It seems only fitting that we are on a time machine kick for Throwback Thursday, ScienceFiction.com’s ongoing column celebrating the great science fiction of the past. As such, we are going to talk about “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” by Lewis Padgett.
So far we’ve talked about time traveling stories with classic paradoxes and self-fulfilling destinies, and stories where changing the past changes the future. “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” is a little different, and very interesting, especially since it was written in 1943.
In this story, a scientist from millions of years in the future is attempting to send a box of educational toys to the past. After he thinks he fails twice, he gives up, and our story follows the two places these boxes went: the middle of the 19th and 20th century.
In the 20th century, a pair of siblings find the box, begin to play with the toys, and their brain patterns are forever altered. Much of the plot centers around the parents worry about how their kids are changing and to what extent. The children have strange ideas that any science fiction fan would love, namely why do humans choose to live in this time and space of Earth.
The other box finds its way to a young girl named Alice. If you recognize that the title of this short story is a line from the Jabberwocky, you probably know exactly which Alice this is. For those of you who are just catching up, it’s strongly implied that it is THE Alice. She learns a verse from the box and tells it to her “Uncle Charles” (which is Lewis Carroll’s real name).
When the children in the 20th century read this poem, they recognize it as a formula for time travel, and they are last heard giggling before they make use of their new found knowledge.
“Mimsy Were the Borogoves” doesn’t have a strong narrative plot in that there really isn’t a conflict, or a rising action toward anything, but it is still a very interesting take on a time travel story. Where we mostly see self-fulfilling prophecies, and main characters having to deal with the consequences of their meddling in the past, this short story just bypasses it and gives us this wonderful idea that given the right circumstances we too could travel through time.
It’s a great story. If you like time travel fiction at all, I would suggest picking it up. And if that doesn’t convince you to, you can have it read to you by William Shatner.