Outlander Theory: A Non-Genetic Basis for Time Travel

Outlander, airing on Starz and based on a series of books in by the same name written by Diana Galbadon, introduces its own, unique version of time travel. At certain points on the Earth’s surface, certain people are able to slip through time at the expense of a gemstone. Our protagonist, Claire Beauchamp-Randall-Fraser, does so at the show’s beginning – passing from 1946 into 1743: 203 years earlier. Later on, several other characters also prove capable of time travel: Claire’s daughter Brianna, Roger Wakefield, their child Jeremiah, Geillis Duncan, and a handful of other time travellers that Claire runs into.

It is often suggested that the fact that Claire begat Brianna, who begat Jeremiah – as well as that Geillis begat a long line which culminate in Roger (whom it turns out comes from a long line of time travelers) – means that this is a genetic trait and those with the gene for it – Jeremiah presumably with two copies – become capable time travelers. After all, they can feel the warmth of the stones and can hear the buzzing while the non-travelers are completely incapable of sensing anything but the sudden vanishing of time travelers before their eyes. However this seems a stretch too far for disbelief. What proteins is this gene going to code for that somehow enables time travel? It would have to somehow enable some sort of energy that permits the matter of the gemstones to fuel a high energy event pushing them through the stones. I’m stuck here, like Kevin Garvey in Leftovers, sitting before God, disbelieving that singing a karaoke song will bring him back to life “because it’s stupid.” No gene can do that.

So, I am going to propose an alternate theory to the genetic theory – which still explains it’s correlation with genetics. I’m probably wrong – I predicted wildly different things for Game of Thrones than what happened – despite still thinking my theories would have been better than what actually happened. I cannot promise that this is what is going on, but it would be much more elegant than the more likely, and frankly silly, option.

My theory suggests that there is at some point, a prime timeline. In this timeline, the events of history happen in a particular fashion until, at some point along it, we have our first time traveler. This traveler may very well have needed a human sacrifice, as Geillis Duncan believed, or some other means of causing it to happen because they were still on the prime timeline. However, when they go back in time, it creates, in that instant, a parallel timeline in which our first time traveler finds themselves in a time where they don’t belong. This assumes that there isn’t a single timeline where time travelers were not always out of place and find it impossible to change history because history happened the way it did precisely because they were there.

At this point, they are free to alter history. They can kill people who should have lived, save people who should have died, and have children with people who would have died long before they were born – or possibly with people who wouldn’t have born until they died if one can travel to the future. People who aren’t alive at a specific date on the prime timeline are alive at that date on the new timeline.

This is precisely where I am suggesting that new time travelers are created – when they exist at some point where they did not in the prime timeline, then they don’t belong there in that time at all. Our first time traveler, presuming they went to a time before their own birth, didn’t belong there and should no longer need the ritual they have. Through the very fact that they don’t belong in that time, they become free to travel from that time outside of its normal passage because they are no longer bound to that timeline.

Geillis traveled back in time and was thus able to conceive a child with Dougal MacKenzie; that child could not have existed in the prime timeline because its two parents did not live at the same time on that timeline and there was no sperm freezing in 18th century Scotland. As a result, that child did not belong in that time and could travel – but any child it had, as a result of one parent not belonging and could not even exist on that prime timeline, also could not exist on that prime timeline and thus could travel. Therefore, all of Geillis’ descendents must be able to time travel. Brianna was also born of an impossible union between Jamie and Claire, and thus didn’t belong in any time. As such, none of her descendents can belong in any time. In this respect, time travel appears to be genetic even though it is not.

But there is another way for someone to become a time traveler then. For example, let us presume that neither of Claire’s parents were time travelers, so she rightfully existed in the prime timeline. They both died in a car crash when she was five years old – what if she was in the car in the prime timeline and died, however, a time traveler somehow caused her to not be in the car? Well, then Claire would belong in the period between 1918 and 1923 and find herself unable to travel as a mere toddler; but once the event that she should have died in happened she no longer belonged in that period of time and, thus, she became a time traveler in the moment her parents died.

If we ever see a time traveler who through an impossible union creates a child unable to time travel, then that would suggest that it is indeed genetic, because the gene didn’t get passed on and my theory cannot account for such an event. Alternatively, if we see that Jamie suddenly is capable of time travel, or Young Ian perhaps, as we know for a fact they haven’t been able to time travel before and it is strong evidence that they passed some event on the prime timeline where they died but the existence of time travelers prevented that death, making it so that they no longer belong in the time they are in.

Of course, you might be wondering about Jamie and Claire suggesting they have saved one another’s lives on more than one occasion. Doesn’t this mean that Jamie should have died before he went to the stones with Claire and couldn’t hear the buzzing? After all, without Claire time traveling she could not have saved his life. Not necessarily. Assuming that he indeed would have died those times, it would also require that he wasn’t in the predicament because of Claire time traveling in the first place. If Jamie wouldn’t have been in danger of death in the first place, he wouldn’t need Claire to save him.

This also brings up the issue of the house fire – we could go into the 1780s and Jamie might still be unable to hear the stones, whereas they supposedly died in the 1770s at some point when their house burnt down. First, we don’t know that they actually died and there are theories that it was misreported or they even faked their own deaths. Second, without Claire traveling through time, she surely couldn’t die in a housefire with Jamie before she was ever born and Jamie might have lived elsewhere and remained alive long after in the prime timeline.

Rather, the biggest stick in the mud seems to be the fact that Frank found the obituary before Claire traveled back for the second time. This points toward a static timeline – and a fatalistic one at that – where time travelers must travel back in time to create the history they know later on in life. By the fact that the timeline had Claire already travel back in time a second time it at least appears that there is a single timeline which shatters this theory. However, if this is a Claire born in a secondary timeline, it could have been a completely different instance of Claire who was mentioned in that obituary. This simply means that this is not a special instance of Claire, but rather that she was born into a timeline where a different instance of her had already traveled back.

In order to work this out: start with a near original Claire – not the one from the prime timeline, but one from the first one in which she time traveled. She was born into a timeline where those events had never happened, despite not being on the prime timeline. She travels back to 1743 and creates a new timeline, travels back to the future creating a third. In that timeline, Frank could have never found the obituary, because it did not yet exist. However, he is still a womanizer and leaves the emotionally distant Claire only to die in a car accident so Claire still travels back a second time, creating a fourth timeline. This timeline creates the obituary. Our Claire that we actually watch must be born in at least the second timeline mentioned there – so that when she returns to Frank he is living in a timeline where Claire had already returned. It’s convoluted, but possible, and much more interesting than the strictly deterministic universe that would otherwise be required.

Is this how time travel works? Only Diana Galbadon can tell us. But for me, it’s back to studying rationalism and irrationalism in way too much detail.

Featured image is fair use.

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