, but still has difficulty escaping the routed patterns of behavior he is used to back home.
Time travel stories present the readers with fantasy worlds and comic situations. This kind of a story setting and comic usually has a surface and a deeper level, which reveals facts about human nature, that are not so pleasant and obvious to us, ego- centered humans.
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