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Oop: Time Travelers Missing from My Book Time Travel

The odds that anyone’s favorite time travelers appear in the pages of Time Travel are, unfortunately, less than 100%. Perhaps much less. Some readers are already, graciously, pointing out the omissions.

One such is Alley Oop, the caveman hero of the comic strip with that name, created by V. T. Hamlin in 1932. He was not a time traveler right from the start. ooptimemachine4939At first he was just a caveman. But let Perry Bowker explain. He is a reader from Burlington, Ontario, and he has the whole story:

I want to point out a possible addition to the Philosophers and Pulps” chapter … I refer to the comic strip “Alley Oop,” which ran in daily papers from the 1930s to the present. The strip took its ultimate shape in the 1939 when the artist, V. T. Hamlin, introduced a peculiar time machine which had the ability to reach into the past, transporting caveman Oop from his prehistoric home, and later shuttling he and companions back and forth to various historic eras. Having quickly absorbed 20th century skills and attitudes, Oop became an explorer of sorts, transported to somewhere in the past, where he often interacted with historic figures like Cleopatra (well-endowed females were a feature of the artwork). The machine’s inventor, Dr. Wonmug, could follow the action on a TV monitor, and often rescued Oop from sticky situations, or not. As was common in funny papers, a story arc played out over weeks or months (a style regrettably almost all gone from comic strips today). Oop could have changed history — how would we ever know?
Oddly, as far as I know, Dr. Wonmug never explored the future with his device.

Clifford Simak paid tribute to Alley Oop by creating a debonair Neanderthal of that name in his 1968 novel, The Goblin Reservation. Wikipedia—the ultimate completist—provides a List of Alley Oop Time Travels.

I’m not a completist myself, obviously. Still, please do send in your missing time travelers.


  1. One time travel book I highly recommend but you don’t mention is Cloud Atlas, the novel by David Mitchell. It embodies six separate stories split in half, encompassing a distant past and distant future, and some stories in between. It is a great novel for time travel because the imaginative work it does is so hard. It was turned into a film starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry (how could you go wrong with that combination?), but didn’t earn a big box office number, I don’t think. I liked the film, but the novel got my attention in a major way. A full review is on my blog here:

  2. Matt Thorne says

    Not time travelers exactly, but have always found Melville’s discussion of the difference between human and celestial time in his novel Pierre (‘Chronologicals and Horogicals’) fascinating and it fits in with some of your other arguments. Very much enjoyed your book.

  3. Sam Browning says

    I very much enjoyed your Time Travel, and I’m looking forward to exploring some more of the cultural driftwood that this idea produced. (Next on my list, certainly, is The Peripheral.). One addition I would put in the canon would be the television series Lost, which explored the paradoxes and nonlinear storytelling in an original and sometimes mind-bending fashion.

  4. David Bassett says

    With reference to your Grandfather paradox, you should visit the BBC play ‘The flip side of Dominic Hide” in which our hero of the future goes back in time to the year 1980 and ends up being his own Great Great Grandfather.Loved the book by the way and will follow up on some of the books/stories mentioned

  5. Frank Ninivaggi says

    Dear Mr. Gleick: Loved the Time Travel book. As I was reading I kept adding to a list of things/persons/shows you could have included. This is not criticism, it is just information. Here is the list: Elon Musk, Cryogenics, An original episode of Stark Trek featuring a device called the ‘etonochron’,…. Monty Python’s episode on Deja Vu, Movies: Time Cop, In Time, The Lake House (where a man moves into a house and is able to communicate, via his mailbox, with a woman who lived there years before), Encino Man, The Picture of Dorian Gray, A ‘Tales from the Darkside’ episode where a man goes back into the past to try to stop the Vietnam War; A Hulu mini-series with the same objective, in which a man goes back to stop the JFK assassination, (James Franco, based on a Stephen King novel 11/22/63);; Michael Crichton’s story “TimeLine”, Ray Bradbury’s ‘Frost & Fire’,;; the movie Stargate, The Talking Rings in the original Time Machine, The original Planet of the Apes, Idiocracy, Captain Kangaroo, The Education of Henry Adama, A Twilight Zone Episode in which a man goes back to the past and meets a Buster Keaton character, 2001 A Space Oddysey, Watching Jack Benny reruns and realizing those folks were alive and well at that time, Demolition Man, The song ‘In the Year 2525’, The great program The TIme Tunnel, The reboot of The Time Machine, George Washington dying in 1799, The Dead Zone, where a man wakes up from a coma after years, Time After Time, Time and Again, Dead Again, The movie short “12:01PM” in which a man is caught living and repeating the same 59 minute time frame, due to a time/space upheaval called a time bounce;; The Fly, how time is treated in Minority Report, The Fly, the last poignant scene of Dr. Zhivago, Frequency, in which a man in 1999 is able to communicate with his late Dad in 1969, through an old radio. It was a pleasure.

  6. You mention, I believe, the 2012 film _Safety Not Guaranteed_ (with Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza, by Colin Trevorrow), but only obliquely and in passing — on p. 191.

    I’ve read your _Genius_, _Chaos_, _The Information_, and am now finishing your _Time Travel_. I can’t thank you enough for all your works — they have enriched my life perhaps more than you can know. Someday I would be honored to shake your hand.

  7. Just occurred to me. Time contraction occurs in the Cave of Montesinos, _Don Quixote_, Part 2, Chapters XXIII (1615). This may be the first instance of time being depicted as moving at different rates “simultaneously” in Western literature. Don Quixote has been within the Cave of Montesinos for three days, yet when he emerges, Sancho indicates only he’s been gone a little more than an hour. While this of course is not time travel per se, it is fascinating that Cervantes imagined this too, along with so much else.

  8. Rebecca Scarborough says

    You apparently missed Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series of novels which begin with a WWII nurse who accidentally travels back in time to 18th century Scotland. There are 8 published novels in the series with the 9th to be published in November, 2021.

  9. Linda Stehlik says

    Of course you could not include every time travel book in existence, I’m fascinated by the comments that have come up here. Our favorite time travel writer is Connie Willis. She started with a novella, “Firewatch,” about scientists who developed time travel and used it to go back and rescue things from history that were lost. That story and her books “Blackout” and “All Clear” were all set in London in the Blitz. The author really thinks through what consequences develop from their visits.
    My favorite one is The Doomsday Book, where a researcher goes back to study 1400s England. – I cry every time i re-read that.

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