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A Traveller in Time by Allison Uttley

If ever the term “time slip” applied to a book, it’s this one: Penelope Taberner Cameron slips in and out of two time periods, the twentieth century and the late sixteenth century, like butter slipping about on a plate. She never knows exactly when or how she will slip out of her own time at Thackers, the Derbyshire farm that belongs to her great aunt and uncle, and into another time, the time of Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, and the Spanish Armada. And no one in either period seems to worry too much about Penelope’s odd absences and re-appearances. It’s a sort of ghostly time travel, although it’s clear that Penelope never becomes a “ghost” in either time that she visits.

This British classic was published in 1939, and the pacing and language reflect the publishing date. Penelope’s adventures, and indeed her personality, are rather languid and slow-moving, even though the excitement of a plot to rescue Mary Queen of Scots from her English captivity does something to enliven the novel. A lot of time is spent describing farm life in the 1930’s as Penelope and her sister and brother come to spend their summer holiday, and then an even longer term, with Aunt Tissie and Uncle Barnabas. Then, there’s also a lot of description of what it was like to live in Elizabethan England. I can see how some children and teens would grow impatient with all of the descriptive passages, but I loved it all, as well as the historical aspects of the novel.

There was a BBC series of five episodes made in 1978 based on this book by Ms. Uttley, but it’s not widely available outside of Britain. Alison Uttley was also a prolific author of very popular books for younger children in England, including a series of books about Sam Pig and another about Little Grey Rabbit.

Wikipedia contrasts time slip novels like A Traveller in Time, where the protagonist has no control or agency in going from one time to another, and time travel books, in which characters use a device like a time machine or a magic talisman to make the time travel happen. Even with time travel books, however, the device often gets lost or malfunctions, leaving the characters marooned in another time period. In Traveller in Time, Penelope worries about getting stuck in the 1500’s, and at one climactic point she almost dies while she’s visiting the sixteenth century, an event which she thinks would surely cause her to also die in the twentieth century. Time slipping and time traveling is fun to read about, but I think it would make my head hurt if it actually happened to me.

If you could time slip or time travel, what time period would you like to visit? What is your favorite time slip or time travel book? (Mine are the Connie Willis books: The Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout and All Clear.)

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