Time of the Ghost - Spoilers, questions on the ending

Kyra Jucovy klj at sccs.swarthmore.edu
Thu Apr 5 01:47:38 EDT 2001


	Aiyee - now I'm going to have to step in and disagree with
everyone!  I can tell you now that this is going to be long.  Oh, dear.
	Time travel is clearly a problem.  It always is.  The major
problem is that there are so many ways of doing it, and when you start
reading a book, it's frequently fairly impossible to tell which way the
author's going to go about it.  There is the way that Melissa seems to be
arguing for, which is the multiple universes changing things kind of
way.  One of my favorite works along these lines is David Gerrold's _The
Man Who Folded Himself_, in which the main character gets to see all kinds
of universes and versions of himself - the scene where he watches
older versions of himself all hanging out together and slowly dying
off is very memorable, very depressing. . .  A good DWJ example that falls
fairly obviously along this line is Time City, in which it's _explicit_
that the changes which people make in the past are changing events,
putting nuclear weapons in the beginning of WWII and so forth.
	Then there's the, "what happens, happens," school, which Philip
seems to be arguing for, mostly.  A classic non-DWJ example is Heinlein's
"All You Zombies" - which actually shares its major plot point with _The
Man Who Folded Himself_, by the way, but done in a completely different
way.  I would say that _The Crown of Dalemark_ is a DWJ example, although
it's hardly as clear-cut as ToTC.  But it seems to me that this is the
point of the bit at the end wherein Maewen is thinking about how the One
had been using everyone's ideas, even Kankredin's (sadly, my brother
recently walked back to NY with my copy, so I can't check the exact
line).  In other words, it seems to me that Kankredin _did_ believe that
the past could be changed, which is why he got Duck (er, Wend, sorry) to
do what he did, but in doing so he was basically playing right into the
One's hands and only enabling what had already happened to happen.
	So which path do _I_ think _Time of the Ghost_ follows?  Well, the
characters, at least, are pretty clearly on the "no changing the
past" side.  Aside from the quotes already present in these discussions,
there is a good passage about this when Sally first comes back to herself
in hospital and is talking to Cart.  Cart begins explaining that people in
books are always talking about time travel and changing the past, but that
it doesn't actually work that way - I thought this was amusing
because it references directly the whole problem with figuring out
what type of time travel is going on that I was just discussing ;-) (I
just lent the book to Kyla, so I can't check the exact line here
either.)  Of course, just because the characters believe this hardly means
it's so, though.
	On the other hand, I still am inclined to disagree with Melissa in
this case - although let me state at the beginning of this argument
that I am by no means completely certain!  For example, in this same
passage with Cart, Cart does express her memory that the ghost had come
back again - how could she remember that if Sally actually hadn't come
back again in that time stream?  Imo's confusion about the thunderstorm
also seems to me to suggest that something did happen, that she did go
back.  She certainly seems to think she did, at least, even if she
doesn't remember very well. I suppose Melissa could be right and it could
just be a rationalization.  But it seems a lot more likely to me that Imo
was blanking out about what had happened because, well, it was a really
disturbing experience for her!  I mean, clearly at the time she was still
sufficiently under the control of Phyllis that she did care about becoming
a pianist - that's made obvious from her reaction when she doesn't get any
response from Monigan.  Moreover, she's genuinely scared of thunderstorms,
she's really upset for other reasons (like Julian), and then she also went
into the future for a few minutes.  In general, these seem to me like
sufficient reasons why she might want to forget what happened - and I'll
get to another one in a couple of seconds.
	Because I also definitely  _do_ think that what happens in the
book is important and had to happen in order for Sally to be saved.  Not
in the sense that the past is changed, but in the way that time works in
this book.  And I don't think that the order of events in this book is
necessarily supposed to be viewed in a conventional manner.  Sally herself
realizes how Monigan sees all times at once.  For a normal human being,
time runs in a certain order - for Monigan, however, it isn't so much of
an ordered thing.  Hence, what Imo and Sally herself manage to do are
significant.  They don't change the past - Sally was, in the human way of
viewing things, always going to be saved.  But they do change what
happens, at the time when it happens - I mean, in other words, that if
Sally had not travelled to the past or Imo to the future, Sally would not
have been saved.  The fact that, for Sally, that involves doing something
at a time earlier than the time that she decides to do it is immaterial,
because time as a human concept simply isn't important to Monigan.
	Hmm. . . it's a shame I gave my book away to Kyla ;-).  It just
occurred to me that I don't remember anything directly contradicting the
idea that Monigan was "all along" trying for _both_ Julian and Sally.  In
other words, maybe Julian was doomed from the start, and did in fact die
before Sally did anything, but Sally would have died _too_ had she not
done anything?  Is there anything in the book that makes this obviously
untrue?
	Back to my reasons why Imo (and the others) are not entirely clear
one what happened in the past - I certainly think it's possible it might
also be Monigan's influence.  She might be trying to stop Sally from
realizing what she has to do by making it unclear what she did
do.  Since in my interpretation, time doesn't matter to Monigan, this
makes more sense than it sounds like - what Monigan does in what is, to
the humans, the future, affects what already happened to them in the past
- although not by changing the past - just by affecting what happened in
the first place.  For Monigan, nothing has happened - the whole of
time is just one big thing which she deals with all at once.
	Jacob is probably going to be very unhappy with this
interpretation - more determinism.  Sally doesn't, as an adult, have
any choice but to go back and fetch Imogen - she couldn't not do
so.  Well, I'm going to have to plead vaguely guilty on that charge - I
was raised as a determinist, or at least as close to one as you get in a
person who believes in multiple universes anyway - I suppose you can say
that I am a determinist, but I don't believe in fate.  But I also have to
admit that the same father who raised me that way has recently managed to
turn me halfway into Great-Aunt Lucy of the Bagthorpe Saga - in thinking
about this argument, it occurred to me that I honestly am somewhat
convinced that time doesn't exist. . . so this kind of reasoning may be
less sensible to saner people than it seems to me.  It doesn't bother me
that DWJ may have postulated a world in which it is impossible to change
the past - because I think Monigan's attitude makes it pretty clear that
our way of viewing past and future is only one way of looking at the
world, and not necessarily the most correct or best way, either. . . but I
could easily understand that I am comfortable with this interpretation for
solely personal philosophical reasons ;-).
	Whew.  Now I have to wonder whether I made any sense at all.  Oh,
well.

						---Kyra


"Crucification was Rome's way of punishing criminals - the only reason
it's so glorified in religion is because they happened to do it to
Christ.  If they'd hung him up on a meat hook instead, then meat hooks
would be. . ."

		---Amber Michelle Kitch, Mother of All Humanity

On Wed, 4 Apr 2001 Philip.Belben at powertech.co.uk wrote:
> I agree time is fluid though - all times running side by side for Monigan.  So
> it is debatable.
> 
> > about something that Doesn't Really Matter, and there's no suggestion that
> > DWJ wants the reader to believe this.  While we can't always trust Sally's
> > understanding of events, we're never led to believe that her feelings and
> > instincts are wrong.  As the ghost, she's mistaken about who she is, but
> > she's not at all confused about Julian being evil or that something really
> > bad is happening and will happen if she doesn't act.
> 
> I agree that this is a problem.  But it is a problem anyway unless there is a
> good way to distinguish Imogen's gift.  I don't think the musical career was
> sufficient to buy back Sally's life - otherwise why would Monigan have needed to
> claim Julian?
> 
> > Here's what I think.  I said that Imogen's gift wasn't retroactive, but I
> > think that's wrong.  Back to Imogen being uncertain whether she did or did
> > not go back to Monigan:  As I read it, Sally still had to persuade Imogen to
> > give her gift, otherwise it would have been done already and wouldn't have
> > mattered.  I think Imogen didn't just not remember, I think adult-Imogen
> > actually *hadn't* gone back to Monigan.  But the Imogen who gave Monigan her
> > career was child-Imogen, and nothing she did altered HER past.  She came
> > forward into the present to receive adult-Imogen's instruction; she went
> > back to the time she'd left, and went forward from there.  She *couldn't*
> > change the past because for her, it hadn't happened yet.  It was still her
> > future.  And once she'd done that, she altered the *future* that Sally and
> > everyone in the hospital room was living.  It was instantaneously as though
> > it had always been that way.  I think that moment of quantum uncertainty is
> > why Imogen didn't have a clear memory of the past, and that her babbling
> > about thunderstorms is how she resolved it for herself.

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