A Brief History of Time Travel Literature

Yesterday, Stephen King’s newest work, 11/22/63, a novel about a man who travels back in time via a storeroom to stop the JFK assassination, hit shelves. Inspired by this newest addition to the time travel literature genre, we got to thinking about a few of our favorite time travel stories, and particularly about all of the different ways those fictional mortals manage to thrust themselves back and forth in space-time. From our vantage, there are a few types of time travel that we see used over and over again: mechanical (time machines and the like), portal-based (stepping through some sort of floating hole in the space-time continuum), fantastical (ghosts or other unbelievable phenomena), magical/item-based (some sort of artifact that holds the power of time travel), and the simply unexplained (because why does it matter? Get to the cool future stuff already). There are hundreds of novels and short stories about or involving time travel, so these are a few of our favorites, plucked both from the beginnings of the genre and from contemporary literature. Click through to read our list, and let us know your own favorite time travel novels — or time travel methods — in the comments.

The Time Machine, H.G. Wells, 1895 – Mechanical

Though not the first instance of time travel in literature, and not even the first example of a time machine (that honor goes to Enrique Gaspar y Rimbau’s 1887 novel El Anacronopete), this is the novel that really brought time travel to the forefront of the public’s imagination. It makes sense, for while Wells didn’t dream up the concept, he did coin the term ‘time machine,’ and he also was the first to cement the idea of a machine that allows the user to travel back and forward purposefully, as opposed to randomly.