Headscratchers / The Time Traveler's Wife

How on earth was Henry even born if FETUSES CAN TIME TRAVEL OUT OF THE WOMB and die?! If this disease is going to survive in the world, it has to at least wait to come on until the kid's a wee bit older!
  • Was it that they were time traveling? I thought it was just that her body was rejecting them, which is why immuno-suppressants ended up being the solution.
    • The stress of her body rejecting them was causing them to time-travel (time-traveling is triggered by any kind of physical or emotional distress, remember). It's unambiguous that the fetuses were literally time-traveling out of her womb — there's an episode where she actually finds a fetus lying outdoors in a pool of blood and she desperately tries to save it, before it teleports back inside her and Henry finds her weeping in bloodstained clothes.
    • ...That would be why the disease is very rare, yes, and Henry is in fact the first known person to have it. Doesn't mean that it's impossible for the disease to "survive in the world", since whatever gene causes it clearly can be carried for some time without expressing itself (given that neither of Henry's parents were time travelers). The prenatal Henry was probably lucky. (Notice that the miscarriages may not be themselves directly because of the CDP; the fact that Clare's body rejects the fetuses could be due to any one of several problems that makes it difficult for many couples to conceive, the issue being that with Henry's offspring any minor problems in the womb trigger a fatal time traveling incident.)
    • Henry's mutation was probably a de novo mutation — i.e. not inherited from either parent, but rather a spontaneous mutation that arose in Henry. Also, the mutation is eventually described as a type of trinucleotide repeat disorder (like Huntington's disease) and these types of genetic mutations tend to increase in severity as they are passed from generation to generation, which might explain why Henry's children, Alba excluded, start time traveling at a much younger age than Henry did.
      • Wait, wait, how can a body reject a fetus?!
      • Uhm... Plenty of ways. Don't tell me you've never heard of a miscarriage until now? It happens to about a third of women at some point and this is the best explanation possible. Its not happening in (possibly) the majority of cases is something medical science is still working on an explanation for, but it seems to have something to do with the 'junk' DNA in a mammal actually containing the coding of a retrovirus—a natural immuno-suppressant—which explains why pregnant women are more vulnerable to some infections.
  • Just how did Henry manage to come to term anyway?
    • By not manifesting the ability to travel until he was six. He had a much more shallow curve of occurrences than his offspring. It should have been obvious to anyone who's read the book, I've never seen the movie to know if it leaves this stuff out.
  • What happens to the umbilical cord when the babies time travel?
    • They snap like a bungee cord?
    • Since the placenta is mostly (genetically) part of the foetus, and partly (genetically) part of the mother, I would think that the umbilical cord would travel along with the foetus, and the placenta would either dissolve along the diffusion line or (more likely) peel off neatly as the child effectively teleported away.
    • The book mentions one teleported fetus to still have umbilical cord attached to it.

Has anyone else ever thought what a colossally bad idea it is for Henry to have a biological child?
Even when they manage to solve the time-traveling fetus issue, it terrifies this troper that they had a daughter. I keep imagining Alba at age sixteen landing naked in the middle of the nearest drunken frat party, and generally spending her entire life getting raped. Nightmare Fuel!
  • This issue is, in fact, brought up and discussed at length in the book. Henry and Clare both think it's worth it. Henry, through the tapes, has been training Alba in survival, escape artistry, and self-defense since early childhood, and he hopes that's enough. Clare doesn't think a gene-therapy cure for CDP is worth trying on Alba while she's still a child; the risk of killing her or making the condition worse is too high. If that doesn't satisfy you, sorry.
    • Also, Alba says that by mid-childhood she's learned to exert some control over her time travel destinations. Maybe by adulthood time traveling has become a purely conscious act for her. And then again maybe not. But she is, if anything, less likely to end up in a frat party than Henry was. And, again, Clare promised to allow Kendrick to offer a genetic cure for CDP to Alba by the time she was old enough to decide, and who's to say she didn't take it?
      • I was always under the impression the author was saving this for a possible sequel.
      • She says on her site that she doesn't feel like writing another one, but you never know, she might change her mind.
  • Henry thought it was a bad enough idea that he got a vasectomy... so he was obviously against it as well.
    • Henry got the vasectomy because he got tired of watching his wife go through the heart-wrenching pain of constant miscarriages.
  • Actually Henry's fear of that is a big reason why he took a vial of Alba's blood behind Clare's back. Also he was fairly lukewarm to the idea of having children in the first place, because of his fears of passing it on, and only did so at Clare's insistence.

How common is this disease, anyway?
How come we NEVER hear of or even meet anyone else other than Henry and Alba with CDP?
  • You do know that genetic disorders often crop up in bizarre and unlikely ways that allow them to lie dormant for many generations before they suddenly appear, right? My theory is that it's some combination of genes that causes CDP, such that Henry's mom and dad both only had half of what is necessary to be a time traveler — but Henry himself, having the full set, inevitably passes that full set on to his offspring.
    • Wait, what? Henry doesn't have to give the full set to his children. He could have only given half. Clare could have the other half, but it seems very unlikely.
  • It seems to be implied that the reason CDP becomes better known and more common in the future is because of Henry himself. Now that Henry's doctors have sequenced his genes and studied the process by which Alba was successfully conceived and carried to term, they're able to detect the existence of CDP genes in other people and take steps to increase the likelihood of their fetuses' survival.
  • There probably were other time-travelers, but it is damn clear from the novel that Henry is very lucky to have survived even as long as he did.
  • Also, very few people other then Henry know about his condition. It's possible that any other time travelers also keep the knowledge of their condition to themselves and their close ones, and are also unaware of anyone else sharing this condition. Because of Henry, any other time travelers now know there are others — and will be more likely to reveal they are time travelers as well.

The predestination thing.
Why can't he just gut punch his past self and rip causality a new one?
  • His past self would hold it against him for years and eventually vent his rage by gut punching his past self.
    • In all seriousness, the novel's premise is that a time-displaced person has no free will — they're psychologically and physically unable to choose to do anything differently from how it was done before. If this dissatisfies you, sorry — but do look up Novikov's self-consistency principle and try to grok it before tossing the book out the window. (The idea being that if our brains are just a physical process like any other and are ultimately deterministic like any other process — which, as much as you might dislike the idea, we have no reason to believe isn't true — then it's simple to prove that any non-causality-violating process, no matter how improbable it might seem, is less improbable than the sheer impossibility of violating causality. Go into the past with the intention of changing it and you will spontaneously change your mind because of a random neurochemical event in your brain.)
      • Actually, they're still trying to prove that self-consistent solutions always exist, which is a far cry from proving they are necessarily what happens. The principle (that they're not using a stronger word should be a red flag) is merely begging the question: if time travel paradox is impossible, then time travel paradox is impossible.
      • Time travel itself is reason to think causality can be violated. Our reasoning for thinking we live in a universe where the past determines the future is based on things like time travel not being possible.
      • For what it’s worth, the novel describes the experience of being chrono-displaced as an altered mental state even when not trying to change history. Henry instantly can tell he’s time-traveling by the “feeling” in his head and can even tell being in the past apart from being in the future this way.
  • I'm pretty sure Word of God stated that the novel takes place in an Eternist Universe (everything that has ever happened—good things and bad things—was supposed to happen that way). (Not that either of these is a less f___ed up world view.)

What if Henry got an organ transplant?
Would it be considered a part of him or would it be left behind?
  • Presumably if his body had accepted the transplant, it would be recognised as part of the body and would travel with him.
  • I wondered about the mice. Kendrick said he tattooed them so he could recognise them. But seeing as fillings and, I'm guessing, piercings wouldn't go, why would ink?
    • Because it's burned into their skin, and is their flesh?
    • He could have used some process that actually changed their skin, instead of just depositing ink (possibly making "tattoo" the wrong word, but it could be the closest thing for a layman to understand). Alternately, they may have repeatedly tattooed the mice without ink — it would still leave an identifiable mark (a wound, and possible minor scarring which would pretty much fade away over time), just not one that is as obvious or permanent.
Another issue with wanting to have children.
  • Because, you know, she has six miscarriages. I'm curious if the thought of "Gee, maybe we could just adopt" ever came up. Are they really that that obstinately selfish?
    • Um, actually, this is discussed in the book.
    • In the book, Henry wants to adopt. Clare just whined and said "No, that'd be pretending. And I'm sick of pretending." At about this point this troper started disliking Clare because 1. She's being selfish as hell and 2. This troper IS adopted and it is NOT pretending.
    • They'd have to do one hell of a lot of pretending to be allowed to adopt, actually. It's not like you just fill in a form and send off for a child...
    • This Troper got the feeling that Henry and Clare both knew he wouldn't live to old age, neither of them had seen an Henry older than mid-40s, and Clare wanted something of Henry to remember him by. I also think this might have been mentioned in the book, but I'm not sure.
      • It was specifically stated in the book that she was taking the stress of dealing with not knowing what was happening every time Henry was gone very very badly and needed something of him to hang onto. Smart? Probably not completely. Rational? Again, probably not. Understandable? Completely.
      • And herein lies the state in which millions of people have children—their motives, much of the time, aren't pure. They know they're not ideally placed to be parents; they know they may not be giving their kid the world's finest genes. But they want to—need to, for their own emotional health, still feel that any alternative would be their own failure as a person—because procreation defies objective sense more often than not, and most people who think it's for the hypothetical child's benefit are either of a tiny, lucky minority, or deluding themselves. Doesn't mean they should be stopped.
Most common destination?
  • At several points in the book, Henry mentions that he's time-travelled to the moment of his mother's death many times, yet in the narrative of the story we never see a single one of those visits. Also, his mother was killed in a car crash in a horrific snowstorm. If Henry kept visiting that day, wouldn't he have frozen to death?
    • ...What? He visited the moment several times throughout his life. Not a bunch of times all in one day. And even then it wasn't long enough for someone to freeze to death. Just because it didn't show us the moments didn't mean the ones shown in the book were the only times he travelled. Or else there'd be no way his bond with Clare would have eben that strong as she grew up.
  • Another question: if he visited that time so many times, why aren't there 500 Henrys running around there?
    • Henry actually says that if you looked closely, you'd see him all over the scene (handing his young self a blanket, getting help, etc.).
      • But surely the scene isn't big enough for people to not raise an eyebrow at that many of the same guy running around?
      • ....naked?
      • If Henry had to give his younger self a blanket, call for help, etc, then there probably weren't too many other people around to see him, or they would have helped the poor naked child instead.
You would think after Henry's syndrome was recognized and proven by a proper scientist they would call the police, clear his name, and at least make it easier for him... but noooo...
  • And get to word out to himself, or have young Clare pass it along.
    • What part of No control over destiny do you not understand? He never made any of those changes because he was never meant to, so he was physically incapable of doing anything about it.
      • Yes, but his doctor isn't bound by that if the doc acts on his own. You would think the doctor would at least check in with a lawyer to see what could be done to forgive Henry for his break-ins or at least guarantee him some protection whenever her leaps forward past the point in his life when his issue is revealed to the doc.
      • What would the doctor tell them? "Excuse me, but my patient has time-traveler's disease. So please excuse him if he steals anything in the future, or if he ends up stealing things yesterday." Until it was unmistakably proven to be real to the public, there's nothing they could do to back them up.
      • That's the thing — the doctor had proven it was real. They had bred mice with the gene. He had seen Henry time travel. At the very least the police would know a string of minor unsolved thefts were justified. Maybe set it up so Future!Henry could go to any police department in the city for safety.
  • Even without Henry or the Doc doing anything actively about that; Henry should by the present-day be some sort of "living legend" among the Chicago police force—or at least an Urban legend.
    • The book outright states that Henry ‘’is’’ a living legend among CPD with several outstanding arrest warrants for him, but that they have no name for their amazing disappearing mystery suspect (because when time traveling he has no ID). Henry himself, under his own identity, has no criminal record and this is given as the reason he lives a quiet life when not time traveling and is extremely paranoid about interacting with cops.
Clare was nasty to Henry for no reason!
  • At one point, Clare berates Henry for saying she "had no choice" and that he "invaded her mind and heart from an early age" (paraphrasing, and it's from the movie version.) But ... because it's a case of You Already Changed the Past, neither is responsible. Henry would not have thought anything of Clare had she not confronted him in the library when he was young and said he was going to know her.
    • But she would have never confronted him in the library when he was young if he didn't visit her as a child. So it's all very circular.

Time travelling is heritable, therefore everyone is a time traveller!
  • If the universe is set to one destiny and one timespan, and time travelling is a genetic mutation, it stands to reason that everyone would be able to time travel — due to the fact of multiple people leaping through time, copulating with past selves, etc, etc. Henry and Alba being the "only" ones capable of doing it misses the idea of their descendants also developing the ability. It's an expression of the old argument "Time Travel is not possible, because once it's discovered, time travellers are everywhere."
    • They are everywhere. It's just that staying alive for as long as Henry managed to is really hard, hell, it took them seven shots to get one time traveling child actually born.
    • Since trinucleotide repeat disorders tend to get worse and worse with each successive generation, it's possible that Alba's kids or further descendants (assuming she and her kids even all choose to have kids) have it to such a degree that the medication that allowed Alba to come to term would have been insufficient for them, and they need to permanently damage their ability (with gene therapy or harsher drugs) to survive. Since it's a prenatal/prepubescent disorder, there's no way for Chrono-Displacement patients to have kids if it's bad enough to be consistently fatal (unlike, for example, Huntington's, which leaves plenty of time between puberty and typical age of onset to have kids), and the gene only survives in new-mutation individuals and small, disconnected groups of relatives throughout time. For all we know, this syndrome is really quite common and is the cause of many multiple-miscarriage sufferers throughout history, and Henry only survived because this is the first time period in which a CD time traveler can statistically survive long enough to have a kid.

Once Kendrick has sequenced the genome, why don't they do IVF?
They know what the gene is, they have the technology, they have a geneticist on board... even if this is a dominant trait, as it seems to be, and they were just really unlucky that every one of the seven pregnancies exhibited the dominant trait, why not just do IVF and select a fetus exhibiting Clare's recessive and non-time-traveling trait, which would both allow the pregnancy to last AND ensure that Alba wouldn't be a time traveler? This is literally how they solve genetic issues these days, and I'm pretty sure they had the same abilities then.