‘time’ is even harder to pin down in Otherworlds than it is in our own. Folklore, legend and fairytale are filled with the experiences of mortals who enter Faery and come out changed forever. For some of them, ‘time’ itself is different and will never be what they thought it was.
I can’t look at all the possible examples, they run into thousands, but will mention Oisin for the Celtic tradition, Rip van Winkle for modern ‘literary fairy-tales’, ‘Semley’s Necklace’ for that speculative fiction that blends science fiction and fantasy, and Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring because I want to!
Yeats reworks the traditional tale of Oisin, who met:
On the dove-grey edge of the sea
A pearl-pale, high-born lady, who rode
On a horse with bridle of findrinny;
And like a sunset were her lips,
A stormy sunset on doomed ships;
A citron colour gloomed in her hair, and rides with her across the waves to spend three hundred years with her in the company of the Sidhe.
On his return to Ireland, according to traditional sources, Oisin crumbles into dust as soon as he sets foot on mortal soil. In those three centuries Ireland has become Christian and in Yeats’s poem St. Patrick condemns the hero’s refusal to repent:
It were sad to gaze on the blessed and no man I loved of old there;
I throw down the chain of small stones! when life in my body has ceased,
I will go to Caoilte, and Conan, and Bran, Sceolan, Lomair,
And dwell in the house of the Fenians, be they in flames or at feast.
Washington Irving’s short story of 1819 has Rip van Winkle falling asleep in the mountains and sleeping for twenty years, thus missing the American revolution. He is led to his sleeping-place by mysterious other-worldly figures in antiquated Dutch clothing, rather than the ethereally beautiful Fae who conducted Oisin to her Otherworld.
Ursula LeGuin, in ‘Semley’s necklace’, brings a further dimension into the ‘Lost in another world and another time’ theme. Semley is a princess, and wishes for a dwarf-made necklace to make herself beautiful for her husband. the dwarves send her by a mysterious form of transport to another place where they say she can collect the necklace she wishes for and be be away for only one day. Returning, she finds her husband dead, her baby daughter grown up and everything changed since her ‘disappearance’. She has unknowingly travelled to another planet; but although space travel exists in this world, warp speed does not. The dwarves get a bad press here, but Semley should perhaps have thought about it more – Faery is a perilous realm.
Finally, we turn to the fellowship:
Sam sat tapping the hilt of his sword as if he were counting on his fingers, and looking up at the sky. ‘It’s very strange,’ he murmured. ‘The Moon’s the same in the Shire and in Wilderland, or it ought to be. But either it’s out of its running, or I’m all wrong in my reckoning. You’ll remember, Mr. Frodo, the Moon was waning as we lay on the flet up in that tree: a week from the full, I reckon. And we’d been a week on the way last night, when up pops a New Moon as thin as a nail-paring, as if we had never stayed no time in the Elvish country.
‘Well, I can remember three nights there for certain, and I seem to remember several more, but I would take my oath it was never a whole month. Anyone would think that time did not count in there!’ ‘And perhaps that was the way of it,’ said Frodo. ‘In that land, maybe, we were in a time that has elsewhere long gone by. It was not, I think, until Silverlode bore us back to Anduin that we returned to the time that flows through mortal lands to the Great Sea.’
(JRR Tolkien (c) Tolkien Estates