8

I've finished watching an anime called Steins;Gate (2011), where one of the time travel methods they feature is traveling back in time by passing memories back to your former self, similar to X-men: Days of Future Past (1981) if I recall correctly.

This seems to be a common idea in sci-fi stories. Which was the first story featuring this idea?

9

1947: "Time and Time Again", a short story by H. Beam Piper; first published in Astounding Science Fiction, April 1947, which is available at the Internet Archive; also available at Project Gutenberg.

"I wish I could he sure, myself, Dad," he said. "You see, when I woke, this morning, I hadn't the least recollection of anything I'd done yesterday. August 4, 1945, that is," he specified. "I was positively convinced that I was a man of forty-three, and my last memory was of lying on a stretcher, injured by a bomb explosion. And I was equally convinced that this had happened in 1975."

"Huh?" His father straightened. "Did you say nineteen seventy-five?" He thought for a moment. "That's right; in 1975, you will be forty-three. A bomb, you say?"

Allan nodded. "During the siege of Buffalo, in the Third World War," he said, "I was a captain in G5—Scientific Warfare, General Staff. There'd been a transpolar air invasion of Canada, and I'd been sent to the front to check on service failures of a new lubricating oil for combat equipment. A week after I got there, Ottawa fell, and the retreat started. We made a stand at Buffalo, and that was where I copped it. I remember being picked up, and getting a narcotic injection. The next thing I knew, I was in bed, upstairs, and it was 1945 again, and I was back in my own little thirteen-year-old body."

4

The Dark Chamber (Leonard Cline, 1927) contains the inverse of this concept, where the main character attempts to recall the memories of his ancestors, one generation at a time (i.e., passing memories forward instead of passing them back). The cumulative memories eventually outweigh his own, taking over his personality (he essentially "becomes" his ancestors, or rather, they invade his mind/body). When he passes beyond the species threshold of humanity, he essentially devolves into that of a proto-human, ultimately destroying his household and family. This "hereditary memory" concept could be construed as a form of forward time-travel of his ancestors.

I'm going to posit that this is the original concept (forward time travel via memory) that would lead subsequent authors to the idea of this process running in the opposite direction. Given this other answer, that puts the origin of the idea between 1927 and 1947.

A partial review from Time Magazine, September 5, 1927 (c.f. here for the full review):

Fall of the House of Pride

Author Leonard Cline has been weaving spells in the vicinity of Englewood, N. J. He has regrown the virgin forest there and placed in its tangled heart a mansion full of dark madness.

In Mordance Hall lives Richard Pride, whose madness is living life over again, living it beside himself with audacious backward excursions into the lives of people he has known. This he does by the aid of drugs and a corps of skilled, secret investigators. In his sepulchral study, entombed by the inky transcripts of his assistants, he traces bizarre designs through the dead mold of past existence.

An unusual end to the book review lends some context to his mindset when he wrote the manuscript:

The Author is in prison. One dawn last summer, police found him in a daze in front of his home at Mansfield, Conn., with a discharged shotgun in his hands. Within lay one Wilfred Peter Irwin, shot in the back, dying. Both men had been drinking for days. Before the guest died he swore his host was innocent, the shooting an accident. But Leonard Cline must stand trial for murder. Until the plot of that true story is unraveled next month before a grand jury, one of the most promising careers in U.S. literature is in abeyance. Factitious folk have tried, futilely, to draw conclusions from the identical first names of Mr. Cline's unfortunate guest and one of his minor characters.

Prior to turning novelist, Leonard Cline wrote on art, music and books for newspapers in Detroit, St. Louis, Baltimore, Manhattan. He was born in Bay City, Mich., 34 years ago [1893].

The book was highly influential on contemporary authors due to accolades from none other than H.P. Lovecraft. From Wikipedia:

[H.P.] Lovecraft passed his copy of The Dark Chamber to several of his fellow writers, including Clark Ashton Smith, Donald Wandrei, Frank Belknap Long, and Henry S. Whitehead. All of these writers later wrote fiction about hereditary memory that were influenced by the novel.

It was also listed by horror critic R.S. Hadji in his list of "unjustly neglected" horror fiction.

The original source of the above quote (Weird Tales - October 9, 2006) goes on to state that Cline was the first to come up with the concept:

All of these wrote stories dealing with ancestral memory that owe their existence in large part to Cline, but Cline’s treatment of the theme, besides being the first, is also the most powerful. Cline used the Gothic trappings as a cultural shorthand that allowed him to communicate ideas that were cutting-edge during the 1920s.

He/she goes on to explain why it is so difficult to find references to his works:

He is an excellent example of how mainstream writers prior to the 1920s could utilize themes and subject matter that would be thrust into a literary ghetto in a few years with the rise of critics such as Irving Babbitt and Edmund Wilson.

For another (2009) contemporary review of the book, see here.

3

I'm not sure stories of ancestral memory are on topic here, but just in case, let me mention a couple of early stories on that theme.


1910: "When the World Was Young", a short story by Jack London, first published in the Saturday Evening Post, September 10, 1910, available at the Internet Archive and at Project Gutenberg.

From a review by Everett F. Bleiler in Science-Fiction: The Early Years:

A burglar prowling around the grounds of wealthy James Ward's estate sees a naked giant swinging and leaping through the trees. When, hoping for a reward, the burglar goes to Ward's office the next day to tell him about the trespasser, he sees to his astonishment that the proto-Tarzan had been Ward himself. It is revealed that the millionaire is in some inexplicable way atavistic and is controlled by ancestral memories. The atavism is finally suppressed when he does battle with a grizzly bear.

Excerpt from the story:

James G. Ward was forty years of age, a successful business man, and very unhappy. For forty years he had vainly tried to solve a problem that was really himself, and that with increasing years became more and more a woful affliction. In himself he was two men, and, chronologically speaking, these men were several thousand years or so apart. He had studied the question of dual personality probably more profoundly than any half dozen of the leading specialists in that intricate and mysterious psychological field. In himself he was a different case from any that had been recorded. Even the most fanciful flights of the fiction writers had not quite hit upon him. He was not a Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, nor was he like the unfortunate young man in Kipling's Greatest Story in the World. His two personalities were so mixed that they were practically aware of themselves and of each other all the time.

His one self was that of a man whose rearing and education were modern and who had lived through the latter part of the nineteenth century and well into the first decade of the twentieth. His other self he had located as a savage and a barbarian living under the primitive conditions of several thousand years before. But which self was he, and which was the other, he could never tell. For he was both selves, and both selves all the time. Very rarely indeed did it happen that one self did not know what the other was doing. Another thing was that he had no visions nor memories of the past in which that early self had lived. That early self lived in the present; but while it lived in the present it was under the compulsion to live the way of life that must have been in that distant past.


1924: "John Carroll, Legionary of Rome", a novelette by Bruce Wallis, in Weird Tales, November 1924, available at the Internet Archive.

From a review by Everett F. Bleiler in Science-Fiction: The Early Years:

John Carroll, American tourist in the land of his ancestors in Devon, falls asleep and awakens during the Roman occupation of Britain. As the legionary Carolus he is present when a young Gaulish woman is being tortured to reveal information about the hostile natives. Since his personality is that of a modern man, he is horrified at the procedure. Carefully working his way among the soldiers, he rescues the girl, incidentally killing several of his comrades. He is trapped among the cliffs; the girl is dead; and, rejecting the offer of a soldier's death if he surrenders, he attempts suicide by leaping into the sea.

Carroll thereupon awakens in the present in time to save the life of a young woman who is trapped on the fragmenting rocks nearby.

The explanation of his experience is put in terms of ancestral memory (instead of reincarnation as one might have expected), thus qualifying the story as science-fiction. Carolus must have survived the leap and begotten children.

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