Travel Advisories

Virtual time travel through the Hero Files Time Machine is in many ways like a trip to a foreign country. You are traveling to a place and a time which has its own customs, its own beliefs, and its own ways of looking at the world, and some of these are decidedly at odds with our ways of thinking. Just as in travel to an exotic destination overseas, you will probably see or hear things that will shock you. Remember the quote on the Guide section home page: "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."

Strange Cultures and Customs

One thing you will notice is the racial and ethnic tone. It is taken for granted that the white male of northern/western European descent is superior to everyone else. With few exceptions, non-white, non-American/British, and female characters are portrayed as stereotypes that frequently reach the point of caricatures. The dark, sinister foreigner, the happy-go-lucky black man, the ferocious savage, and many other simplistic stereotypes will be met with in the art and literature of the period. Even among those privileged Anglo males, there still are stereotypes, such as the jolly fat kid or the rich bully.

Eradicate Sampson, for instance, one of the very few non-white regular characters in the Tom Swift books, can be almost painful to read about from a 21st-century mindset. There are parts of the books that will make you say "OH VICTOR APPLETON NO!" In order to see the world as our characters see it, however, we need to be able to read that book as they did. We need to be able to leave behind our headspace and get into theirs. It can be critically important to us as authors. Being able to slip into their world, into their heads, by experiencing some of the things that influenced them can make the difference between writing about the characters and writing the characters.

Remember, as you travel into the past, that what you will be seeing was not created by or for people of today. Their authors and readers were, as we are, products of the culture they grew up in. We are not superior beings in some mystical sense because we think differently now. We consider certain attitudes and beliefs to be wrong because we have been taught they are wrong, and why they are wrong. We believe as we were taught. So, too, did our forbears; the difference is in what they were taught. "It's their tradition" or "that's their culture" applies as much to our own ancestors as it does to people in some faraway land.

For example, given the degree of racial segregation at the time, especially in the military, someone like Carter might never have talked to a black man before he met Kinchloe. He's not going to react like you or me; he's going to react like someone who expects Kinch to be like Eradicate, and (Carter being Carter) might wonder if he has a mule like Boomerang. If we can't write from that viewpoint, we can't write an authentic Carter or an authentic Kinch; all we can write about – admittedly, as the canon scriptwriters often did – is our own contemporaries dressed up in historical costume. If all you're trying to do is set up a fantasy love affair between Hogan and your self-insert, well, that won't matter; if you're trying to be a serious and competent writer, on the other hand, that authenticity is vital.

Aspirations and Reflections

Another important thing to remember is that the world as depicted in books, especially the children's books, isn't the real world. More often than not it's an idealized view of how things should be, not how they actually were. This is both bad and good. Bad in that it's an inaccurate reflection of how things actually were, but good in that it shows us what people believed was normal, what they wanted, what they hoped for.

So while the world as shown in the books didn't exist quite like that in reality, it existed in the characters' minds. It's what they thought of as normal, even if their own circumstances differed greatly. It was their baseline, and in some ways the whole country's baseline. Personally I'm not sure the modern idea of children's books with a message of "your life sucks, and that's how it is" is really any better than giving readers a model of a life they could hope for and work towards. Be that as it may, don't mistake the ideal for the real.

You're Just Visiting

Some people reading this, I'm sure, are now thinking "But isn't this virtual time travels mentally dangerous?" They worry that if someone (never them, of course, but some other person) temporarily reads a book through the eyes of a person of the early 20th century, the attitudes might "stick".

Really, why should they? We don't worry that the scientific knowledge (or ignorance) of a past era will replace our modern knowledge no matter how much we read about it. We don't worry that we'll forget how to use our computers, or get our geography all scrambled up. So why do people worry that someone (though never themselves) will adopt ideas about the superiority or inferiority of some groups of people – despite all evidence to the contrary – because they suspend their disbelief in this outdated idea just as they suspend their disbelief for some science-fictional concept?

If it starts to get to you (and if you're a decent person, some of it will) just treat it as though you were reading about Aztec culture, or maybe ancient Greece. And if all else fails, say "OH EDWARD STRATEMEYER NO!"

back to top of page | back to index page