Timeline is a science fiction novel by American writer Michael Crichton, published in November 1999. It tells the story of a group of history students who travel to 14th-century France to rescue their professor. The book follows in Crichton's long history of combining science, technical details, and action in his books, this time addressing quantum and multiverse theory.
First edition cover
|Cover artist||Chip Kidd|
|Genre||Science fiction, historical fiction|
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|LC Class||PS3553.R68 T56 1999|
The novel spawned Timeline Computer Entertainment, a computer game developer that created the Timeline PC game published by Eidos Interactive in 2000. Additionally, an eponymous film based on the book was released in 2003.
In the New Mexico desert, a vacationing couple finds a wandering, ill man and brings him to a hospital. Doctors discover he has bizarre deformities in his blood vessels and other body parts, and is an employee of the company ITC.
In the Dordogne region of France, Professor Edward Johnston heads a team of historians and archaeologists studying the medieval towns of Castelgard and La Roque. Suspicious of the knowledge of the site shown by their financier ITC, Johnston flies to ITC's headquarters in New Mexico to investigate. While he is gone, the students make disturbing discoveries in the ruins, among them the lens of Johnston's eyeglasses and a message in modern English.
Graduate researchers Chris Hughes, Kate Erickson, André Marek, and David Stern follow Johnston to ITC and meet its founder Robert Doniger, who tells them Johnston has used their quantum technology to travel to the year 1357. Chris, Kate, and Marek agree to travel back themselves to recover him. When they arrive, though, they are immediately attacked by horsemen who kill the ITC military escorts. A grenade returns through the machine and explodes, damaging the present-day transit pad. Unable to return, Kate and Marek eventually find Johnston held by the men of Lord Oliver of Castelgard.
Separated from the others, Chris inadvertently declares himself as nobility to a boy who leads him to Castelgard. The boy is revealed to be the disguised Lady Claire, trying to escape from the leader of the horsemen, Sir Guy de Malegant. In the castle, Chris and André are challenged to a joust by Guy, which Chris survives only thanks to Marek's knowledge of the era. Oliver orders their deaths, but Kate helps them escape Castelgard, and they are pursued by Guy and his knight Robert de Kere.
Oliver believes that Johnston knows a secret passageway into the otherwise impenetrable castle of La Roque; Oliver's enemy Arnaut de Cervole is approaching the Dordogne to lay siege, and Oliver wants the secret to defend it. After Lady Claire helps them elude Arnaut, Chris and Kate search for the passage while André enters La Roque as Johnston's assistant. Johnston helps Oliver develop a weapon, knowing that historically Oliver loses the siege. Chris deduces that someone else from the future is in the past with them, and Robert de Kere reveals that he is Rob Deckard, an ITC employee and former Marine driven insane from the accumulation of "transcription errors," deformities that build up over multiple quantum trips. De Kere intends to take the students' trip home for himself.
As Arnaut's siege begins, Kate fights and kills Guy in a chase on the rafters of La Roque, and André and Chris are able to rescue Johnston from the dungeon when Arnaut himself appears and defeats Oliver in a duel. As the battle rages, de Kere attacks Chris to get his machine marker, but Chris manages to set him on fire with Johnston's gunpowder.
ITC and Stern repair the transit pad just in time for the travelers' return. André—who realizes he has longed for this life—decides to remain in the past, while Chris, Kate, and Johnston return to 1999. When it becomes clear that Doniger had little regard for the travelers' lives, the researchers and engineers send him to 1348—the year of the outbreak of the Black Death.
In the epilogue, Chris and Kate are expecting a child together. The researchers find André and Lady Claire's graves, and discover that André lived out a happy and satisfying life.
Point of view
The novel is written in the third person omniscient point of view. Crichton uses many voices to tell his story, including those of the main characters Marek, Kate, and Chris, as well as those of minor characters, such as the couple who finds a confused man wandering in the desert, and the cop who cannot accept the incredible story of an old man who simply wandered away from his own car in the desert.
Andre Marek is a researcher who works with Professor Johnston in Dordogne. Marek has always had a fascination with medieval times that is so intense that he has taught himself to joust, to fight with a sword, and to shoot a longbow. Therefore, when Marek gets the chance to go to that era, via ITC's invention, he jumps at it.
Marek proves himself very brave in the medieval world. He fights multiple soldiers, not hesitating to take their lives; bravely stands up to medieval warlords and Archpriests; and is very convincing in the role of a knight. No one - not even knights who oppose him - have a doubt about his being one, fully entitled to be called "Sir Andre". Ultimately, Marek realizes that he was meant to live in this period. For this reason, he chooses to remain behind. When Professor Johnston, Kate, and Chris return to their own world, they find Marek's grave and discover that he lived a happy life in that alternate universe.
Kate Erickson began her college career as an architecture student but found it boring and switched her major to history. Kate now works the Dordogne site from the perspective of architecture, examining the ruins to see how they were built and to make recommendations for restoration.
Kate is part of Marek's team that travels to the 14th century to save Professor Johnston. Kate repeatedly demonstrates her bravery and uses her climbing skills to outwit the soldiers of the period. Kate is also something of a romantic and falls in love with Chris during the adventure.
Chris Hughes is a student of Professor Johnston's. Chris’ specialty at the archeological site at Dordogne is the mill; he is trying to determine whether or not the mill was fortified, a feature that was fairly new at the time. When Johnston disappears and Marek asks Chris to be part of the team that rescues him, Chris jumps at the chance.
Chris is something of a weakling who often finds himself getting in difficult situations, usually over women. When he goes to the past, he finds himself lying to a pretty girl to impress her, and his lie causes him to end up having to joust with her potential husband. As time passes, however, Chris proves himself to be much braver than he appears. In fact, he single-handedly kills de Kere, the one man crazy enough to kill Chris' entire team.
Professor Edward Johnston
Professor Edward Johnston is a college professor who is in charge of the archeological site at Dordogne, in France. Johnston is an inspiration to and supportive of his students, and they admire him. When Johnston goes missing after traveling to New Mexico to confront ITC's CEO, his team rallies to find a way to save him.
Johnston has traveled to the past through a separate universe. He has been found by the local people and for this reason has created a new persona for himself, as a Magister who has come to help the local monastery's abbot look for important information in their archives. In this capacity, Johnston quickly becomes something of a local legend. This causes Sir Oliver to request his help in defeating Arnaut. Johnston plays along until the moment comes when he can return home.
David Stern is a computer geek who takes a job with the Dordogne River Valley archeological site just to be close to where his girlfriend is attending school. When Doniger calls Marek and asks him to pick his three best people to return to New Mexico, Marek chooses Stern to be part of the team. When the science behind the ability to transmit people to other universes is discussed, Stern probably understands it better than anyone else and, therefore, is also the only one who recognizes that it is dangerous and chooses not to go. However, by not going, Stern becomes a key part of the team by assuring their survival via his innovations to rebuild the water walls that provide buffer for the re-building team. Stern saves their lives.
Cahners Business Information says the book will "grab teens' attention from the very first page", and Entertainment Weekly calls Timeline "exhilarating entertainment." The novel has also grasped the attention of scholars of medievalism, since Crichton praises Norman Cantor's Inventing the Middle Ages (1999) as a central influence on his characterization of academic research on the medieval past. Crichton's narrative seems to support Cantor's notion that the work of academic medievalists amounts to little more than subjective reinventions of the medieval era.
Paramount Pictures produced a feature film adaptation, with a budget of $80 million, released on November 26, 2003. The adaptation was written by Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi, and directed by Richard Donner, and stars Paul Walker as Chris, Gerard Butler as Marek, Billy Connolly as Professor Johnston, and Frances O'Connor as Kate. The film was poorly received by critics and audiences alike.
- Crichton, Michael (1999). Reviews of Timeline on Google Books. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-679-44481-7. Retrieved 2009-06-29.
- "Book Review of Timeline". Entertainment Weekly. 1999-11-26. Retrieved 2009-06-29.
- Utz, Richard. (2017). Medievalism: A Manifesto. UK: Bradford; Kalamazoo, MI: ARC Humanities Press. Pages 31-32.