Through the Looking Glass Darkly: The Convergence of Past and Present in Connie Willis’s Time-Travel Novels
Connie Willis’s time-travel fiction imagines that in the not-too-distant future, Oxford University students will perform historical ethnography by literally traveling bodily to the past. Whether depicting the Black Death or the London Blitz, Willis proves an enthusiastic consumer of dark tourism, incorporating museum sites into her plots and historical interpretations. Using detailed descriptions, counterfactuals, and the genres of fairy stories and farce, Willis immerses her readers in catastrophic moments in the British past. She borrows Barbara Tuchman’s notion that the past is a “distant mirror” for those in the present and future. For people trapped in time, commemoration and deep empathy offer salvation—both for those whose time has passed and those whose time has yet to come.