(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Alternate histories have been written since the early nineteenth century, and they have almost always focused on the more or less logical products of a varying outcome in a particular war. Time and again, it seems, either the Confederates win the American Civil War or National Socialist Germany wins World War II; the plots appear with depressing regularity. Although it is often compared with Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), L. Sprague de Camp’s novel also somewhat resembles more modern alternate histories, with the main difference being that de Camp examines all the conflicts that confront the time traveler, not merely the military struggle.

Most of the major theoretical concerns behind such works come out of their use of various theories of history, at least one of which contends that no individual human, no matter how advanced or knowledgeable, can have profound or far-reaching effects upon history. One might wish that de Camp had presented a more intellectually honest treatment of the Dark Ages. The average Western European was not materially well off in the period, nor were there many flashy scientific advances by the culture, but it was not the complete and total nadir of intellect that Padway assumes it to be.

In a more general sense, de Camp makes use of what has been called the great man theory, which postulates that historical changes result from the actions of superior individuals. The...

(The entire section is 449 words.)