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February 2, 2018

Getting Stuck with Punxsutawney Phil

by C. M. North
English: Groundhog sculpture in Punxsutawney, ...
English: Groundhog sculpture in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If the weather forecast is anything to go by, spring should be here soon. Poor Punxsutawney Phil; I imagine it’s hard enough to be two hundred years old, and a groundhog; having the pressure of the world on you to predict the weather must be spirit-crushing. If it were me, I’d probably spend the day curled up in my burrow and let the rest of the world sort itself out.

Amusingly, Moscow’s equivalent, Archi, spent last year hungover and made no prediction at all.
It seems somewhat backwards to me, that if the weather is good on Groundhog Day, we get more winter; if it’s bad, we get spring. But then, the best stories are sometimes a little backwards; or, in the case of Groundhog Day, somewhat circular.

It seems odd to consider that Harold Ramis’ cult comedy came out twenty-five years ago because sometimes 1993 doesn’t seem that long ago. Day after day, year after year, time goes by, and certain things seem to just repeat themselves over and over and over. We’ve had four presidents, six leap years, eight Harry Potter films and countless interchangeable celebrities coming and going, and sometimes dying. And the world goes on. It makes you wonder whether, in each day that Bill Murray repeated, a different version of the world carried on past February 2, slightly altered for his actions in the previous loop.

This is a concept that is played within the 2011 film Source Code with Jake Gyllenhaal. In it, Gyllenhaal’s character is forced to relive the last eight minutes of someone else’s life repeatedly under the guise of finding a terrorist who blows up a train. Each time he revisits the past, however, his actions change the outcome slightly until, eventually, he’s able to stop the train from exploding entirely. The philosophical question posed here is whether his actions actually make a difference or not, and which reality is true—to the outsiders, the train has already been destroyed; in the Source Code, a whole new world is born.

Time travel stories are some of my favorites, and time loop stories are, for me, the cream of the crop. I remember the first time I was exposed to such a concept, in a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode entitled Cause and Effect. Here, the Enterprise gets stuck repeating the same day over and over again, each time resulting in its total destruction in the collision with another ship coming out of a space portal (or something). As the repetitions progress, small changes begin to give the crew senses of déjà-vu, and certain patterns become evident. Rather cleverly, it turns out that the patterns were programmed to be sent back in time by Data as a warning to the next repetition, and when the solution is finally discovered the Enterprise escapes destruction.

Sometimes time loop tales are evident from the outset, as the reader or viewer can see what’s happening from an outside perspective. Sometimes, however, we get thrown for a loop (so to speak). In Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, the story starts out seemingly as a typical (by King’s standards, anyway) post-apocalyptic fantasy. Things start to get a little weird when Stephen King appears as himself in the novel, as the author of the novel in which he’s appearing (yes, you read that correctly), but the final line of the final book takes us full circle to the first line of the first book, and you realize that essentially the message is: read my books again.

I’ve always wanted to write a time travel/time loop story. It’s been done quite a few times (Before I Fall really is almost an homage to Groundhog Day), and it becomes difficult to think of an original way to present the issue. After all, from multiple realities to becoming your own father, film and literature have taken this concept and ran with it for decades. But at the end of the day, each story is unique at least from the storyteller’s point of view, and who knows? As we settle into the next few weeks and months of whatever rain, snow or shine is due to us, I might just find myself working on a new project—and what if I just so happen to sneak some wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff into it?

After all, if the weather forecast is anything to go by, spring should be here soon. Poor Punxsutawney Phil.

C.M. North is a trained musician, coffee addict and author of 22 Scars, a young adult novel about teenage depression and growing up with tragedy and trauma. He lives in northern New Jersey with his wife, son and cat Pia, who insists she take precedence over writing.

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