Time is the most secretive among the more important anthropomorphic personifications of the Discworld. Unlike those personifications who reside with and act as gods (such as Fate and the Lady) or those who appear often at their related events (ex. the Four Horsemen of the Apocralypse), very few people have seen Time or know much about her, even though her phenomenon occurs every moment in the space-time continuum. Time makes a personal appearance in Thief of Time.
Interestingly enough, there is a discussion between Death and Samuel Vimes, in The Fifth Elephant, which offers clues as to the nature of Time, to those who are alert enough to get the hint. Death, whilst trying to cheer Vimes up in the face of his impending death at the paws of the Werewolves, is attempting to explain the Uncertainty Principle, but He digresses into musing about why humans refer to the Trousers of Time when Time has never been known to... at this point Vimes' boat plummets over a waterfall, and the terminal words "wear any" are lost in the roar and the spray..
Time has the appearance of a tall, beautiful young woman with dark hair. She fell in love with Wen the Eternally Surprised, a monk-philosopher who, thousands of years ago, pondered the phenomenon of time so thoroughly that Time appeared to him as a person. Wen left the monastery of the History Monks that he founded, and the two have been living in a Glass House ever since. Time and Wen have a son, who was born twice because, at that time, Time was an inexperienced new mother, and at that naturally stressful event let time flicker. The two versions of the son are known as Jeremy Clockson of the Clockmakers' Guild (Ankh-Morpork), and Lobsang Ludd (formerly Newgate Ludd of the Thieves' Guild, Ankh-Morpork), an apprentice of the History Monks. After a major time anomaly started by Jeremy was repaired, the unified son (who preferred the Lobsang Ludd identity) took over the functions of Time. So, now, Time the beautiful young woman has retired, and the new anthropomorphic personification of Time is a young lad.
Lobsang said to Susan, ‘If only I could tell you what everything looks like to me. . . it’s so beautiful.’ The form that Time took as a young woman does not seem to have been produced by collective human imagination, like Death as a skeleton. Perhaps she took form to represent the beauty Wen experienced. Since Gods and Anthropomorphic Personifications are given their shape by the belief of people, it's entirely possible that Time was not explicitly personified as a young woman until she manifested to Wen.
Time and Times
Discworld is an Aladdin’s cave for the possibilities of time. Time has depths exposed in many ways. An Auditor knows of 18 dimensions, a History monk may know 16 dimensions. Going beyond everyday human time, some big areas in which examples sprout like weeds are:
- Time is something living things require, symbolised as sand pouring through the waist of a life-timer.
- Golem time, which is shaped like a doughnut. Definitely ring, but don't ask about the filling. Anghammarad was waiting until time came full circle so that he could deliver the message that would save an ancient civilization from a volcano.
- Zombie time, vampire time, gods and turtle time. Not much detailed so far. Mayfly time, Counting Pines time, sketched out in Reaper Man.
- History monk time, which can be stored, shaped, flowed. It can be like a coat put on and taken off, as in the Abbot’s multiple reincarnations and toilet trainings, Lu-Tze’s 800 or 6,000 years. Perhaps this is a similar realm to Pyramid time. In both cases, time can be stopped in some sense, by human intervention as it turns out. Like a mighty river, Time does seem to have an arrow of flow in a general sense, but one subject to having its arms knotted behind its head quite a lot.
- Susan Sto Helit time. Things exist In Death’s domain, but are not in time. Time can loop while something is done in no-time. She can move in the countless instants between the instants. There is something similar in the Hogfather’s ability to deliver presents to more than one million children across Discworld in a single night, or Ronnie Soak (aka Fifth Horseman) being able to deliver top quality milk from many times and places at exactly 7.00 a.m. all over Ankh Morporkh, an unexpectedly positive feature which has been overlooked by the Guild of Merchants “Wellcome to Ankh-Morporke, Citie of One Thousand Surprises”.
- Azrael is the beginning and end of time and space, the Death of universes, the master of both Auditors and Death, but it is not clear that his role extends to the journey which begins in the desert. Or rather, it probably does not. This is an aspect of existence that is better organised for humans than anthropomorphic personifications. Death does not know or will not say what lies beyond, and does not speculate on Cosmic Wisdom.
The time over which Time presides may or may not correspond to the time-space elaborated in The Science of Discworld. Time as described in Thief of Time is an endless succession of instants. The universe has a heartbeat, a tick, the appearance of itself as moments. It is at every moment created, destroyed, and recreated in time.
It is, or there is, a human oriented time. Wen the Eternally Surprised realised that time was made for men, not the other way round. Perhaps one could propose a time-life continuum, of which time-space is a grumbling sub-set.
At the different, more interactive level of the personification of Time and the History Monks, Susan Sto Helit can say of Lobsang-Jeremy, ‘He broke history and repaired it. Cause and cure. That makes no sense!’ ‘Not in four dimensions,’ said the embodied Auditor Unity. ‘In eighteen, it’s all perfectly clear.’
Lobsang cannot spare the energy at that point to maintain his form as an anthropomorphic personification. Even to hold in mind the concept of something called ‘now’ was a challenge. One of the books describes Death’s view of a kitten, seen without his having a definite time and place. He sees it in all the states it will ever have, old and young. Susan saw many forms in which the “Hogfather” had appeared through time. At first she thought that the man changed like turning the pages of a book. Then she realised that all the images were there at once, and many others too. What you saw depended on how you looked.
If an intelligent creature takes human form, it starts to think human. Knowing the universe in the manner of a living thing, especially in the form of a human being, is all but impossible for the Auditors. Death as a personification was already half-way there, but it was still a shock for him.
When Death is “retired” in Reaper Man through the action of the Auditors, he is given a life-timer as a sign of his coming to an end. “I shall have experiences,” he said. “At last I have time. I mean to spend it.” Once he tasted for himself the fleeting quality of life, the presence of clocks, whose ticking was like the crash of hammers on metal pillars, became a terrible burden for Death. Even the warm sun on his back and the wind pressing him were carrying time away. In the end he was preserved by the gift of time from a mortal.
In Reaper Man, Death began to understand why people dull their awareness. Looked at another way, he describes it as the most amazing talent.
Perhaps four dimensions is the realm of everyday human experience, insulated from too much reality by the subsystems of the senses and organs. What do human beings make of time? Most people muddle through life in one go. In the words of Wen the Eternally Surprised, they let themselves be carried like leaves on a stream. There are the migrants to the high valleys around the hub of the world that is enlightenment country. They may learn to control time like water in streams, but it is not suggested that they are necessarily hugely happier. There are the edge witches, such as Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, who have a certain joi de vivre, and the eternally optimist Carrot Ironfoundersson, pessimistic Patrician, fugitive Rincewind, and Samuel Vimes. All are people who learn (that’s how humans become human), who live in the world (how else could you learn), and who see things a human shouldn’t have to see (that’s what makes us human). While taking obvious precautions for self-preservation, they do not seem to seek more time as such (apart from Nanny Ogg, who was gifted some in return for services rendered); they just tend to be alive in what they have.
The concept of anthropomorphic personifications with conditional immortality, who may retire as they choose and pass their conditional immortality onto a chosen mortal successor (not necessarily a family member) has been most thoroughly explored by Piers Anthony in his Incarnations of Immortality series of fantasy novels. Anthony's range of anthropomorphic personifications include Death (naturally), Time, War, Fate, Nature, Satan, God, and Nox (the incarnation of Night).
There is also Neil Gaiman's Sandman series of graphic novels where, amongst the pantheons of gods and demons, there is a family of seven siblings, each of whose names are also their raisons d'etre: Destiny, Desire, Dream (the Sandman of the title), Death, Delirium (previously known as Delight), Despair and Destruction.