The recent movie Tenet is based around the idea of "inverting an object's entropy", to make it move backwards in time instead of forwards. A similar thing also happens in Greg Egan's Orthogonal trilogy, set in a fictional universe where

if you travel fast enough you end up going backwards in time.

I'm wondering if there are earlier appearances of this idea in fiction, and if so, where it was first used.

To be clear, I'm not asking about time travel stories in general (not even ones where events are experienced in reverse order) - I'm interested specifically in stories where a character travels backwards in time at a rate of one second per second, interacting with other characters and/or the world around them in real time as they do so.

  • @user14111 thanks! I'm gonna say "The Man Who Lived Backwards" doesn't fit the bill, because I'm interested in stories that explore the physics of interacting time-lines, but "The Chronokinesis of Jonathan Hull" sounds like it fits
    – N. Virgo
    Jan 15, 2021 at 12:14
  • Seems to me that Superman could make the Earth revert to an earlier period by flying rapidly around it. In a 1960s comic book, I think. Jan 15, 2021 at 14:34
  • 1938 Charles F. Hall, "The Man Who Lived Backwards"; 1946 Anthony Boucher, "The Chronokinesis of Jonathan Hull"; 1949 M. C. Pease, "Reversion"; 1956 Charles L. Fontenay, "Z".
    – user14111
    Jan 16, 2021 at 7:32
  • I don't have time to compose a real answer to your question, so I'm throwing out these suggestions for anyone who wants to use them.
    – user14111
    Jan 16, 2021 at 7:35
  • @Nathaniel I have added another early example you might be slightly interested in. Jan 20, 2021 at 18:07

1 Answer 1


An early fantasy character who lived life backwards from the future to the past is Merlin in The Sword in the Stone (1938) by T.H. White, which was revised and made part of The Once and Future King (1958). As far as I remember Merlin lived backwards in time in both versions.

Of course, as far as I remember there was no explanation for Merlin living backwards and the readers would just assume magic as the cause.

Added 01-20-2021 An early television story with a similar plot, decades before Tenet was the Star trek: The Animated Series (TAS) episode "The Counter-Clock Incident", in which the Enterprise and its crew enter an alternate universe where time goes backwards and they start getting younger.

I thought that the fictional physics was a bit illogical, but it was a dramactic production that did more or less explore the physics of backwards time decades before Tenet, although after the examples of written storeis that User 14111 suggested.

  • where time goes backwards and they start getting younger These things never make sense. They would not notice any difference, as their memories are not of the future. It would be like getting older inside a body that gets younger. Jan 20, 2021 at 23:29

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.