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Trapped in the Past
Sometimes, the Time Traveler never intends to go anywhere. He's just minding his own business when Alien Space Bats sweep him into the past, leaving him without any hope whatsoever of ever getting back home.

Once the initial excitement has faded, and he has resigned himself to the situation, there's nothing for it but to do the best he can in his new world, or die trying. How much the unwilling traveler can achieve depends on how far back they are swept, and how well prepared they are.

If they land in the recent past, they typically use their foreknowledge to try to gain a comfortable life. Interacting with their immediate ancestors is a great temptation and they can hope to live until their original time. The really unlucky travelers end up in the path of war or disaster — on the Titanic, during the last days of Pompei, in medieval England with the Black Death raging — in which case, the plot will be about escaping the immediate peril.

At the other extreme, they are lucky enough to have in depth knowledge of the time period they're stuck in, extensive engineering skills, or both, making them the ideal people to bring progress to the past. After some initial teething troubles, the industrial revolution is soon in full flow, several centuries early, allowing the traveler half the comforts of home.

The middle ground of travelers, those who avoided immediate disaster but didn't have the foresight to learn the right things, have to accommodate themselves to the past. They may be able to improve their life in little ways, but for the most part they are stuck with the dismal realities of history.

This trope typically ignores the implications of language and biology. Individuals who find themselves transplanted in the Medieval period are able to communicate without difficulty with people whose language bears very little resemblance to their own (for example, middle English is not the same as modern English, and so forth). Furthermore, those same individuals never have to worry about the disease or poor hygiene practices that made living during those ancient periods extraordinarily hazardous, by modern standards. Likewise, they never have to worry about infectious diseases common in their own time spreading wildly among a population with no immunity, the way that smallpox and other plagues spread in the New World after Europeans showed up.

Well, hardly ever. Aversions and subversions of those parts of the trope are increasingly popular.

The original victim, Hank Morgan of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, failed to permanently industrialize Arthurian Britain and was sent back to the nineteenth century as mysteriously as he'd left it. Most of his successors, however, have had better luck.

A Sub-Trope of Fish Out of Temporal Water. Compare Get Back to the Future, Trapped in Another World, and Summon Everyman Hero.

Examples:

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     Anime and Manga  

  • Jin: The title character, a present-day Japanese doctor, is sent back in time to the end of the Tokugawa Era.
  • Rave Master: Sieg Hart is trapped fifty years in the past, and makes sure not to interfere with the upcoming history to occur. However, he does end up setting up a Stable Time Loop and pulling off a gambit to call for aid in time for the final battle.
  • To A Distant Town: Middle-aged Salaryman Hiroshi finds himself back in the body of his 14-year-old self, in the early 1960s.
  • The anime and manga Zipang sends the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force vessel Mirai, an advanced version of Kongo class destroyer (in turn a modified version of the American Arleigh Burke class destroyer), back to just after the Battle of Midway. Similar to The Final Countdown, where a Nimitz class aircraft carrier gets sent back to just before the attack on Pearl Harbor, but much better done.
  • Rumiko Takahashi has used this, in Fire Tripper — a modern Japanese girl finds herself swept back in time to feudal-era Japan. But not all is as it seems at first...
  • In Amakusa 1637, seven teenagers from a Catholic school get trapped in the Japan of few before the sakoku ("isolationism") period. They learn that they're in the Amakusa area, right before the Shimabara Rebellion, and they decide to try averting the bloody massacre of Japanese Christians. When one of them returns to the future alone, she finds out that their mission has been succesful.
  • Oda Nobuna no Yabou: Ordinary High-School Student Sagura Yoshiharu finds sent back to the Sengoku era for no reason. The good news is... he's a fan of Historical Simulation games based on that era, and didn't even have much of a shock over transported back at time at all.

     Comic Books  

  • The Marvel 1602 mini-series has a time-displaced Captain America sent back to Elizabethan times. When asked to return to the future, he insists on staying to try and build a better America from the beginning — which he does in small ways, such as helping a group of colonists survive a winter that should have wiped them out, or warning the natives against selling their land to unscrupulous capitalists. The final touch comes when, because of his actions, the American colonies declare independence from Britain 174 years early.
    • And it's got dinosaurs.
    • It also has consequences beyond his control — his presence causes the Marvel Universe to impose itself on the past, and period versions of the X-Men, Avengers and other superheroes start appearing.
  • Sasmira: A young couple from the present day somehow find themselves sent back to the turn of the 20th century.
  • Reed Richards was shunted to the distant past by a villain without his gadgets and he wasn't rescued until much later when his teammates found out what happened to him.
    • Speaking of the Fantastic Four this has happened several times with Doctor Doom. The first time he was shunted back to the medieval age with Iron Man (And kept calling him Lackey because he was Tony Stark's bodyguard. It bothered Iron Man. A lot) a second time happened with Iron Man and The Sentry though they were sent into the Silver Age and desperately trying not to cause any Butterfly of Doom effects. The last time was when Doctor Doom's so called "Mentor" the Marquis of Death came by to fight the Fantastic Four and sent Doom, burnt alive, straight into prehistoric lands where he got eaten by a Megalodon.
  • Ultra Boy of the Legion of Super Heroes was once trapped in the distant past. It took him a while to realize, since he started out stranded on an alien world as well. There have also been several periods where a subgroup of Legionnaires was trapped in their past/our present for a span of issues.
  • In Cavewoman, Gramps more-or-less exiles himself and his granddaughter Meriem in the prehistoric past. The entire town of Marshville is later accidentally transported into the past.
  • The 2014 Spider-Man 2099 comic is the end result of this: thanks to his dad stranding him in the past and Superior Spider-Man's interference, Miguel O'Hara is now trapped in present-day New York. Miguel decides that if he can't get back home, he'll make home a better place by trying to nudge his future grandfather down a better path.

     Fan Works  

     Film  

  • In Back to the Future Part III, Doc Brown resigns himself to the fate of living in The Wild West — and he's actually quite happy about it. He even goes as far as to give Marty instructions to not pick him up. Being an inventor, though, he does manage to invent some technology of the future. He doesn't share his inventions with anyone else, as he's mindful to not risk changing the future. At the end of the film, he does create another time machine out of a stream train. However, it's uncertain whether he chooses to live out the rest of his life in the past — or move back to the future. The Ride and The Animated Series, though, both have Doc ultimately moving back to the future.
  • Picard accepts this fate for the crew of the Enterprise in First Contact, when it appears that they may not be able to return to their own time; as he prepares to attempt to rescue Data from the clutches of the Borg Queen, he gives the order that if he doesn't return, they should pursue happiness in this era, "and stay out of history's way."

     Literature  

One person

  • Older Than Radio: In Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, the aforementioned Connecticut Yankee, Hank Morgan, gets whacked over the head with a crowbar and finds himself in Arthurian England.
  • Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp. Martin Padway is struck by lightning and finds himself in sixth-century Rome, on the verge of its ruin at Justinian's hands and the onset of the Dark Ages. He may be able to save civilization, if he can only get the ruling Goths to grasp the value of his innovations...
  • Brought later full circle with To Bring The Light by David Drake, which is bound with Lest Darkness Fall in some editions. In this story a woman from Justinian Era Rome gets sent back to the founding of Rome and must use the inventions of later Rome to help found it...
  • Poul Anderson's short story "The Man Who Came Early", in which an American soldier stationed in Iceland is sent back to the Viking Era after being hit by lightning. Luckily the Icelandic language has not changed much since then. All his attempts to change history fall flat on their face. When he tries to show the Vikings how to make compasses, he has no idea where to find or mine magnetic ores. When he tries to show them how to build more modern sailing vessels, the Vikings point out that such vessels are too cumbersome to dock anywhere where there is not a ready built harbor, an obvious rarity in that time period. The Vikings find the matches he brought with him impressive, but he has no idea how to make more. The only knowledge he has of any use is modern martial arts. In the end the soldier runs afoul of his ignorance of Viking legal customs and is killed. The story's main point is that victims of this trope don't really have much chance of introducing future inventions because most advances are useless without an advanced societal infrastructure to support them. Anderson admits that he wrote the story, in part, as a criticism of "Lest Darkness Fall"
  • The Axis of Time trilogy by John Birmingham. World War 2.1: Weapons of Choice, World War 2.2: Designated Targets, and World War 2.3: Final Impact. A multinational naval task force from 2021 is sent back to World War II, where it (literally) impacts with the American fleet steaming for Midway. The consequences are extremely far-reaching.

    The characters themselves claim that they're not in their past but in an alternate timeline. Their own timeline is fine and can't be affected by their actions. However, since the technology that sent them back was the very cutting edge in their own time and didn't survive the Transition, there's no way back for them.
  • The Arthur C. Clarke novel Time's Eye is the extreme form of this, involving Alexander the Great's army, Genghis Khan's Mongol hordes, six people from 2037 (three UN peacekeepers and three Soyuz cosmonauts), and a British outpost from the days of the Raj, with Rudyard Kipling in it.
  • The Cross Time Engineer and sequels by Leo Frankowski. Polish hiker Conrad Schwartz, in a drunken stupor, bypasses all kinds of security and stumbles into a historical-research time portal (created, coincidentally, by his cousin) and awakens in thirteenth-century Poland, where he has just ten years to industrialize and unite his nation before the Mongol hordes arrive and kill everybody.
  • Inverted in The Centurion's Empire by Sean Mcmullan, the premise of which is that Ancient Rome developed a medicine that allowed the human body to survive being frozen, and promptly started storing its best and brightest. After the empire collapsed the one survivor set up shop in an English village, being unfrozen when they needed his military expertise.
  • In Terry Pratchett's short story Once and Future a time traveller called Mervin finds himself not only trapped in the past, but in a past that never existed: the Anachronism Stew that was King Arthur's time. Working as a doctor for a village in Sir Ector's demenses, he quickly realises that what they need is a great and noble leader, gimmicks up an electromagnet to hold a sword in a stone, and waits for a candidate whose body language suggests he's sensible enough to take advice. It works, although not quite how he expected.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel Night Watch, Commander Vimes is eventually torn between trying to fix the timeline so that he can get back to his own time, or attempting to improve the Ankh-Morpork of thirty years ago. He eventually decides to take the latter course of action, but historical inertia forces the former one. Mostly.
  • Nimue Alban's situation in David Weber's Safehold series lacks time travel, but otherwise fits perfectly. Nimue (or rather a Ridiculously Human Robot with her personality) is awoken in the last human world of Safehold, which has been trapped in Medieval Stasis for almost a millennium thanks to its delusional founders. Nimue's objective is to undo this and bring humanity back into the era of space travel. Many details listed in the description are averted, since robots can't get sick, and Nimue has to learn Safeholdian English before she can venture out among its people.
  • Temporally inverted in Philip Francis Nowlan's Armageddon 2419 A.D., or as it's better known, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Rogers, in the various versions of his tale, brings lost knowledge and a certain 20th-century vitality to future America and/or Earth as a whole.
  • Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen by H. Beam Piper. Pennsylvania cop Calvin Morrison runs afoul of the Paratime Police and is accidentally transported to a medieval alternate Earth where a corrupt theocracy controls the secret of gunpowder. Pretty realistically handled — he knows the basic formula, but also knows that there were steps in making it consistent that he needs to rediscover, and he has to convince wary leaders to build up the entire infrastructure for gun manufacturing from scratch.
  • In Piper's story "Time and Time Again", a World War III soldier suddenly finds himself in the body of his twelve-year-old self. His future knowledge enables him to prevent a murder and convince his father of the truth of his story; the story ends with them beginning a long-range project to acquire enough wealth and power to change history and prevent the war.
  • Harry Harrison's Deathworld 2 features a non-time travel version of this, in which interstellar adventurer Jason dinAlt is stranded on a Lost Colony which has regressed to barbarism. Various bits and pieces of more advanced technology, generally regarded more or less as sorcery, are held as closely guarded secrets by the different clans (one group still knows how to make primitive petroleum-fueled engines, another how to make some crude electrical devices, yet another clan practices alchemy-level chemistry). The hero winds up completely revolutionizing the planet's backwater society solely out a desire to get off that primitive dirtball and back to someplace more civilized. The language issue is avoided as everyone on the planet speaks a (somewhat degraded) version of Esperanto.

    The issue of disease is not even mentioned. While Jason is likely immunized against any possible infection (considering he lives on a world completely hostile to humans), the same can't be said for the primitive natives against diseases he carries. He does nearly die from infection but only because he is wounded by a weapon.
  • The Other Time (started by Mack Reynolds, completed by Dean Ing after Reynolds' death) features a modern day (1980's) anthropologist doing field work in Mexico who gets thrown back in history to just the right time to run into Cortez and the conquistadors. The language issue is avoided as the hero (being an anthropologist) naturally speaks Nahuatl and Spanish.
  • The Dechronization of Sam Magruder by George Gaylord Simpson —Sam Magruder, a scientist, is accidentally sent back to the dinosaur era by an experiment. The novel is in the form of his diaries, carved in stone, concerning how he copes with being stuck in the past, alone, for the rest of his life.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Arthur and Ford find themselves trapped on prehistoric earth, the only skills between them the ability to live in a crapsack universe. They're unable to communicate with the aborigines, an odd aversion since their babel fish allow them to communicate with all the rest of the known universe, including the interplanetary immigrants they are marooned with.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's The Door Into Summer speculates that Leonardo da Vinci may have been a Leonard Vincent who attempted to time travel 500 years.
  • This can happen in the Time Scout series. A Portal to the Past can become unstable and vanish, trapping people on the other side. Or you can go through a temporary unstable gate and get trapped. This happens once in the series, and a few times in back story.
  • Jayfeather from Warrior Cats finds himself stuck in the time of the Ancients twice. He manages to leave both times.
  • Happens several times in Andrei Belyanin's novels, likely because of the author's love for Anachronism Stew. Also, almost never do the heroes end up in a historical version of the past but a deliberately fictionalized version full of magic. The three prominent examples are Tsar Gorokh's Detective Agency, which involve a modern-day Russian policeman being transported by unknown means to a cross between Medieval European Fantasy and Russian Mythology and Tales; Sword with No Name, where a modern-day man finds himself in a typical Medieval European Fantasy, and The Thief of Baghdad, with yet another modern-day man being transported by a genie to Arabian Nights Days (there are aliens there too). Also inverted in The Redheaded Knight, in which an English crusader ends up in modern-day Russia thanks to a witch's spell.

A group or community is transplanted.

  • Island in the Sea of Time by S.M. Stirling. The island of Nantucket is whisked into 1250 BC, and must contend with Bronze Age cultures and their own crop of power-hungry renegades. This one does contend with language difficulties, uptime diseases, and so forth; the Nantucketers manage to wipe out huge numbers of Native Americans before they even realize what's going on, because the first party sent to the mainland contains someone with a sniffle. Their language difficulties are moderately eased by the fact that the languages of Europe are, at that point, much closer to still being "Proto-Indo-European"...
  • The Assiti Shards milieu by Eric Flint and others. Cast-off shards of transdimensional alien "art" bombard Earth and transpose large chunks of it with other times and places. Several alternate histories are planned in this meta-setting, including Time Spike (several separate Shard events deposit a modern maximum security prison, the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears, a band of conquistadors, and multiple pre-Columbian Indian settlements into the Cretaceous), 1776 (the armies of George Washington and Frederick the Great both find themselves in ancient Rome during the Crisis of the Third Century), and By Any Other Name (the Assiti themselves make unwilling contact with Elizabethan England), but only two has seen any publishing. The first one has, however, seen a lot:
  • In the 1632 series, the West Virginia coal-mining town of Grantville is translocated to southern Germany in the middle of the Thirty Years' War by an "art" project by Alien Space Bats, utterly shattering the power structure and world view of Reformation Europe.
  • In Dinoverse, the four eighth-graders sent back in time and put into the bodies of various megafauna aren't stuck; they know that if they reach a certain place and are there at a certain time there's a chance that they can make it back. But one of them, Janine Farehouse, would rather be stuck, so she abandons the group to try and live as a Quetzalcoatlus. A native Quetzalcoatlus hangs around her and she does fairly well for a few days, before the thought of never having anyone to talk to softens her resolve enough that one of the other kids can persuade her to help them find the place.
  • Yesterday's Flight by Martyn Ellington has a Boeing 737 airliner come off course through Yosemite National Park, resulting in its flight through an electrical storm. On the other side, Captain David Padel finds that his instruments have failed and the GPS cannot pick up satellites. After circling for some time, the aircraft lands with nearly no fuel remaining, and the passengers settle in for rescue. Everything goes downhill after Padel comes back from a reconaissence walk claiming to have located the body of a T-Rex... Meanwhile, in the present day, Chief Air Crash Investigator Bruce Ackland is on his way to Death Valley to find out why a section of an airliner's tailplane has been dug up embedded in a 65 million year old fossil...

     Live Action TV  

  • Life On Mars: Sam Tyler, a policeman from 2006, mysteriously wakes up in 1973 and does indeed have problems communicating with his police colleagues. Even though they speak the same language, they don't speak the same language. Also, obviously, the spin-off/sequel Ashes to Ashes, Alex Drake from 2008, finds herself trapped in 1981 with a perm and a wardrobe full of jumpsuits.
  • LOST: When Daniel, Sawyer, Juliet, Jin and Miles finish traveling through time after Locke pushes the frozen donkey wheel, they arrive in 1974, and end up in the DHARMA Initiative. They blend in well, integrating well into the Initiative and going about their lives. Three years later, this all goes to hell when Jack, Kate, Hurley and Sayid time travel to 1977 and kids are getting shot, then kidnapped, vans are set on fire, physicists start shoot outs and hydrogen bombs and Daddy issues start coming into the picture. All it takes is about three days for everything to fall apart.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Blink" has the Weeping Angels do this to people.
    • It almost happens to the Doctor in "The Girl in the Fireplace." Luckily for him, the portal in Reinette's fireplace was still online.
    • "The Angels Take Manhattan" The final fate of Amy Pond and Rory Williams, as an Angel warps Rory back in time, and Amy choosing to follow suit. She manages to tell the Doctor that despite everything, they had each other and lived comfortably to old age.
    • The original series story, "The Silver Nemesis" subverts this by having a character from Restoration Era Britain transported to contemporary times with the secondary villain and finds himself stranded in the future and bemoaning his fate. Fortunately, the Doctor and Ace immediately arrive and playfully tell him they can help, considering they can easily give him a ride home.
  • Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect end up stuck on prehistoric Earth with the idiotic Golgafrinchans at the end of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In the earlier radio series they were rescued when Arthur's towel become fossilised and picked up by the Infinite Improbability drive in the future. In the third book of the "trilogy," they are instead "rescued" by a sofa that was supposedly displaced in time. It brought them back to modern day Earth, a few days before its destruction.
  • Goodnight Sweetheart features its then-contemporary 90s protagonist living two lives, one in the 90s and one during WWII. Eventually, he gets trapped in the past. It's not wholly a bad thing for him, though.
  • Subverted in Primeval, where Connor Temple and Abby Maitland spend a year in the Cretaceous, before finally returning to their own time. How they survived so long, without any effective weapons, in a forest crammed full of flesh-eating dinosaurs is anyone's guess.
  • In Michael Moorcock's novels, a repeating theme is the appearance of the Chrononauts at their Time Centre base, especially Oswald Bastable, Lord Jagged, and Una Perrson. These are time travellers who, voluntarily or involuntarily, have found themselves adrift on the seas of time and have banded together for both mutual protection and to investigate the nature of Time more scientifically.

     Magazines  

  • An early '70s National Lampoon had a short story "Going Back" where a guy in his 30s wakes up in his childhood home (oddly, he's still his grownup self, but everyone sees him as a kid.) He eagerly goes to school, thinking he'll wow the teachers with his talent and knowledge, but is perceived as merely average. He upsets his teacher when he blurts out that General Mac Arthur has been kicked out of Korea, forgetting it hasn't happened yet, then launches into a Vietnam-era rant about policing the world, not a smart thing to do in the Mc Carthy era. He gets grounded by his parents, and gloomily pictures his kid self in the future in his bachelor apartment, watching color tv all night and dropping water balloons off the balcony.

     Music  

  • In "Weird" Al's song, Everything You Know Is Wrong, aliens offer to transport the protagonist back to anywhere in time. Since they don't mention a return trip, he has them send him back to "last Thursday, so [[he]] can pay his phone bill on time."

     Video Games  

  • The plot of Final Fantasy X revolves around Tidus being plucked out of the futuristic city of Zanarkand (while said city is destroyed) and dropped in the world of Spira. He finds that Zanarkand was destroyed 1000 years ago and has no way of getting back, so he helps a summoner on her quest to destroy the local world killing god whale. Fully subverted when we find out Tidus, along with his version of Zanarkand, is a dream of the Fayth, the last survivors of the actual Zanarkand..
  • In Back to the Future: The Game, Edna Strickland unknowingly takes the DeLorean for a ride, and finds herself stuck in 1876 with no hope getting back, accidentally burns Hill Valley to the ground and lives out the rest of her life as an insane hermit...at least in that timeline.
  • Happens in Dungeons & Dragons Warriors of the Eternal Sun. Searching for assistance in the past is your main objective.
  • In Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time, at the end Sly is stuck in Ancient Egypt.
  • This is one of the most predominant theories on the relation between Yukari Yakumo and Maribel Hearn.

     Webcomics  
  • Cargo Cult is about a 747 pulled back in time to 1942 by the titular cargo cult who believe the Americans on board can use their 'magic' technology against invading Imperial Japanese forces.

     Western Animation  

  • The Tick and Arthur were stuck millions of years ago for quite a while and got mixed up with time-travellers from the future who were exploiting the Australiopithecenes as resort help.
  • Inverted with Samurai Jack. Aku rips open a portal in time and flings the protagonist into the future, where he must find a way to return to the past to undo the temporal damage done by said villain.
  • Young Justice: Bart Allen, the future grandson of Barry Allen, the second Flash, got hit with this at the end of "Bloodlines". Then it's revealed that he knew it was a one-way trip, and he didn't care, because he didn't consider the Bad Future he lives in worth coming back to.
  • Pretty much Once an Episode on Time Warp Trio (the exceptions being the time they were trapped in the future and the maybe two times they didn't lose their time travel book on arrival like they usually do).


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