Monday, July 15, 2019

The Outcasts of Time

The Outcasts of Time, Ian Mortimer

After enjoying Mortimer’s The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England, I turned to his historical fiction novel, The Outcasts of Time.

It is quite a different read, and while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I was left pondering aspects of it days later.

It is December 1348 and John of Wrayment and his brother William Beard are travelling near Exeter, and have been exposed to plague. John is the given the choice by his own voice to either spend his final seven days in his own time, or live his final seven days, each one consecutively 99 years into the future. John is told it is his conscience speaking, but he has no idea whether he is making a deal with the devil or with God.

However, in complete uncertainty about his state before God, and thinking he can save his own soul, and perhaps others, he agrees to the deal and go into the future. And so, Mortimer now has a way to bring a character from the Middle Ages up to 1944 in 99-year intervals. Each day, William and John awake in the same place they fell asleep, but almost a century later. Every time they feel more and more removed from their own experience, they never have the right clothes and are regularly mistreated. But they also experience the kindness of others and the cognition of humanity in each place. They become increasingly aware that the morals and beliefs they so strongly hold, are constantly being challenged and changed, as the ages pass. It seems England is always at war, there are always kings in power and poor who are downtrodden.

Throughout there are some very interesting comments on faith and belief, as their middle aged Catholic beliefs are challenged by Protestant Reformed and then Enlightenment thinking. Woven through it is all is the idea that it is a moral imperative for Christians to try to help others, and John keeps trying to do so. Yet, also woven throughout is the assertion that ‘man is a devil to man’, for men are often each other’s worst enemies.

Some of the comments throughout:
[In 1447, upon tasting sugar] “It tastes as if God had made it simply to make us smile.” 
[1546] “In this new century, people are all divided and unsatisfied, hoping that God will smile upon them personally.” 
[1744] “If Christ were living in this day and age, would He not have ended up on a workhouse? Yes, even He would have treated as a draught animal in this godless age” 
[1843] “These people are not my folk; they are strangers from a world of words and metal.”
He becomes aware that “men and women have a limited capacity for happiness and suffering. If you were to make their lives more luxurious, and to remove their pain, they would find other ways in which to be discontented. And if you were to make their lives miserable, they would find joy in the slightest delights.”

I liked the progressing through the ages, but I found the ending disappointing. I wonder if this was because it really represented the author’s views rather than John’s. There was language of belief, heaven and hell, repentance and sin throughout, through a Catholic humanist lens, but in the end, it was the triumph of humanity that won in the end.

Overall, it was an interesting read and an engaging way to show change over centuries.

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