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Literature / Time Warp Trio

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Time Warp Trio is a long-running children's book series created by award-winning children's author Jon Scieszka (also known for The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man). The story follows the eponymous Time Warp Trio: Joe, Sam, and Fred, three unlikely best friends who, thanks to the help of Joe's bumbling uncle magician's birthday present to Joe - a book that allows the boys to get warped into different aspects of history - get into wacky adventures, ranging from the far future, to the age of the dinosaurs. It would be nice, except people seem dead intent on causing the boys nothing but most-likely-lethal trouble wherever they go. And the boys would very much like to stop ending up in random places, and get home in time for dinner.

The book series ran from 1991 to 2007, with sixteen volumes published. It also received a short-lived but acclaimed cartoon adaptation that aired on Discovery Kids in 2005. For more information on that series, see here.

Time Warp Trio provides examples of:

  • Accidental Incantation: The boys can never predict what will trigger The Book's time travel properties, nor which period they go to as a result. Plots have been kicked off just by saying a phrase that happens to correspond to a certain time period while they hold it.
  • Advert-Overloaded Future: "2095" has the boys travel to Manhattan in the titular year, which is full of Hard Light holographic advertisements. They also get cornered and pursued by a floating machine that they initially fear is a Killer Robot, but turns out to be a "Sellbot" that spews advertisements.
  • Art Evolution: Starting with "Sam Samurai", the series changed illustrators (from Lane Smith to Adam McCauley) and the art style becomes markedly different, switching from overexaggerated cut-out styled near-abstractions, to moderately exaggerated, clean-cut cartoon characters. Despite this change, the cartoon's art style is based on Lane Smith's illustrations.
  • Black Knight: The very first antagonist in the series, when the boys are sent back to King Arthur's court in "Knights of the Dinner Table".
  • Can't Take Anything with You: In one book, the boys decide to go back to cavemen days with a bunch of modern technology to change the future. The Book doesn't like that, and not only refuses to bring their stuff, it leaves behind their clothes, save for Sam's Nerd Glasses and Fred's baseball cap. (Joe got to a keep a straw he was using for a magic trick.)
  • Covered in Mud: After marching nine miles through snow and mud to attack Trenton on Christmas night of 1776, Joe, Fred, and Washington's entire army are completely drenched in brown. Joe notes that they actually look more intimidating.
  • Early Installment Character-Design Difference: When the girls first appeared in "2095", Joanie had cone-shaped hair, Freddi had a ponytail, and Samantha did not have her distinctive pigtails.
  • Evil Chancellor: Used a few times, often to add tension to the boys' interactions with real historical figures (or make those historical figures more sympathetic by comparison). Hatsnat and Bull Bear stand out.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death:
    • Would have happened to the boys in "Tut, Tut" — the main villain turns them into living-but-not-prepared-for-embalming mummies and triggers a trap door that sends several tons of rocks completely encasing the room the boys are in, trapping them in the sarcophaguses. If the rocks didn't crush them and they didn't die of starvation and dehydration, they'd die of asphyxiation. Fortunately, Joe's sister Anna has a cat that finds the book in the rubble...
    • "See You Later, Gladiator" has the boys avert this. Normally, their fight with their companion should end in death - but they then introduce professional wrestling (not pankration, professional wrestling) to the Romans.
    • Once more averted in "Sam Samurai". For insulting a samurai, they would have been executed on the spot, had it not been for their granddaughters. Yes, insulting a samurai was a grave insult that usually resulted in death for peasants.
    • Played straight in "The Not So Jolly Roger" where Blackbeard shoots two of his mates to death to protect the location of his treasure.
  • First-Person Perspective: The books are always told from Joe's perspective.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: The boys are often this (Particularly in the books where The Book yanks them away without warning), but their getting thrown into the future in "2095" is a special case, where they have no frame of reference for a great deal of what's happening around them and end up needing to be rescued by their descendants.
  • Formula-Breaking Episode: While most of the books are time travel adventures, "It's All Greek to Me" and "Summer Reading is killing me" has The Book taking them into fiction. The former has them going into the world of Greek myths, while the latter has them in a mash up of all the books on their summer reading list.
  • Gladiator Games: The entire point of "See You Later, Gladiator".
  • Historical Hero Upgrade:
    • Thoroughly averted in The Good, the Bad, and the Goofy, with respect to Lt. George Custer. He's not especially demonized, either, but the boys fall in with Black Kettle partway through the book, and it's pretty clear who the reader is meant to sympathize with. (At the beginning of the book, before the timey-wimey stuff starts, the boys are watching a Western TV show that plays this trope dead straight; Sam has a few things to say about that.)
    • Being one of the only women to rule Ancient Egyptnote , the real Hatshepsut may not have been as nice as Tut, Tut makes her seem. Then again, her portrayal in the book may have been an attempt to balance out her successors' attempts to erase her accomplishments.
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms: At a few points in 2095, the trio find themselves on the verge of throwing up. Scieszka gets creative with it; by the time he gets to "perform peristaltic pyrotechnics," most readers will probably get the gist of it, but may be looking for a dictionary regardless.
  • I Shall Taunt You: Fred employs this against the Black Knight in Knights of the Kitchen Table, reasoning that trying to spear them while wearing tons of armour will wear him out. He's right.
  • Is the Answer to This Question "Yes"?: At the end of "It's All Greek to Me", one of the boys asks Apollo, the god of music, if he can play anything but "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star".
    Apollo stared at us as if we'd just grown another head.
    "Can I play music? Is Aphrodite beautiful? Is Athena smart? Can Dionysus drink wine? Give me that stringed thing; I'll show you music."
  • Let's Split Up, Gang!: Done in "Tut, Tut." Fred protests, citing films where this leads to the characters getting "bumped off", but their Egyptian helper is merely confused.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: When Camelot is attacked by Bleob the Giant and Smaug the Dragon at the same time, Sam talks Bleob into attacking Smaug by claiming Smaug was mocking giants. The two monsters soon kill each other.
  • A Little Something We Call "Rock and Roll":
    • "Tut, Tut" has the boys introduce basketball to the eponymous character.
    • "See You Later, Gladiator" has the boys introduce professional wrestling to the Romans, as an alternative to having to stab and kill a fellow slave.
  • Because Destiny Says So: In "See You Later, Gladiator", the Vestial Virgins spare Sam, Joe, and Fred, as well as allow them enough time to get back home. When one of the boys ask why, one of the Virgins pulls out a prediction that details the boys' entire trip to Rome.
  • Made a Slave: The boys in "See You Later, Gladiator", as well as their guide, who they try to help win freedom.
  • Mr. Exposition: Actually justified in-universe: the book has a "guide" option that not only turns normally hostile people into, well, guides for whoever uses it, but will also help them point out features of the era and install a Weirdness Censor, so people don't ask why there are three kids in the most bizarre clothing running about in foreign countries. It saves their life a few times, as their "guides" included a samurai who was about to slice off their heads for trespassing.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: In "The Not So Jolly Roger", Joe mentions that Blackbeard says a string of words too nasty to list in this book. Which is something saying something as he said "Damnation and hellfire" earlier. In "The Good and the Goofy", "hell" is directly censored for us.
  • One-Steve Limit: The Tut in "Tut, Tut" isn't Tutankhamun, but Thutmose III. It's lampshaded.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Smaug in "Knights of the Kitchen Table" is a pretty standard western dragon. Unlike his namesake, he never speaks.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: Bleob in "Knights of the Dinner Table" is a huge, monstrously strong, dimwitted, disgusting Gasshole who uses Hulk Speak and likes to eat "fair maidens".
  • Plot-Triggering Book: Joe's magician uncle gave him a mysterious book for his birthday in Knights of the Kitchen Table. After he accidentally triggers The Book's magic properties, he and his friends Sam and Fred are transported to medieval times. The Book's seemingly-random triggers would become the basis of their adventures from then on.
  • Ridiculous Future Inflation: In "2095" a slice of pizza is worth well over a hundred dollars.
  • Shout-Out: "Summer Reading is Killing Me" is filled with literary references, ranging from obvious to subtle. Just one example is when the Trio claims to be book characters from a series. Frankenstein is upset upon hearing this, but the boss calms him down as they don't seem to be from a horror series, telling him "settle down your Goosebumps".
  • Temporal Sickness: Time travel via The Book is usually mildly disorienting, but nothing more. However, 2095 shows a much rougher method of time travel via a time-travel watch invented by uncle Joe. After the boys go through some bad rapid-fire time travel to various times and places, Sam ends up puking in a potted plant when it's all over.
  • This Is a Work of Fiction: "Summer Reading is Killing Me" has the following disclaimer: "Any similarity to real characters or real events is very interesting. Does this happen to you often?"
  • Travel Montage: Lampshaded in "Sam Samurai" where Joe skims over their journey at one point, telling us he'll make the next couple of pages "like the part in movies where they show a lot short scenes all smashed together". He doesn't know the word for it.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: Jo, Freddi, and Samantha look exactly like their great-grandfathers, except with longer hair. Turns out the girls were actually named after them.
  • Unfortunate Names: Seen often.
    • Hatsnat (pronounced "Hot Snot"), Owattabatt (pronounced "Oh, what a butt"), and so on. Each time, it usually gets the boys nearly killed or in trouble. For example, they are discovered eavesdropping on Hatsnat's plans to become great and powerful by trying not to laugh at his name, and are nearly executed by Owattabatt (a samurai) for bursting into laughter at his name.
    • A helpful servant of the Emperor in "Sam Samurai" is literally named "Silly Elephant" in Japanese. The samurai that guides around the boys is befuddled.
    • In one of the later books, this actually gets a Lampshade Hanging — "We always run into villains and they always seem to have terrible names."
  • Volleying Insults: With Hatsnat. Made funnier by the fact that the priest is taking the situation seriously (and is clearly on the verge of blowing a fuse), while the boys... are not.
    "We are magicians, Hot Slop."
    "Minions of Set!"
    "Roasting Goober!"
    "Temple thieves!"
    "Steaming Greenie!"
  • Weirdness Censor: The book comes with this — it not only works as a Universal Translator, but it also assigns random people in the era to become friendly (when they were trying to kill them mere moments ago) and show them the land without questioning the weird garments or pale-skinned foreigners. Exaggerated in Oh Say I Can't See when locals in 1776 don't raise questions about Rivet, Sammi's malfunctioning robotic cat.
  • We Will All Fly in the Future: In "2095", personal anti-gravity discs the size of large lapel pins are commonplace, and worth only a few cents (when a slice of pizza is over a hundred dollars).
  • Word-Salad Humor: When Owattabatt is about to execute the boys in "Sam Samurai", his deadly threat is as such: "Now you will bark bark meow meow oink oink." It's justified in-universe: the time-travelling book has language options that automatically translate for the travelers, and the book decided to go on the fritz.