Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Passage of Time

Passage of time is a big deal in most books.  For Albom, in The Time Keeper, it's essential.  Albom shows the passage of time in a very condensed form, because his main character is forced to watch for hundreds of thousands of years the passage of time, but then slows it down when the character has to live in time.  His character also creates time, which really makes you think.  We automatically register the passing of time; there are clocks everywhere.  We're obsessed with it, but there was a point in history when this wasn't so.

There are some books that you read the entire book, but only one day has passed.  A great example of this is James Joyce's Ulysses.  It's a book that ranges anywhere from 600-1000 pages (depending on the edition) but only one day, June 16th, passes in the book.  Dicken's A Christmas Carol is probably one of the most famous books that takes place in a single day. 

J.K. Rowling's new book, A Casual Vacancy (which we'll be covering in April), takes place within the span of a week.  Rowling indicates the time passing by heading up her chapters with the day of the week it is.  But then, interestingly enough, she stops and we have to deduce the day of the week ourselves.  It feels like months have passed, but in reality, it's a very little amount of time.

There are books where the time lines DON'T match up.  Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is famous for this kind of miss-match.  Though no actual dates are referenced in Tolstoy's book, lots of major events are.  He often tell us that "three months have passed" or something of the like.  Frequently, events don't match up with the passage of time he's provided.  One assumes it was done on purpose, but no one really knows for sure, or why.

In some ways, A Christmas Carol is also like this.  Each ghost come at the stroke of one. Presumably, on subsequent nights.

"Expect the first tomorrow, when the bell tolls one."
"Couldn't I take `em all at once, and have it over, Jacob?" hinted Scrooge. "Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third upon the next night when the last stroke of twelve has ceased to vibrate. Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!" -A Christmas Carol

Marley tells Scrooge that the ghosts are going to come but, supposedly, over three nights.  And what's more, Scrooge ends up going forward and back in time in his life.  Something that should have, at minimum, taken three nights, only took one night to do.  So the time that passes doesn't match up with the day Scrooge wakes up.

Time travel can also be an interesting way to handle time.  In The Time Traveler's Wife, Henry travels sporadically with no control over it, and often runs into people he hasn't met yet.  Or is asked to recall events that haven't actually happened to him yet.

Authors handle time in all sorts of ways, but inevitably, time actually becomes an extremely important factor in a lot of books, even if you the viewer doesn't necessarily notice the passage of it.

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