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How HBO's 'The Time Traveler's Wife' is different from the book


NelsonG

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A woman stands in a library holding photos in one hand and a cassette tape in the other.

Audrey Niffenegger's 2003 novel The Time Traveler's Wife has been adapted to the screen twice: as a film in 2009, and now as a TV series on HBO.

The story of The Time Traveler's Wife — a science-fiction romance spanning decades — is extremely tricky to adapt. Clare Abshire (Rose Leslie) meets her future husband Henry DeTamble (Theo James) when he has involuntarily traveled back in time, at which point she is 6 and he's 36. The novel tells the story of their relationship out of chronological order, including their first meeting in the "present" and their marriage.

As with any adaptation, screenwriter Steven Moffat's new version of The Time Traveler's Wife has to make some adjustments. But which ones work, and which ones fall flat? Here are the biggest changes from the novel so far. Beware: the list includes spoilers for the show and the books.

A new framing device

Right off the bat, the first episode of The Time Traveler's Wife hits us with a structural change. The series opens with Henry and Clare recording videos of themselves speaking directly to camera about their relationship to time travel. This framing device isn't in the novel, but Moffat uses this direct address in order to lift some prose directly from Niffenegger's novel, specifically from the prologue. Why are they making videos? Who are they speaking to? Only time will tell.

We're updating this whole story

The TV version of The Time Traveler's Wife takes place from the 1990s to the present day, whereas the novel takes place from the 1960s to the early 2000s. This decision is likely to make the story feel more relevant, but it will be interesting to see how (and if) more modern technology impacts the story.

The fight about Ingrid

A man and a woman sitting at a table in a restaurant.
This first date ends up very differently in the book. Credit: Macall Polay

Definitely the biggest change between the book and the show in the first episode is Clare's reaction to finding out Henry has a girlfriend, named Ingrid (Chelsea Frei). Clare finds Ingrid's toiletries in Henry's bathroom and fights with him, calling him an asshole and storming out of his apartment. Only an intervention from Henry's older self makes Clare consider seeing Henry again.

In the book, Clare's reaction to seeing Ingrid's stuff is a lot milder. She thinks, "Whoever you are, I'm here now. You may be Henry's past, but I'm his future." Henry explains the situation with Ingrid and apologizes to Clare, and that's that. Show Clare's reaction is definitely more realistic than book Clare's, but the fight also puts Henry and Clare's relationship on a far more antagonistic path.

Henry's baby teeth can time travel?

Moffat adds some new time travel lore to The Time Traveler's Wife. In the show, parts of Henry's body, such as his baby teeth, are able to time travel separately. The first episode also explores this idea with the double whammy of a time-traveling pool of blood and a time-traveling pair of detached feet. These moments, all show-only creations, foreshadow the darkest moments of Henry's future.

The Time Traveler's Wife airs on HBO and streams on HBO Max.

We'll be updating this list weekly with the release of every new episode of The Time Traveler's Wife, so be sure to check back in to learn more about the differences between the book and the show.

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