What was the first time-travelling story?

There’s long been stories about sleepers, who fall asleep for some reason and then awaken years later (e.g. Rip van Winkle), but what about someone travelling through time, backwards or forwards? A story that accepts that time is a dimension that can be travelled through, like space?

H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine?

I have to do some digging, I swear there is an ancient story of a man traveling back in time and viewing earlier legendary events. The methods was magical though and not at all science oriented. By ancient I am saying before 1000 AD.

A Science oriented one really does belong to H. G. Wells. “The Chronic Argonauts” predates the time Machine by 7 years. 1888.

Might as well include this link while I dig a bit.

According to this list (which I see on preview that What Exit? beat me to), that wasn’t even the first story about a time machine by H. G. Wells.

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843) is usually credited as being the first time travel story, and Edward Page Mitchell’s “The Clock that Went Backwards” (1881) was the first story about a time machine.

But of course, the true earliest time travel story was “A Revised Account of the Events and Chronology of the Early Inflationary Era, as Based on Direct Observation and Experiementation”, published in the January 2463 edition of Physical Review G.

I wouldn’t call A Christmas Carol a time travel story. Scrooge doesn’t interact with the past or future. His experiences are more like dreams or visions.

I was going to suggest A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, but I guess The Clock that went Backwards beats that.

The list is slanted toward Anglo-american literature and fails to mention earlier legends, like the well-known Seven Sleepers Legend which is likely based upon ancient Greek or Hindu tradition. You can find the motive of the magical sleep in the Arne-Thompson-Index at AaTh 766.

There is also a story in the Puranas about the relativity of time experience - when a king came to Brahma for advice he listened to a song and when he asked his question, he was told that 20 human lifetimes had already passed since he came there.

And let’s not forget Epimenides and Tnugdalus.

The first story that elaborately worked withing the time travel motive is likely the novel “L`an deux mille quatre cent quarante. Rêve s´il en fut jamais.” by Louis-Sébastien Mercier, published in 1770.

The first planned jump through time took place in “A.D. 2000” by Alvarado M. Fuller, written in 1890. It’s not a good book, so it’s not surprising that it is largely forgotten.

Wells’ “Time Machine” changed the time travel motive radically by depicting it as a scientific endeavour realised with engineering.

The OP specifically excluded sleeper stories.

Last night I fell asleep, and when I woke up, it was this morning! I traveled through time!

Paul J. Nahin’s nonfiction book Time Machines has an extensive overview of time travel in fiction and the science behind it (or preventing it). He mentions even the earliest stories given on that Wiki page.

But he doesn’t settle anything, because “first” is susceptible to too many possible interpretations. He quotes Paul Aikon from Origins of Futuristic Fiction on Memories of the Twentieth Century, the first book on Wiki, saying that the author, Samuel Madden, “deserves recognition as the first to toy with the rich idea of time-travel in the form of an artifact sent backward from the future to be discovered in the present.”

If you want a first, I’ve come to the conclusion that the first book of *modern *science fiction is a time travel story. Wells wrote old-fashioned travelers’ tales. The Time Machine has a frame story set in the present sandwiching an endless first person drone about the future. Popular fiction had long quickened the pace to include snappy dialog, cliffhanger endings, lots of action, and short paragraphs that carried the reader swiftly to the end. William Wallace Cook’s A Round Trip to the Year 2000, or A Flight Through Time from 1903 has all of those and is a funny to boot. It satirizes both the sleeper novels (especially Looking Backward 2000-1887) and contemporary society. Hackery, true, but the work of a mature hack.

I don’t want to ONLY be contrary, but that’s what I’m doing I guess.

Isn’t a sleeper story perfectly equivalent to any other time travel story, and just happens to have the laziest possible hand-wave about how the travel took place?

Or do you mean to restrict this to stories where explaining the mechanics of time travel is the primary theme of the work?

A prophecy story has more in common with time travel than a sleeper story does. Of course, you’d never be able to pin down the first prophecy story.

[sub]I knew you were going to say that.[/sub]

Bah. I’ve been travelling to the future my whole life, even while awake.

I have traveled here from the year 1977 to say this: I have too.

THAT’S why I personally don’t count Rip Van Winkle type stories, or even think of them as Sci-Fi. It’s too much like non-fiction. If I can do it just by falling asleep (or bonking my head), it’s not half as interesting as real time travel.

Although I do love amnesia stories (anyone else remember Coronet Blue?), and there’s easily a “time gap” aspect to those, but they don’t satisfy the same parts of my brain as time travel or sci-fi.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court?

I’m not sure how to describe Merlin who experiences time backwards. Got to mention Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backwards in which a man from 1885 or so travels in time to 2000 and then returns to tell of the wonderful socialist society he found there.

Do I remember “Coronet Blue”? I watched the first episode just yesterday, (5-29-67).