When Dick Young’s friend, Professor Magnus Lane, offers him an escape from his troubles in the form of a new drug, Dick finds himself transported to fourteenth-century Cornwall. There, in the manor of Tywardreath, the domain of Sir Henry Champerhoune, he witnesses intrigue, adultery and murder.
The more time Dick spends consumed in the past, the more he withdraws from the modern world. With each dose of the drug, his body and mind become addicted to this otherworld, and his attempts to change history bring terror to the present and put his own life in jeopardy.
I read this book decades ago, and I remember being quite taken with it. So I tried it again this week, curious to see my reaction. I think, overall, my reading tastes (or discernment) must have deepened over the years, because this time around I found it a little tedious. OK, I found it silly. The whole concept of taking a drug that plunges you six hundred years into the past is interesting (better than touching a tree or something). The purpose of the drug tied into how the brain worked, and I could accept that. The story is written in first person by our protagonist Dick, a friend of Magnus, the man who developed the drug. He is staying at Magnus’s house and agreed to this experiment, though the side effects could be awful at times. The hallucinations are so realistic Dick is hooked and needs to keep taking more doses to found out what happens to his 14th century friends. They really existed, by the way; there is a family tree at the beginning of the book. Unfortunately, Dick needs to be in the exact location of the events he was watching, and his 20th century body is not conscious of where he is as he moves about. This creates some really uncomfortable situations:
Before I collapsed I had been aware, dimly, that there was another car in the lay-by besides my own, and after what seemed an eternity, when the nausea and the vertigo ceased, and I was coughing and blowing my nose, I heard the door of the other car slam, and realized that the owner had come across and was staring down at me.
Another time he came home covered with mud, to find his wife had unexpectedly come early for a visit. Oh dear, how to explain this one? Throughout the book we go back and forth from the unhappy present to the much more interesting past (at least, more interesting to Dick). Matters go from bad to worse as our protagonist struggles with his growing emotional addiction to this dangerous drug. We get some intriguing glimpses of fourteenth century events—namely as young Edward III struggles against Mortimer—but history is secondary to the drama of the lovely Isolda and her doomed lover. Dick wants to be part of her story but can only watch helplessly, for he is invisible to them.